Top technology executives in the hotel industry speaking at the recent 2016 HTNG North American Conference said dealing with old systems and convincing owners and franchisees about the importance of technology remain significant challenges.
FERNANDINA BEACH, Florida—Some of the hotel industry’s technology leaders said the biggest obstacles they face come within the industry and even inside their own companies. Sources said integrating older systems into newer technology and convincing hoteliers about the overall value of technology are still major hurdles.
During the “IT leaders” panel at the recent 2016 HTNG North American Conference, Page Petry, chief IT officer of the Americas at Marriott International, said her task, along with those in similar positions, is to persuade decision makers and stakeholders why it’s worthwhile to invest in things like sophisticated data strategies and moving operations to the cloud.
“All of that requires a tremendous amount of funding to make that happen,” Petry said. “Especially for those of us who have been around for a while and have legacy systems.”
Petry said communication is key to get everyone on the same page.
“It needs to be a daily role for us to educate not just our own executives and all of our owners and franchisees on the application and value that technology brings,” Petry said. “The biggest challenge for us is to do that in terms that they understand, because they’re the ones investing in us. It’s every day. It’s meeting with owners. It’s being very open to their feedback and incorporating the ideas and suggestions they have.”
Monika Nerger, global chief information officer for Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group and president of HTNG, said grappling with old and outdated systems remains a challenge as hotel companies “are looking for a way to get to that nirvana of cloud, mobile, digital.”
Nerger said there are still “core pieces missing” for many hotels as they look for tools to transition from the old to new, but that doesn’t mean they can sit and wait.
“What we’re doing is taking the pieces that are possible,” she said. “What I’m shopping for are algorithms. So, I’m very interested in the pieces of technology that can use machine-learning capability, for example, and introducing those into our organization.”
Opportunities with data analytics
Kris Singleton, global board director for Hospitality Financial and Technology Professionals, said one of the easiest ways hoteliers can improve technology-wise is by embracing data analytics.
“We’ve got rich data and need to move that to information to knowledge to hopefully wisdom through better performance management,” she said. “Better performance management gives the operations and the business of the hotels the capability of running more efficiently and more effectively. That means a better guest experience.”
Darla Morse, chief information officer for SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, said her company was able to use data culled from tracking guests’ locations while at SeaWorld parks to fine-tune staffing decisions.
“We learned that where we were staffing in the morning, no one was there in the far corner of the park,” she said. “It’s interesting when operations sees this sort of data, they were so excited that I kind of had to hold them back.”
Closing the gap
While the industry at large still lags behind retail in terms of technology, panelists said that gap is shrinking.
“I think in the last 13 years, what has excited me is that (the hotel industry) has gained quite considerable and quite fast,” Singleton said. “We’re still behind and getting there. But some of the things like seeing robots and hearing about artificial intelligence … and using that to drive strong association to the guest experience and that experience management, that’s what’s really exciting for me, and I think is going to catapult us a lot farther in the hospitality industry.”
Petry said that has been driven by increasing excitement around technology within the industry.
“I love coming into our hotels and having them excited about the technology that has been deployed and coming up with better ways for it to be used,” she said. “General managers are engaged, and our executives really understand the power of technology. They’ll always argue over the cost of it, but they really understand what it can do to move our brands forward.”