Hotel executives speaking at the Americas Lodging Investment Summit shared their thoughts on how they plan to adapt different new technology into the hospitality space.
LOS ANGELES—To stay current with the demands of guests, technology is an ongoing investment for hoteliers. But in order to invest, hoteliers must find the right technology to adopt to meet guest demand and achieve return on their investment.
Hotel executives at the Americas Lodging Investment Summit spoke about how they see technology fitting into the hospitality space for both back-of-house and the guest experience.
David Kong, president and CEO, Best Western Hotels & Resorts
“There are some hotels in China now as well as in South Korea that only have a few people working as the hotel is run by robots. At the same time, they’re also talking about the challenges with that.
“We found out firsthand in testing Alexa as a means for guest request for special services. So if someone wants a special room or a light bulb isn’t working or something, they can use Alexa to communicate with us. But what we found out was that most people got into the hotel room then disconnected it, presumably because they didn’t want Alexa to be listening to what’s going on in the room. At the same time, when I was talking with our partner in China and also South Korea, people were being awakened in the middle of the night by Alexa. … We didn’t see any lift in satisfaction scores and the usage was minimal.
“Contrast that to a texting platform that we launched where people can use messaging and texting, and that was hugely adopted … and had tremendous lift in their satisfaction scores. I think there’s a smart way to use technology to simplify what might otherwise require people to do.”
Greg Mount, president and CEO, RLH Corporation
“We’ve been able to begin a test of a robot that actually can clean everything in the room except make the bed. That creates a whole other level of discussion that is important, but I think when you start to look at it and start to understand it, I don’t think it replaces the housekeeper and I don’t think it changes the need. But what it does do is provide an enhancement for that position and the ability to allow owners an opportunity to supplement what they’re currently doing. These robotics are getting fairly sophisticated, you know when they’re not cleaning up a room, they’re standing in the hallway, answering questions, giving directions, providing recommendations. The technology is coming. It’s not a question of if, but a question of when. … The costs are actually not, surprisingly, too high.”
Ken Greene, president of the Americas, Radisson Hotel Group
“(Addressing challenges with average daily rate is) a function of technology. It’s training and relationships. From a technology perspective, having the right yield-management tools that are consistent throughout your network is very, very important. … It’s not just about raising your rate a couple bucks here and there, it’s really the science of how you do that and yield every penny you possibly can. In terms of training, with that technology, you’ve got to have a very consistent training program out there, and on relationships, you better have the right communication going to the ownership group and also the people managing your property.”
Chris Cahill, deputy CEO, AccorHotels
“The industry will follow other industries in terms of sophistication and the development of some of the artificial intelligence tools and robotics that I think can be helpful in helping automate some of the more mundane aspects that we have within a property. That’s not necessarily going to be easy for a hotel retrofit, but modern hotels, new hotels, new development hotels—I think automation can go a long way to alleviate some of the cost pressure, …
“As you move up the channel a little bit within a hotel, a lot of work already in outsourcing accounting and some of the other functions that don’t have to be done on-site and can be done somewhere else cheaper. I think technology will continue to support that.
“When comes to everything from concierges to reservations, distribution, a lot of that with artificial intelligence will continue to improve and help alleviate some of the cost areas or make it more efficient or, quite frankly, probably provide better service and experience for the guest. All those things are kind of converging today.”
Mike Deitemeyer, president and CEO, Interstate Hotels & Resorts
“The one thing we think about and talk about a lot is understanding hospitality starts with human interaction and what that looks like for us. Our focus tends to be on the back of the house, our focus is really—accounting, as an example, IT—these are areas that a lot of organizations today have centralized—sales as well—there’s opportunities in markets where you have density to cluster and even on a broader level perhaps from an international perspective. We continue to invest in tools to automate as much of that process in the back of the house as much as humanly possible, therefore allowing a much higher level of productivity.
“At the end of the day, though, I think that most of that investment really, the back of house I think has true savings, but as you think about front-of-the-house investment, that’s really about improving the experience and taking that interaction to another level … as a lot of brands are already doing, getting the staff out from behind the desk, interacting with customers in a different way.
“From our perspective, it continues to be around tools, business analytics, accounting and technology and how we can automate that to a different level.”
Elie Maalouf, CEO of the Americas, InterContinental Hotels Group
“You have to be strategic and thoughtful about it. There are so many opportunities, and we don’t have unlimited resources and neither do our owners. If you’re Amazon, you can chuck $100 million at it, fail fast, say it doesn’t work and move to the next thing. … We take a strategic view that we’re going to make a few strong, long-term bets. And they have to increase productivity and efficiency because we owe that to our customers and owners to drive that efficiency and productivity but not at the expense of a customer experience.
“We look at technology as something that enhances the humanity, not to replace the humanity. Our approach is twofold: One is that we come in high with infrastructure investment—big bandwidth investment at our hotels, new guest reservation system in the cloud, new property management system that we’re developing—all three industry-leading, first in the industry. …
“We’re removing hardware from hotels, which is reducing cost and also reducing complexity for our colleagues in hotels so they can interact with the guests. On top of that platform, next we can bring guest experience. … Owners want efficiency and productivity. Our guests want guest experiences, mostly around entertainment and interaction. Those are the big bets we’re making.”
Doug Kessler, president and CEO, Ashford Hospitality Trust
“While our industry is fragmented, home sharing is even more fragmented. We can provide a better technological experience, because everyone wants to get into their room and have their direct connect to Netflix or Hulu and everything else that doesn’t exist necessarily in all hotels by any means, but it certainly doesn’t exist on the home sharing side with the Wi-Fi capabilities or the streaming capabilities that we have. We have the opportunity with our infrastructure, admittedly with a sizeable cost, but to offer that to a guest which could give hotels the competitive advantage that in some cases they’ve lost from the experience standpoint.
“You want a better experience? Stay in a hotel. If you’re into streaming, if you’re into having the best connection and that really matters to you from a productivity standpoint or from an entertainment standpoint, we have that in hotels.”
Stephanie Ricca contributed to this article.