Another HITEC has come and gone, and what a blast it was! Baltimore was HOT – not just because of the searing heat, but also more importantly due to the masses of super TECH that was on display @HITEC. And let's not forget the jam-packed parties (a.k.a. Networking events). If you attended HITEC, you will know what I mean, if you didn't, too bad – it was a hoot.
Walking the aisles is always a treat, you get to see, or at least try to see most of the world's vendors under one roof at one time. The Goliaths take up the center spots, whilst the newbies are parked on the periphery that as I've said before, probably has the next killer app. I admire the determination of those folks.
Bumping into long lost buddies is always welcome, and this year was no exception. I think I did more handshaking and hugging in the aisles and at "networking events" than I did on actual booths. One individual was so pleased to see me that he insisted on taking our photo and posting it onto Facebook…
Sadly though, I was unable to attend any of the education sessions, which greatly upset me – but there are only just so many show hours, and when you deduct HFTP and HTNG meetings as well as a few private briefing sessions, you are not left with very much availability. Still, I hope some were digitally captured for posterity, and I can play catch-up when they are finally distributed.
But what I was in search of was THE SECRET SAUCE. So many folks use this term that I was hoping to taste it, or at least catch a whiff of it – but alas, it eluded me.
At HITEC - I was on a mission. I wanted to find out how technology can justify itself in a Hotel. I'm realistic enough to understand that we can't operate Hotels without certain forms of technology, but how do we really measure the effectiveness of it, and justify the expense to Hotel Owners, who are themselves looking for an ROI on just about everything.
Over the last 2,000 years that we've been operating Hotels – admittedly, there has been some improvement, or has there? In their most basic form they still provide the same thing – a place to break a journey, get some rest, something to eat and drink, and wash-up. How they do it, comes as many variations as there are colors on a Pantone color chart.
A Hotel is simply broken down into two parts: Hardware – the physical building and systems, and Software, the people who make it run and whatever you say or think - give it a unique personality. Again, these come in many flavors, shapes and sizes, but the fundamentals are still the same.
The Guest varies by Demographic, but all said and done at the end of the day, the needs and wants are the same - a clean, comfortable and affordable place to stay.
Those of you who are regular readers of my BLOG – know that I often point out deficiencies in a Hotel that I have stayed, and my Baltimore and New York experiences were no exception. I will keep the names of the establishments out of the comments – but feel free to speculate:
OK – enough of that griping - let me get back to the main reason for this BLOG and that is the hunt for the Secret Sauce.
Justifying tech expenditure is becoming more and more difficult, and I'm constantly challenging, as well as being challenged as to why we should be adopting certain Tech strategies, and to justify them. One of those might be for example, should we still put a HSIA wired port on the desk when most people connect over Wi-Fi? Another could be – do we need so many standard power sockets when people mostly require USB power. I ask myself, is USB the new Universal power socket?
So, when I met up with three leading vendors at HITEC I was trying get a feel for this kind of justifiability. They specialize in the following areas:
I was hoping that these companies could provide me with meaningful metrics on how their systems are being used – for example:
Apart from Hospitality - these folks are also heavily involved in the Retail space servicing several leading high street retailers. These retailers' measurement of customer behavior is literally off the charts. They know, for example, what time people come in the store, what are the popular items they look for and buy, how long the average person stays in the store, how they pay, how often they come back, if something is on special what else they may be tempted to impulse buy, where items should be placed in the store, and of course the average transaction value. They also know to play different music at certain times of the day so you are either walking more quickly, or subdued to take more time to wander through the aisles.
Questioning this Vendor if they take the info from their own PMS and compare it to the data from the PoS to see if certain demographics have additional purchases and what exactly they purchase, they look back at me with blank faces.
With this type of data, could we do predictive analysis based on future business on-the-books and then used with revenue management systems, could support the decision making process as to which type of guest will yield more, and how certain offers in F&B or other areas of the Hotel may be attractive to them. They don't.
Similarly, I asked these guys if they could tell me how certain types of Guests used the TV? Could they tell me for example if a specific Guest demographic stayed longer on HBO or BBC than others? How often was the TV remote clicked, how often was the TV used for wake up calls, or the PPV system used, again by a certain guest demographic. They could not.
Their VP Sales and CTO told me that their solution was mainly used for: Wake up calls, requesting amenities and room make-up or turndown, and ordering room service. When questioned if they could tell me how many Guests used the device versus say calling down or speaking with a real member of staff, they could not. Could they then tell me which type of Guest likes to have a wake-up call, or request a room turndown, they could not!
So, using just these three examples, I'm finding it hard to understand the justification process for (certain types of) technology in a Hotel.
Saying these are service enablers, or add to the guest experience is no longer good enough – we have to have hard facts and I'm wondering how we can get these. Recently, one CTO of a major Asia based hotel group asked me if I had access to any reports which showed how guests were rating internet access – much like they would the comfort or cleanliness of a room, and I could not produce any. There was just anecdotal evidence to say Guest's need it, but how they enjoy consuming it, or paying for it, was not measured. At least I could not find any information to substantiate this.
Then another question is niggling at the back of my mind. If we know that Guests are not using the in-room phone for revenue generating purposes, and that they receive calls on their mobile phone versus the in-room phone, the question is not why do we place so many units in a room, but why do we still install voicemail for Guests, if it's almost never used?
Taking these examples, and my comments on the two Hotel experiences - it's definitely time to get back to basics and question why we do things.
What are the true benefits these technologies bring to the Guest and business? How can we measure the effectiveness, and to really understand the masses of data that these systems collect, which can better help us provision services to guests, rather than guess which I believe in many cases we still do, and often fail miserably.
* After raising these comments to the Hotel, they agreed to refund my HSIA and laundry charges.
Pertlink Limited commenced operations on October 23rd 2000, and as IT Consultants exclusively caters to clients connected with the hospitality industry, helping them work through the maze of new technologies. Not only is Pertlink strategically placed to serve the industry from its headquarters in Hong Kong, it has been internationally recognized by numerous organizations as a global reach company helping the industry through its unique and unparalleled network of people who have vast expertise in the Hotel and IT industries. The team behind Pertlink, whose collective knowledge will be an asset to any company - will help maximize a Hotel's guest experience making it a positive one through the way technology is developed, marketed and used in the Hotel industry.
2/f, 22 Stanley Mound Road
Stanley, Hong Kong (SAR)
Phone: +852 946 80848
Fax: +852 3010 0124
Terence Ronson is the Managing Director of Pertlink Limited. Now residing in Manila after almost two decades in Hong Kong, Terence launched his diversified hospitality career as a chef, later holding various general management positions with well-known hotels in the UK and Asia. In the mid-80s he developed his penchant for technology, and in 2000 started Pertlink Ltd., (Hong Kong) a hospitality technology consultancy, becoming as well the Technology Editor for HOTELS Asia Pacific and authoring since then numerous industry-related articles. In 2001, CNN's eBizasia program featured him for his innovative work at Rosedale on the Park Hong Kong, the first cyber boutique Hotel. It was at that point he originated the first hotel app – HOTELINMYHAND. Terence also helped Langham Place Hong Kong win many accolades for its technology deployment as well as various other well-known hotels across Southeast Asia. In China, Terence was heavily involved in establishing and delivering the IT strategy for Jumeirah Himalayas (Shanghai), Puli (Shanghai), Sofitel Wanda (Beijing), and Guoman (Shanghai). He also participated in the development of the technology vision for Disney Shanghai and Tangula Luxury Train. Terence often chairs and speaks at global industry events and sits on various advisory boards, in addition to holding a Visiting Lecturer position at Hong Kong Polytechnic. He is a CHTP (Certified Hospitality Technology Professional) and runs an active hotel technology blog.