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Hotel technology roundtable: How to keep your hotel on track with tech

Technology roundtable

Do hotels need to keep up with technology? Or is it the other way round – tech needs to keep up with the way hotel operations are changing? Boutique Hotelier, in association with Lightspeed, brought together four leading industry names to get their thoughts on this vital topic.

ON THE PANEL:

  • Laura Sharpe, General Manager, Ham Yard Hotel
  • Naomi Heaton, CEO, The Other House
  • Nassar Khalil, CEO, Rogue City Hotels
  • Saurabh Kukreja, General Manager, The Gantry
  • Lee Saunderson, UK Country Manager, Lightspeed
  • Rosario Cutuli, Senior Marketing Manager, Lightspeed

What are your priorities when it comes to buying and installing new technology? And how have you adapted to new developments in this area?

Laura Sharpe: For us, it is about making sure that everything is user-friendly first and foremost. It has got to be intuitive and needs to be easy. We have bought things that are not going to be labour intensive for the team, so we’re always looking to bring it back to being very intuitive – making that journey really simple and not difficult.

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Saurabh Kukreja: Hilton has also done that. You can check in on the app and then use that as a key to get into your room as well. We know there are plans to use that smart app to turn on the TV, turn on the lights, temperature control as well. The problem for hotels is that a lot of these buildings are older and so to get the technology to existing hotels can be a challenge. But the day when a single app can do everything and fully interfaces with all our systems is not far away.

Naomi Heaton: Tech is integral to our business model as we want to give our residents complete control of their stay at The Other House, whether they’re with us for a night, or a year. Through the development of our highly intelligent Other House app we are supporting a seamless guest journey throughout our Residents’ Clubs. From checking in and out, mobile keys for door access, ordering food and drink, to arranging laundry and housekeeping, or even summoning the lift, our residents will have fingertip command of their visit. The global pandemic has only served to accelerate guests’ requirements and expectations for smart tech like this, and we will be able to meet that need effortlessly.

The global pandemic has only served to accelerate guests’ requirements and expectations for smart tech

NAOMI HEATON, CEO THE OTHER HOUSE

Nassar Khalil: We’ve been fortunate that most of our portfolio is new so we can build all of that into it. Our concept is that we have a mini kitchen in each of our suites – it’s still a hotel and has everything you would expect in a conventional hotel but with the kitchen, too. Deliveries, too, have been integrated into and everything is seamlessly connected. You can check in on your phone and bring back groceries without being questioned. We are also looking into using Amazon Alexa in the rooms.

Naomi Heaton: One of our fundamental brand pillars is providing control not only to allow our guests to stay their way through the use of tech but to support our sustainability agenda. By introducing the Other House app as an instrumental part of our guest experience, it helps, for example, to minimise paper usage, waste and even energy usage by enabling guests to monitor their consumption. A few years ago, this approach would have been considered unconventional to say the least, but expectations have changed towards technology over the last 18 months, with more self-service and less contact becoming the norm across the travel and hospitality sector and preferred by the more digital generations. Of course, we understand that some guests, especially those with us for shorter stays, may want to have a more hands-on, traditional service. Therefore, we will also have our brigade of highly skilled ‘House Jacks’ available to assist in person should they wish. Indeed, with the more mundane activities dealt with through tech, they will have more time for meaningful personal interactions with our residents.

Nassar Khalil, CEO of Rogue City Hotels

Nassar Khalil: There is a fine line between being so distant with service and relying on technology, and we grapple with it all the time.

Laura Sharpe: We’ve gone the other way. I think a light switch works perfectly well, you don’t need to replace that with technology but it’s taking away the things that the team were spending a lot of time on. Filling out forms, for example, is all automated now. And we’ve found that guests want to talk to us a lot more. During Covid we changed a few things – there were QR codes in the room and most people would say that’s gone now. You want to have that interaction with the server at your table in the restaurant about the menu.

Saurabh Kukreja: I think there are two things to consider. Firstly, how does an app fit in with traditional luxury? The other piece is, if it’s a long-stay guest, it makes sense to have an app, but if I’m a transient guest, I find it quite annoying to download an app.

Laura Sharpe: One of the hardest things for us is that we have an incredible amount of data sources, one for every single different thing we do, because at the time when we put it in that was the only thing that worked. So I have a different platform to book bowling as I do to book a table in the restaurant, and now people want to do everything together. So the challenge is how do I make that seamless? And how does my team do that, especially when they have been separate things previously.

Saurabh Kukreja: From a customer experience point of view, it’s important to be able to do that. The last thing you want to hear is to be passed to another department when ringing up to book a hotel.

Saurabh Kukreja, General Manager at The Gantry

Laura Sharpe: Yes, so if you want to book a room, a table, spa treatment, that is three different things. So that then becomes manual unless we can find a solution.

Saurabh Kukreja: It’s a problem with bigger brands as well. Technological challenges that come from historic usage of things – and systems are behind so they don’t allow for these new technologies to come in. With these newer brands it’s easier.

Laura Sharpe: But things do move very quickly. We put new technology into the apartments when we opened them seven years ago and that is now obsolete and we wouldn’t choose to put it in should we be building now.

There is a fine line between being so distant with service and relying on technology, and we grapple with it all the time

Nassar Khalil, CEO of Rogue City Hotels

Naomi Heaton: We are launching our first property, The Other House South Kensington, next Spring. We won’t know until it’s opened which technology solutions have worked the best, but we’re working with exceptional teams to ensure that all tech implementation works smoothly and that the Other House app is really simple and enjoyable to use. That’s not to say our resolve has remained untested. We are also using tech to significantly improve operational efficiencies and ensure that all the ‘behind the scenes’ systems integrate without the need for costly and error-prone manual interventions. The fragmentation of hotel technology has been a significant challenge, and there are 30+ systems involved now at a macro level. Finding the right fit for core systems like our PMS, CRS, CRM, POS etc., ensuring that they interface with all the many others and crucially feed seamlessly into our finance system, has proved a demanding but critical journey.

Nassar Khalil: Then you often get these third party companies which promise to integrate all the systems on one platform. But the problem with that is you are then dealing with a third party, so when something goes wrong, who do I call?

Laura Sharpe: We have a broader range of guest attitudes and expectations, from those wanting to have the same interactions with staff as they did before, some wanting more and others wanting less. It’s a fine line.

Lee Saunderson: It is really interesting to hear you say how your technologies interact. I think the tech stack right now is really fluid, it’s constantly moving. We are at the beginning of a real tech revolution and within years there will be a simplified version of doing everything – that’s why the legacy systems that won’t be able to communicate with each other will cease. Our Epos systems are looking to make your lives easier. There is a balance too – but it’s an exciting time and things are moving a lot quicker than before.

Naomi Heaton, CEO of The Other House

How often should you reassess your systems?

Laura Sharpe: You do look at it every year when it comes to budgeting and you look at what’s working and what’s not. One of the things for us is that most systems we use are not bespoke for what you want to do and that is something that is becoming more available. There have been a couple of things we’ve put in because it was the big provider to go with and then actually a couple of years down the line it’s not giving us what we need. Now there is more confidence to try other players in the market.

Saurabh Kukreja: Some of the smaller brands are a lot more agile and can respond to you a lot quicker and are able to make more bespoke systems for you.

What about the next 12 months – how do you see hotel technology trends developing?

Saurabh Kukreja: I think we will need to relook at the whole recruitment piece and see where technology helps. I mentioned that I did not struggle with a lot of my recruitment because I went on a social media recruitment drive. I did Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and TikTok advertising and that’s how I got all my attendees for our job fairs. We are a millennial brand so that’s how we tapped into that. I also think some of the big recruitment sites are slow to catch on to this and not great on mobile sites. So we did all our recruitment on social media.

Laura Sharpe: In terms of the corporate crowd, my average length of stay has gone up massively because people will come fewer times but they will combine that with a leisure stay. Environmentally, I don’t think people will be travelling as much. I don’t think we will ever get back to where we were before but that doesn’t mean it’s worse, it’s just going to be different.

Naomi Heaton: Behaviour will change, but it may not mean less room nights.

Laura Sharpe: It will be a hybrid. I interview people on Zoom now, even in the same city. There is nothing like meeting someone in person, but as an initial introduction it’s great.

Saurabh Kukreja: People have also got more comfortable using Zoom, too. That mindset has changed.

LIGHTSPEED FOR HOTELS

Lightspeed provides a hotel restaurant POS system that is designed for flexible customer service and fully integrates with a hotel’s PMS. The POS system can be fully customised to make guests feel right at home. It allows you to:

• Offer your guests charge-to-room and connect your systems with PMS integrations
• Fully customise your floor plans to accurately reflect your hotel restaurant
• Build menus and assign them to different devices with menu management tools
• Get to know your trends and data with built-in reports and optional advanced reporting
• Serve guests and take payments from anywhere on a cloud-based iPad POS system and built-in sign-on-screen feature
• Keep your service going even if the WiFi goes down with the LiteServer
• Use tabs to seamlessly track guest charges from restaurant to bar to room service
• Process orders in your hotel bar quickly with the Quick Service Mode

To learn more, visit lightspeedhq.co.uk

Tags : hotel techhotel technologyTECHNOLOGYtechnology trends
Eamonn Crowe

The author Eamonn Crowe

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