As technology developments continue at a relentless pace, it can be difficult for hotels, leisure providers and those in hospitality to keep up with recent changes, let alone look to the future. However, the savings and improvements that technology can deliver mean that managers and directors really need to keep one eye on these six trends.
1. Cloud / Software as a Service (SaaS)
Software delivered as a service, rather than held on premise is already a mainstream technology topic and despite being a new concept in the hospitality sector, it is already big news. At Infor, I would estimate around 85% of the queries we see from hospitality companies and hotels include a serious look at cloud computing. Two main factors are behind this.
Firstly, upfront investment is lower with the cloud as there are no initial hardware costs or associated expenses such as full time, in-house IT staff to maintain the system. Secondly, hotels like the idea of taking the headache and distractions of IT off their site, leaving them free to focus on the day-to-day business of looking after their guests.
As well as the low capital expenditure of the cloud and the cultural “fit”, there is also the fact that implementation timetables can shrink from months to days, resulting in immediate and obvious benefits in obtaining time to value.
The sum total of these drivers is that cloud technology is no passing fad: for the hospitality sector it is the new norm.
For instance serviced apartment specialist City Nites, has chosen to replace its on-premise legacy system with a new cloud based hotel management system. The cloud deployment was chosen because it allows City Nites to minimise property hardware requirements, reducing overall cost of ownership.
Likewise, Hunley Hotel & Golf Club has moved its hotel management system to the cloud as it reduces the administrative and IT burden of hosting and maintaining the application on site and offers lower upfront capital expenditure and an easier way to get regular upgrades to the application to ensure it is always up-to-date.
Mobile is the new face of computing as devices such as tablets and smartphones revolutionise the way we interact with technology. Hospitality is no exception to this revolution, in some cases leading the way.
There has often been the expectation that because hotels are, by their very nature, fixed entities, mobile technologies may have minimal impact. However, this myth has been thoroughly laid to rest as tablets, mobile phones, smartphones and laptops have become critical tools on both sides of the check-in desk.
City Nites accesses its hotel management system on Apple iPads to eliminate old-fashioned, manual registration desk processes. This enables hotel team members to ‘meet and greet’ their guests at any location, improving the personalisation of the check-in experience and reducing the costs associated with static reception desks and all their technology at each location.
These benefits are not reserved for just large international chains: the low capital expenditure investment for mobile hardware and much reduced software costs mean that mobile is a viable option for small independent properties, looking to develop customer service as a competitive edge.
Social media has had a profound impact upon the hospitality industry. Trip Advisor has become one of the main sources of information for people researching holidays, hotels and leisure facilities. Meanwhile, newer social tools like Facebook or Twitter are quickly becoming just as influential. For any hotel to not at least monitor social media is tantamount to willingly flying blind.
The online reputation of a property is business critical. It does not however, stand alone as a marketing department concern, but relates directly to daily operations. As such, social media monitoring MUST be interfaced with the hotel management systems so that swift, appropriate action can be taken.
Looking again at City Nites, the organisation is improving its online reputation by monitoring relevant comments made via social media channels such as Twitter. These comments can then be answered and addressed by both marketing and operational personnel. Incorporating social media into City Nites’ hotel management system in this way makes it easier to track all the possible sources of comments – especially when promotions are running.
4. Personalised systems
Customers expect their experience within a hotel to be totally personalised to them: from the welcome message on the television screen and food preferences to additional services such as personal training or flowers in the room.
This quickly creates a huge range of valuable customer preference data that needs to be fed into the hotel management system in order to deliver a personalised, high quality service for each return visit. This is not just a case of linking the customer relationship management system into the hotel operations – it is embedding the process of capturing guest preferences and proactively using that data.
For example, if a guest comments on the facilities in the room to someone on the front desk as they leave for the day, the data can be passed to the relevant operational team for the issue to be rectified and the guest notified upon their return – delivering a truly personalised service at all levels of the stay.
Hotels span many functions – from accommodation and event catering to specialised facilities such as golf or health spas. Each of these areas has, traditionally, operated an individual software system. Whilst this approach has delivered specific functionality, it has also led to silos of information.
Integrating these systems can provide more comprehensive management information, faster reporting and a truly comprehensive view of profitability. In the case of Hunley, integrating the hotel management system with the restaurant point of sale application (Squirrel) means that the hotel has a comprehensive view of revenue per guest or event. The hotel can also pull together truly holistic reports for management information and customer communication.
Elsewhere, integration offers the possibility of being able to “revenue manage” the guest across all areas of their stay: this requires transaction level interfaces but need not be complex to use. Critically it aligns the marketing -based personalised offering with the financial outcome of the revenue secured.
On a wider scale, there are developments towards a complete open industry approach, connecting central reservations systems via the HTNG open interface standard, whilst other CRM applications can be linked via flexible web services integration with open API’s that are compliant with industry standards.
The last major trend currently in the hospitality industry is globalisation. In the 21st century, hotel companies will need to adopt different management approaches to survive and develop amidst high levels of economic uncertainty. As international trade and business expand, there is no question that international links will become more important for the hotel industry. This means that the technology systems in use – especially those in large chains – must account for the global perspective.
This may be something as relatively simple as issues of scalability or international languages, or something as complex as accounting for different regulations and working practices in different countries.
All of these trends have already brought about a profound change in the hospitality industry – and they will continue to disrupt and redefine operations. From the back office to front of house, from the hotel to the corporate office, the technology that underpins these changes will deliver a sharp competitive edge at all levels.