REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Josh Weiss knows how much work goes into opening a hotel.
But how much research goes into investigating various technology solutions to open a hotel can be even more challenging, said Hilton Worldwide’s VP of brand and guest technology for the past year and a half. In an effort to deliver an easier, more cost-effective solution, Weiss and Hilton CIO Robert Webb introduced Hilton’s Innovation Collaborative, a turnkey technology solution in the early phases of an 18-month deployment.
Weiss spent countless hours at the first-ever Hilton Worldwide Global Partnership Conference in Orlando last month explaining the initiative and “convincing” Hilton franchisees of its importance.
VP of brand and guest technology
“I and everyone I know lost our voices,” Weiss said. “Spending time with the attendees was a big part of what we’re doing; talking to them about the solutions.”
The Innovation Collaborative partners Hilton with vendors such as IBM, AT&T, Accenture and Microsoft to “strengthen a secure infrastructure” and “differentiate Hilton Worldwide’s portfolio of brands,” Weiss said. Hilton will work with IBM on a global infrastructure, including running Hilton’s data center network and central reservations system. It will transition its Stay Connected high-speed Internet access program to Stay Connected with AT&T. And the hotel franchisor will adopt Microsoft tools and deploy Microsoft SharePoint 2010, Microsoft Office Communications Server, Microsoft Office 2010 and Windows 7 to its employees and franchisees.
Weiss said some of the solutions will become brand standards immediately, some over time, and some will be mandatory depending on brand and location. It will be available in some cases and required in some cases to both new and existing hotels.
“It really depends,” he said. “Our objective is to be as consistent as possible, but from a back-of-house or technology standpoint, hotels are so unique. Some of these are brand standards—like Stay Connected—and some may become brand standards once they’re relevant for every brand.
“We are very conscious and deliberate with how we develop and make brand standards,” Weiss continued. “One that doesn’t make the best solution possible isn’t a brand standard. Having a bundled set of brand-standard options is a thought.”
Robert Levy, VP of asset development for Dow Hotel Company, attended Hilton’s conference and learned about the technology initiatives. Dow owns Embassy Suites, Doubletree by Hilton and Hilton Hotels brands, among others.
|During the first-ever Hilton Worldwide Global Partnership Conference in Orlando last month, each attendee received a free Apple iPad, stocked with a handful of applications to better their conference experience and illustrate the company’s commitment to technology.
Levy is confident Hilton has the franchisees’ best interests in mind because the company is rolling the initiatives out to its corporate-owned hotels as well.
“It’s in its infant stages, but it’s been getting good feedback from the hotels that are using it,” Levy said. “Knowing Hilton, they’ll be testing it for a long time.”
Many of Hilton’s new initiatives will be geared toward centralization, or cloud-based computing, which could save franchisees training, deployment and maintenance costs. It also could mean outsourcing brand-level IT jobs.
“You could look at it from the people who might lose their job or the franchise that needs to cut costs,” Doug Rice, co-founder and CEO of Hotel Technology Next Generation, said of centralization. “If moving to the cloud allows them to take the IT manager off payroll, it’s in their benefit. If they’re good people, they’ll be able to able pick up jobs with the companies who the jobs are being outsourced to. The ones who don’t have the skills won’t.”
IHG’s Hotel in a Box adapts to meet demand
The longer new technologies remain on the market, the less expensive they become. Hotel technology solutions are no different.
When InterContinental Hotels Group broke ground in 2008 with its Hotel in a Box solution—partnering with IBM to integrate 30 to 40 technology solutions and distribute them through a single provider to franchisees opening IHG-flagged properties—the price point wasn’t quite right.
As convenient as it was to hotel owners, it still was somewhat cost prohibitive and franchisees could beat the price by shopping around and purchasing technology pieces individually.
“Over the past 18 months we’ve made significant advances in reducing that cost and leveraging the hardware, software and services,” said Gustaaf Schrils, VP of technology and services for IHG. “We were able to drop the price further and that turned out to be at par or below par with what the franchisee could buy on their own. All of a sudden it became more attractive and purchases started to pick up.”
Schrils said 12 hotels in IHG’s system have installed the Hotel in a Box solution, and 12 more in the development pipeline have signed on. He is confident that as the industry emerges from the downturn and closing a hotel deal takes less time, more owners will take advantage.
Thus far, Hotel in a Box is available for all IHG brands except Crowne Plaza and InterContinental Hotels and Resorts because, Schrils said, hotels flying those flags are often complex in infrastructure. The program was previously only available for new-builds, but IHG is now in the process of adapting the program to make it available for properties going through a renovation as well.
“That is the new focus,” Schrils said. “We’ve had a lot of interest in people that have hotels that want to go through renovations. There is a lot of work both us and IBM are doing together to create a program for existing hotels. There’s a little bit more complexity in it, but because of the high level of interest it make sense to create the program.”
The benefits to franchisees are exponential, Schrils said.
“They make one phone call; sign one agreement,” he said. “They don’t have to have a lawyer look over each of those contracts.”
With a single provider, there is no finger-pointing between vendors when a technology goes down. And a single system offers a level of consistency, which ultimately will give the guest an ubiquitous experience.
Doug Rice, co-founder and CEO of Hotel Technology Next Generation, which has been lobbying for a more centralized hotel technology buying process for nearly a decade, said changes will not happen overnight.
“Different things will happen in different companies that will help us move closer to that,” he said. “IHG offers one model but it only works in certain situations. They’re right on the money for trying something that could potentially solve a problem.”