The coronavirus pandemic has forced changes at Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, both internal and guest-facing, and those changes have been enabled by better use of technology.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—The crisis the hotel industry is facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic has forced Wyndham Hotels & Resorts to rethink how it uses technology, according to Scott Strickland, the company’s EVP and chief information officer.
Speaking during the “Three key lessons to inspire innovation in a time of crisis” session of the online HT Next 2020 conference, Strickland said corporate layoffs forced his organization to be more entrepreneurial and rethink operations.
“Coming out of that, we realized we couldn’t act (that) way, and we just didn’t have the infrastructure to support some of the decision-making the way we used to,” he said, adding that the company decided “we need to act a little bit more like a startup.’”
He said that included streamlining processes for projects. Instead of the typical months of review with “extended requirements, then a formal document, then a sign-off,” the company adopted more rapid discussions and informal discussions that could lead to prototypes within two weeks in some cases.
He expects changes like this to persist even after the pandemic ends and business returns.
“Those will become part of what IT at Wyndham is on an ongoing basis,” he said.
Dealing with franchisees
The crisis has also changed the company’s relationship with franchisees, including how IT supports them, Strickland said. Similarly, that’s resulted in more informal and more frequent discussions with owners on what they need.
“Something we’ve adopted is just Zoom calls with them,” he said. “Let’s get 20 or 30 franchisees together, and let’s talk about their current priorities and what’s going on for them.”
He said one of the pressing challenges for franchisees is the need for staff to assume new roles and more responsibilities with fewer guests on-property.
“That meant, frankly, some more support calls that we weren’t accustomed to getting because these people are now on the system checking people in, for example, when they hadn’t been in the past,” he said.
To deal with that, Wyndham started offering new ways for property-level employees to communicate with corporate IT. What used to require a formal call now could be conducted through chat or texting.
“We looked at how we can communicate with everybody in a way they’re most comfortable with,” he said.
Wyndham IT also developed a “mobile-enabled checklist” for employees with new responsibilities they weren’t accustomed to, such as housekeepers who suddenly had to change the way they clean rooms.
Better connecting with guests
In the low-demand environment, Wyndham has used technology to better identify who is actually traveling now and how to reach them, Strickland said. He said the people most likely to travel now are “an everyday business traveler, and a leisure guest who’s traveling in a different way than perhaps they did before.”
When assessing the needs of each group of potential guests and how to address them, one that stuck out for business travelers was having “contact with as few people as possible.”
“We rolled out a new mobile app … in September, and we continue to add functionality,” he said. “We’re going to be enabling contactless payments in the next quarter or so across our economy hotels. That’s a feature that normally you wouldn’t provide in an economy hotel. That’s a high-end feature.”
The company has also started offering “instant book,” which allows business travelers to book a room with just their phone number and no credit card required.
“(We’re) offering people that flexibility, recognizing the way they’re traveling today is they’re not flying. They’re driving,” he said. “They may be taking this exit or they may take an exit a couple down, but they need the ability right now to make their reservation.”
That functionality is part of Wyndham’s mobile app and is already integrated with its property management and central reservation systems, Strickland said. The mobile app allows guests to make those bookings using fingerprints or facial recognition.