With so much hospitality tech around, it can be difficult to know where to start. But it’s not something you can afford to ignore: building a time-saving revenue-driving tech stack is key to running a successful business. Fortunately, Mews Unfold 2021 is here to help.
As part of our Build Your Perfect Tech Stack session, we questioned experts from hotel tech companies and hoteliers themselves for some invaluable guidance. If you have a spare hour (and we heartily recommend you find one) you can rewatch the webinar in full. If you’re more pressed for time, read on here for some of the highlights. Joining Josef Lapka, our Senior Product Director, were:
- Robin Clifford, VP Global Supply, Impala
- Dave Collier, General Manager – Americas, OTA Insight
- Alex Hysbergue, Consultant, Inji Niji
- Tobias Koehler, Chief Commerical Officer, Big Mama Hotels
- Erik Tengen, Co-Founder, Oaky
Where to start when adding to your tech stack
From a hotelier’s perspective, one of the most important things you need to do before considering any new technology is spending time on crystalizing your own identity. “It is all about knowing who you are, who you want to serve, and what your brand is,” said Tobias of Big Mama Hotels. “Are you a budget hotel with very few people on the frontline? Or are you a five-star hotel where people expect you to serve them personally?”
The amount of information out there can be overwhelming, so be sure you’re not being dictated to. “We get calls every day from vendors, it's sometimes not easy to keep your mind straight. That's why I always tell people who ask me where to start: know who you are. Then nobody can tell you where you want to go.”
“It’s not only about where you are today, it’s about where you want to be,” agreed Erik, who sits on the tech vendor side of things. “We started doing customer journey mapping where we look at all of the touch points across the customer journey and map out where we are today and what our vision is for the future.”
Involving the hotelier in the journey like this aids the understanding of the technology and builds stronger connections. But it also pays to look outside of hospitality. We have a tendency to be a little insular, but there’s plenty to learn from other industries. “I think it’s changing,” said Alex. “I see more and more CIOs and CTOs coming from other industries – their previous job is not just director of IT at another hotel. And that's a very healthy thing.”
The right tech stack is vital for staffing issues
As we all know too well, hospitality has a staffing problem right now. This is where having the right tech stack can be a godsend. “Skeleton teams are here to say,” said Erik, “so automation would be very key for me.”
Good technology is as much about retaining staff as it is about bringing them in. As Alex said: “What kind of technology do we put in place so their life is as simple as possible, and they don't walk out the door six weeks after joining? Technology is right in the center of it. For example, it should be super quick for people to issue refunds and things like that, and automate it as much as possible.”
As well as what the tech does, you need to think about how easy it is to use. Dave highlighted this when he noted that, “As teams are doing more with less, it's really important that tech is intuitive, easy to learn, and easy to train internally. Or that the vendors have the ability to support and train users and get them up to speed quickly.” If you can, test out any new software before you buy it, or at the very least make sure you get a demo as to how your team will actually use it.
Independent vs group hotels tech stacks
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to building a tech stack. A number of factors will influence what works best for your property, and independents versus groups is one of the biggest and most obvious dividing lines.
Erik and his Oaky team have plenty of experience with working on either side of that line. “There’s an immediate scaling issue, which is pretty evident when you compare enterprise and an independent. But the main difference is that at a chain, things take way longer. People have opinions. When we build towards independents and chains, it's like independents need to learn from what other successful independents are doing, and chains need to learn from what the hotels within their chain, but also other chains are doing.”
If you’re an independent hotel, you have a lot more freedom when it comes to what you offer, as well as how fast you can move. “We have these crazy examples from the early days of Oaky; hotels selling goldfish to their guests and putting them in the room. Upselling like joint-rolling workshops,” said Erik. These are ideas that won’t necessarily bring you lots of revenue, but they’ll do wonders in terms of guest experience. This is one of the areas where you can really distinguish yourself from the competition.
Hotel Big Mama has properties in Berlin and Leipzig. “From our perspective, the hotel stack needs to be centrally steered,” explained Tobias, “in order to be able to have the brand under control and to deliver the same customer experience in each hotel – and also to scale it easier. This frees a lot of time for the people onsite to actually take care of the guests. We take a lot of measures to automate as much as possible, because part of the Big Mama concept is that people actually feel at home, and that they're not welcomed like a robot."
“Just as an example, we recently rolled out Microsoft Teams for Big Mama, and people started playing around, which was so great to see. They built their own checklists and recurring things without having to tell them about it. That's where we need to identify these early adopters and maybe give them some kind of a job enrichment, educate them, and give them the chance to try things out. Mews is a good example. You can easily connect other suppliers and just try them without any costs. So I tell them to try things out and plant a seed somewhere and maybe some something grows out of it. Education and empowerment are the main points.”
How to use data in a post-Covid world
In the pre-Covid world, historical data could be relied upon to predict demand and trends with high accuracy. Now, with a constantly changing set of attitudes and travel rules, budgets and forecasts are harder than ever.
"Historic demand patterns just don't really help,” confirmed Dave. “So we think it's vital to be able to have forward-looking data at your disposal to test some of your hypotheses, see where demand's coming from, and see which markets might be searching on your property. Booking windows are short, so that data not only has to be available, but it has to be easy to analyze and put to work in order to make decisions.”
There’s a need, then, to look at data a little differently than in the past. For instance, you can look at your property’s data around rate strategy not in terms of past demand, but of present usage. Here’s what Alex said:
“Most hoteliers do not know if their out of order and out of service rooms actually have a direct impact on their revenue. How many times do they have out of order rooms that they cannot sell? And how does that change their rate strategy? You need to learn how to manage these kinds of things in your building – that's not a guest journey, that's a building journey.”
It’s also worthwhile investigating performance data from a more granular employee perspective – “expanding the data conversation beyond the sales front,” as Alex said. How many hours are wasted every day by going through OTA bookings to check for valid credit cards or duplicated information? If you’re not sure where to begin with building your tech stack, looking at this kind of data will point you in the right direction for where you can make the most time and cost savings through automation and smart software.
There were plenty more great conversation points from this Unfold session, but if you want to hear them you’ll have to watch the recording. One of the key takeaways about building your tech stack is that you shouldn’t think of it in terms of a one-off decision that you don’t have to think about again for years. If you work more iteratively, your property will become much more efficient.
Alex had a great analogy about this, which we’ll leave you with now:
"The days of working on your stack and then not doing anything for five years are over. It never worked. Investing in IT, it's a little bit like gardening. You invest a little bit every day in improving it, and over the years you get compound results. And it looks so much nicer five years later, just because of the sum of every investment that was made over time.”
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