Hotel company chief information officers speaking at HITEC in Toronto said it can be a challenge sorting through the demands of both guests and on-property operations teams.
TORONTO—As the top technology officials, hotel company chief information officers typically have a lot of noise flying in their direction.
Guest needs and wants are constantly changing, and keeping up with that can require significant capital. Operations teams, on the other hand, can have an entirely different set of wants that may or may not confirm to corporate expectations on things like security and cost.
Veteran CIOs speaking at the Hospitality Industry Technology Exposition & Conference shared their insights on how they sort through all the chatter.
Keeping up with technology
Asked how his company keeps up with the latest in consumer technology, Ken Barnes, chief information officer at Omni Hotels & Resorts, said it can be quite simple.
“Watch the Best Buy sales ad in the paper,” he said, noting it’s a constantly moving target. “A long time ago, color TVs were what were cool in hotels, but now you can’t even keep up in terms of capital investment. The much better answer is to stay in constant communication with your most strategic partner.”
He said it’s important to look at technology beyond just the hospitality industry to stay on top of things.
“If we’re just thinking about hospitality, we’ll miss the brick wall in front of us,” Barnes said.
Marco Trecroce, SVP and chief information officer at Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, said it’s important to set clear goals for what a company wants to accomplish with its tech.
“You can’t chase tech,” he said. “You have to stay focused. Each of us are bombarded with emails about meeting with vendors and bringing in technology to solve a problem. But you have to stay laser-focused on two or three key initiatives. The rest is interesting, but you don’t spend a lot of time on it.”
Michiel Roelfsema, deputy GM at the Hotel Okura Amsterdam, who represented the operations perspective on the panel, said guest complaints typically aren’t about a hotel not offering specific technologies.
“There aren’t too many people handing a list to the front desk (of what they want),” he said. “They’ll only comment on things that don’t work. So there are things you have to try to interpret for guests.”
Panelists also noted it’s important not to jump on every trend in technology because some don’t have the staying power to justify the corresponding capital required. Barnes pointed to voice technology as something companies are keeping an eye on, but are still reticent to be an early adopter of.
“There are certain trends we see out there, and some who have been in the industry can say ‘let’s wait and see if it’s here in another year,’ and in two years it’s gone,” he said.
Andrew Arthurs, SVP and chief investment officer at Two Roads Hospitality, said his company has made the conscious decision that it won’t be early adopters of most tech, choosing to let other, larger players deal with the bumps and bruises that come with new technology.
“We’ve decided we’re not bleeding edge,” he said. “We prefer to see larger companies fine-tune things. And we call ourselves ‘fast followers.’ So, we’ll pay attention to what the bleeding edge is doing.”
Trecroce said his company takes a similar approach, but realizes tech expectations differ from market to market, and that can be difficult for a global company like Four Seasons.
“We’ll watch certain markets,” he said. “China is so far ahead, and that’s not a fad for the Chinese marketplace. So it comes down to how we take some ideas and bring them across the world, always looking at certain markets, and determining where to put our thinking and innovation dollars.”
He also noted it’s important to meet guests where they are, which has guided his company and others represented on the panel to move toward more smartphone-friendly technologies and messaging options.
“That’s core to every guest—they all have a phone in their hands,” Trecroce said.
Prioritizing operational goals
Panelists said they’re often approached by GMs or others in operations with potential new technologies they believe can help their business, but they said it’s important to do appropriate vetting on those solutions and to communicate why they might not live up to the promise.
“You have to assess the tech landscape on business value,” Arthurs said, noting that means disqualifying things potentially due to a lack of return on investment or vendors who are deemed incapable of delivering in the way they promised.
But Arthurs said it’s important to get people on the ground level involved in decisionmaking instead of doing so “at a silo at a corporate office,” since those decisions can be out of touch and inoperable.
“You can push things down to the field, and eventually operators will get you in a room and explain why it doesn’t work,” he said. “So we have workgroups made up of different individuals.”
He said it’s important to get a “diverse enough stakeholder group” and to “get diversity of thought.”
The panelists universally agreed that the one issue that “keeps them awake at night” seems to be continuing concerns over data security.
“I’m not a full-time criminal,” Barnes said. “And they’re trying on a daily basis to get into our environment. So what keeps me up is that security piece. What are the things I’m not aware of? What about the partners we have? Are they ahead of the curve?”