The acronym API stands for application programming interface although for most hoteliers it might as well be gibberish. Don’t stress though, because the concept is actually quite system. In the early days of software, systems were server based which meant that they rarely (if ever) spoke with each other. Think about that first Mac in your house before the internet - it was very much a lonely island. As processing power advanced and internet speeds increased exponentially software became easier to develop and more accessible. As the world shifted from a myriad of lonely server based systems to an ecosystem of hyper connected platforms there grew a need to enable seamless communications amongst those systems - enter the API. Ok, let’s use a hotel analogy to better understand the concept. Imagine you’re sitting at a table in your hotel’s restaurant. The kitchen is the part of the “system” that will prepare your order. What’s missing is the critical link to communicate your order to the kitchen and deliver your food back to your table. That’s where the waiter (or API) comes in. The waiter is the messenger – or API – that takes your request and tells the kitchen – the system – what to do. Then the waiter delivers the response back to you; in this case, it’s your food. APIs are effectively messengers of data between applications. Every time you book a flight on Expedia you are using an API that delivers pricing and availability from the respective airline’s database onto Expedia’s website. That same dynamic now happens between hotel software and hardware systems. Hotel Tech Report recently published a story about Volara’s Alexa for hotels voice activated tech and its ability to turn off room lights via Honeywell Inncom control systems and control guest entertainment solutions on platforms like Sonifi - that all happens via API. Given the widespread use of APIs in almost every industry one would think that hotels can easily connect software systems like business intelligence software, revenue management systems and staff task management software to any property management system - but in reality that’s far from the truth. Major property management system companies like Oracle Micros and Agilysys have literally hundreds of integration requests each month from software companies. Each of those integrations must be vetted for security and reliability which takes time and resources. Those same PMS companies have hundreds of feature requests from enterprise clients that are prioritized ahead of those integrations partners. Adding to the headache, when an integration breaks down (which they inevitably do) the PMS companies are generally held responsible for client support. Further, when one of those PMS companies updates a feature that impacts their APIs - they need each and every integration partner to make necessary adjustments to the connection. This integrations dilemma is a messy problem and London based Impala has come up with a simple and elegant solution - a universal hotel PMS API. Impala has built a universal API that both property management system providers and their software partners can build onto which saves the PMS companies time and money while allowing their partners to scale more quickly. Hoteliers benefit by being able to connect their systems and from the ability to try more technology products that optimize their businesses - often products that wouldn’t have already been connected to their property management system and therefore would have been unusable. Last year Impala raised $1.75M to serve more vendors and continue executing on its vision for a more innovative hospitality industry. We sat down with Impala co-founder Ben Stephenson to chat about the future of the hotel industry with a specific focus on how connected systems can turn the industry from a laggard into a technology pioneer. What was your background prior to starting Impala? Prior to starting Impala I was a Software Engineer working on a number of really interesting projects. One of the later projects that I worked on was managing a team responsible for delivering integration with GDS web-services. Impala initially came about as I met people when working in travel technology and started to understand how out-dated and ill-fitting the technology stack in travel was from almost every angle. I met my Co-Founder Charlie Cowley through a very old friend and since we have very complementary skill sets (myself in engineering, Charlie in sales) and Charlie being one of the few people that can put up with me for more than a few hours, we decided to start Impala. Who was your first customer? This is actually a really fantastic story. In the very, very early days before we really dug into building a secure integration platform, we were building a Property Management System. I was glued to a laptop for days on end building the thing (literally a never-ending job) and Charlie's job was to go out and drum up some pilots. We were based in London and the first guy that Charlie even managed to get on the phone is a chap called John who runs a 10 bedroom guest-house in West Wales. He somehow convinces him to take a look at the software - but it has to be in person. For anyone unfamiliar with the UK, West Wales might be one of the most painful places to get to from London. All you can really do is drive and if you catch the traffic on a bad day it can take about seven hours. Neither of us have a car because we're Londoners and so Charlie hops in some Zipcar and sets off to Wales. He gets there and gives me a call to say that he has no reception on his phone and he'll call me in an hour when he's done. Anyway, fast forward four hours and absolute radio silence. I try to call Charlie. Nothing. I try a few more times. Zip. At this point I'm pretty sure that Charlie has been lured across country to be murdered in a 10 bedroom dungeon and I'm trying to figure out how to call the Welsh police. Finally, I get a call from Charlie to say that he'd been grilled for the entire afternoon about a product he - to be honest - didn't really at the time completely understand but he'd somehow got them signed up. That’s incredible and I didn’t even realize Impala started as a PMS. You guys have come a long way since then - tell us about the business today. With every interface, you're currently paying your PMS an extraordinary amount for insecure, slow access for data *that you own*. Impala is an extremely secure, rapid data layer that sits on top of your PMS and lets you work with great software and hardware ten times faster and cheaper. Who is one mentor that has really helped you scale the business? There are so many people that have helped us get to where we are so I'm going to have to pick out two. Adriaan Coppens, the ex-CEO of OTA Insight has been exceptionally helpful. He's always one or two steps ahead of where my thinking is and it really pushes me to be better. I'm almost certain every time we've disagreed, he's ended up being correct eventually. Jens Lapinski, the CEO of Angel Invest Ventures as well has been massively influential. He's completely no-nonsense and happily contrarian. I once wrote Jens a wonderfully lengthy strategy email about where we should go that spanned about four pages of A4 and I just got a single line reply that dismantled my entire argument. What's the biggest mistake that you see hoteliers making on a day-to-day basis? Hoteliers think that getting access to your own data has to take months. One of the golden rules we have when we consider whether to work with PMS or whether to implement our secure reader is "Can this PMS switch on an interface in less than 24 hours". If the answer is no then we use the reader rather than web-services. Our goal is to get Impala switched on in a hotel inside 24 hours. What's the most surprising thing you've learned about scaling technology into hotels? How unique every hotel is. We work with hotels in California, Kazakhstan and the Caribbean and every single one has different needs, processes and requirements. Luckily these days Impala is a very flexible product but I do feel for anyone coming into this industry thinking every hotel is entirely homogeneous because it's a tough learning curve. Are there 1 or 2 companies that have been a particularly good partners for Impala? We work with so many companies that I can't possibly shout out all of the great partners that we have. I love companies that move quickly however, people like Triptease and Customer Alliance that have really big visions and executive teams that are willing to really push the boat out to achieve them. If you could partner with any vendor in hotel tech, who would it be and why? I'm really excited at the moment about a lot of the work we're doing with hardware vendors. The demands are very different, a lot smaller data footprint but very low latency requirements in how fast they need data. Other than that, we'll be launching the Impala Distribution API later on in the year which will allow us to work with some very innovative companies in the distribution space. Where do you see Impala in 5-years? If you look at most hotels, because of integrations and interface problems and the fact they have a very specific domain that mass market tools don't cater for, they're comparatively very light users of technology. I hope that with tools like Impala we can change that and that in five years, hotels are going to see healthier margins because of it. In five years Impala will be the default way that hoteliers manage and share their data with partners, whether that be distributors, software or hardware vendors or governments. Hoteliers will have super fine-grained control and auditing of exactly who has access to what data and how frequently. What's one piece of advice that you have for any entrepreneurs looking to get into the hotel tech space? Hire well. Technology is hard, hospitality is hard. We wouldn't be anywhere near where we are right now if Charlie and I didn't have a genuinely incredible team of hospitality professionals and technologists. It's so easy to hire badly and hotel tech is quite an unsexy space so you have to be very careful and do it very well. What is the best book you've read lately and why? The Fortune Cookie Principle by Bernadette Jiwa. Brand is so important to any business and it should inform absolutely everything you do. Jiwa demonstrates this through some great case studies. What is your favorite podcast Business - 20 Minute VC. Comedy - The Worst Idea of All Time. What is one thing that most people don't know about you? I'm a huge fan of cricket. Every few months I start to try and organise a charity cricket match for the hospitality industry. I just have to nail down Erik Muñoz on his availability this summer since he's the Australian Captain.
There’s a lot of talk in the hotel industry about massive growth from homeshare players like AirBnB but relatively little talk about the immense growth of franchise brands. For years now, major brands like Marriott have growth hacked their way to scale by going asset light. By relieving themselves of physical assets and focusing on a franchise business model, Marriott projects 1,700 new hotel openings between now and 2021. This growth may seem surprising given all the buzz around travelers wanting unique and local experiences but there’s also been a ton of growth amongst incredible boutique hotel concepts. Think about brands like Two Roads (Thompson, JDV), Bunkhouse, Nomad, Freehand, Standard Hotels, Public Hotels, Bunkhouse, 25H Bikini - the list goes on and on. All of the “independent brands” mentioned above (several have been acquired by chains) have found ways to create incredible (and unique) travel experiences for guests but there is one thing holding them back - scalability. Even the best (and most capitalized) management teams have barriers to scale like identifying unique real estate, negotiating large scale transactions, securing financing and building out properties. AirBnB took a different approach to rapid scaling by leveraging the power of an unregulated marketplace model. As a result of this strategy, just 9 years after its founding, AirBnB already had more rooms online than the top 5 brands combined. AirBnB passed the top 5 chains by # of listings (CB Insights) You’d be hard pressed to find a friend who hasn’t had a crappy experience on AirBnB but they’ve probably also had some great ones. Where the franchises found a good balance between scalability and quality control, AirBnB and the homeshare economy sought rapid scale in unregulated markets. More recently a new category of hotel management company has popped up. Some call these players hometels (home+hotel) and they’re more generally referred to as alternative lodging. Brands in the alternative lodging sector include Stay Alfred, Sonder, The Guild Hotels and to some extent groups such as Selina and OYO. The alternative lodging sector brings similar scalability to homeshare companies with similar quality control to brands. Sonder, for example, was founded by college students in 2012 and just 5 years later hit $100M in revenue with it’s rapid venture capital fueled growth. The alternative lodging sector brings the consistency of a hotel without the overhead and therefore often charges cheaper rates relative to comparable properties. While attending the Triptease Direct Booking Summit in Dallas last year I slept at Sonder competitor Stay Alfred and the experience was remarkable. Stay Alfred had leased a floor of apartments next to the Statler Hotel (Hilton Curio Collection) and converted the apartment units into hotel rooms. These rooms were larger than the rooms at the Statler next door and one third the price. Upon arrival I headed to a Key Cafe kiosk in the lobby of the building to get my key - the process was completely seamless and I never interacted with a single person. The room came outfitted with DirectTV and high speed WiFi as well as HDMI cables to plug in my devices. The alternative lodging experience is undeniably something that the hotel industry needs to keep careful tabs on as it scales quickly and will be highly disruptive to certain segments of the market - perhaps even more so than AirBnB. Companies like Stay Alfred and Sonder have used distribution channels like Booking.com to kickstart their growth and have augmented digital advertising efforts by offering unbeatable (sometimes even unprofitable) prices to bring customers in the door via 3rd party distribution channels. Once customers like me are in the door and have a great experience - we then tend to look for those properties for similar use cases in the future. As an example, I recently went straight to Stay Alfred’s website to book my hotel for an upcoming conference. It’s not all fun and games though in the alternative lodging sector as the excitement has pushed valuations into what many believe is bubble territory. Alternative lodging player Selina which is often referred to as a “co-living hospitality brand” (aka glorified luxe hostel with good WiFi and coffee) recently raised $100M at an $850M valuation for it’s portfolio of 22,000 hostel beds. To put the Selina valuation in perspective, John Pritzker’s Geolo Capital sold Two Roads Hospitality to Hyatt for $430M last year. At the time Two Roads managed 17,000 hotel rooms with a significant development pipeline and iconic brands such as Thompson and Joie De Vivre. Two Roads was producing approximately $40M of EBITDA at the time of the sale while Selina is likely to see losses for many years to come. The alternative accommodation market is undeniably frothy with prices driven up by venture capitalists who have AirBnB fomo and are paying technology multiples for real estate companies. Today’s TechCrunch article fires a warning shot to investors: "...one focus will be to improve the booking process and algorithmic recommendations that people use both to figure out where to travel next, as well as what they want to do when they get there." ~TechCrunch comments on Selina’s use of $100M The question to ask is whether these are real estate companies fronting as tech companies or whether they’re the real deal. Do we actually need algorithms to tell us where to travel next? If so, is that technology actually valuable? One of the major proponents of the alternative lodging sector has been Thayer Ventures, a travel tech focused venture capital firm with deep ties to the hotel industry. Thayer’s focus on travel and hospitality gives the firm a unique perspective so we sat down with Venture Partner Katherine Grass to discuss hotel tech, the rise of alternative lodging and more. Katherine previously founded Amadeus Ventures and has met with literally thousands of startups in the space over the years - she’s seen it all and has unparalleled insight into the alternative accomodation trend. How did you get into travel tech venture investing? I started my venture career at Amadeus IT Group where I founded Amadeus Ventures and went on to build out an entire ecosystem of programs working with external players and created their global Innovation & Venturing unit. Ventures had always been my first passion - aiding startups to be successful. Therefore, when the opportunity arose to join Thayer Ventures, Thayer being the leading travel-technology fund globally, I naturally jumped at the idea! Thayer Ventures is unique because we are not only one of the few travel-technology focused funds globally, but all partners come with a very deep expertise and network in this space. Therefore, we are not only able to make solid investment decisions based on our industry expertise, but we are able to truly help our portfolio companies, whether that be with industry contacts, strategic direction or business development. What hotel and hospitality tech companies have you invested in? Being travel-technology focused, we have many hospitality tech investments in our portfolio. Mews Systems, Optii Solutions, HYP3R, Sonder, BookingPal, Duetto, Groupize and Social Tables are examples of hospitality tech investments. Social Tables recently being sold to Cvent. While Dishcraft Robotics and xx are additional investments that apply to the hotel sector. How do you usually come across hotel tech investment opportunities? Because we are one of the leading funds in travel technology, we have a combination of companies reaching out to us, referrals from other generalist funds looking for a travel-tech expert as well as directly discovering startups at major events. Most of our investments tend to be Series A and we will absolutely lead rounds where it makes sense. What’s one piece of advice you have for hotel tech entrepreneurs when raising capital? Hard to pick one piece of advice! My advice would be to ensure you are addressing a real business problem in the industry. You would be surprised by how many startups develop ideas for concepts that aren’t seen as real pain point opportunities by the hotels. Additionally, ensure your opportunity has a big enough addressable market. This means there is enough profit to be made by your idea if you’re successful. Small opportunity means small profits, and you won’t get investors attention with this. How do you think the hotel technology space will change over the next 5 years? We will definitely see the hospitality tech stack open up and be more interactive. This means open APIs and the ability for various pieces to interact with each other and not necessarily all be from the same vendor. On alternative lodging, we still have massive growth in this sector and we will see this continue over the next 5 years. People often say that the hotel industry is slow to adopt technology. Do you agree? I don’t agree. We have seen hotels becoming increasingly open to quick experimentation and pilots, and as solutions become more cloud-based and API-led, it will only increase. Some legacy systems made this testing more difficult in the past due to the integration effort required for experimentation, but we are definitely seeing this change. What is the most interesting or surprising thing that you’ve learned from investing in hotel tech? An interesting trend we are seeing in the hospitality tech space has been the continued growth and strength of what we call alternative accommodations. For all of the startups that might want to pitch in your office, what can you tell them about your investment criteria, etc. to help them decide if they are a good fit for your portfolio? We are looking for stellar teams. Most all of our investments are Series A, meaning the startup already has some initial traction and customers with strong growth potential. Are investments are global but must be in the space of travel-technology. For us this means hospitality tech stack, alternative lodging, tours & activities, corporates & meetings, smart cities and mobility & transportation.
The INTELITY platform is an extensive enterprise guest experience engagement and staff management platform for hotels, casinos, cruises, and luxury residential brands. It’s especially powerful for multi-property brands with complex operations. The platform empowers both guests and staff to manage the guest experience efficiently, accurately, and across devices. In recent “client wins,” tech-focused micro-luxury hotel brand YOTEL selected INTELITY’s as its “brand standard.” This is a testament to the strength of the INTELITY platform, as Yotel sets the bar high for providing a tech-enabled guest experience that relies on digital efficiency to keep a lid on room rates. YOTEL CEO Hubert Viriot elaborated further, highlighting the role technology plays in today’s finely-tuned and highly-optimized hotel: “At YOTEL, it is important to us to make the customer journey as seamless as possible, saving our guests and staff valuable time so that they can get on with what is important to them. It is for that reason that we will be introducing INTELITY as a brand standard across all YOTEL properties." Why did a company known for its “pioneering use of technology" in the hotel industry” choose INTELITY as it’s guest experience technology provider? Let’s answer this question by looking at the ways hotels make the most out of INTELITY’s multi-faceted guest engagement platform. #1: Improve the guest experience by leveraging staff productivity tools Hotels must have a reliable, consistent process for managing tasks, such as housekeeping and maintenance, as well as handling incoming guest requests. Sticky notes and spreadsheets lead to confusion, double-work, and mishandled requests. One of the top ways that hotels benefit from INTELITY is by compiling back-of-the-house tasks into one single system. This unified dashboard provides a quick view into a task or request’s history, so everyone can see who’s responsible and what’s been done. INTELITY’s staff management platform offers a cross-device dashboard that includes work order and task management, as well as real-time data analytics to monitor for bottlenecks. With this functionality available on both desktop and mobile, staff are untethered from the desktop and can roam freely as situations arise. Do this: Work with each department head to create a new operations manual that defines new processes, and includes staff training. Also, set your benchmarks and assign accountability to meet (or exceed!) those targets. #2: Empower guests with self-service to reduce wait times and boost satisfaction A full-featured mobile app centralizes a guest’s digital experience. It gives them a place to turn to for information and requests and it facilitates mobile check-in. According to mobile key provider OpenKey, the ability to skip the front desk reduces wait times and lobby traffic by 20%, which makes guests happier and frees up staff. This is why the brand chose INTELITY, elaborates YOTEL CEO Hubert Viriot: “An app gives guests the ability to not only skip the front desk but have ready access to hotel services, facilities and information as and when they need it.” To make the most of the platform, put INTELITY’s capabilities in the hands of guests. A mobile and web app allows guests can focus on enjoying their time on-property and in-destination. Guests enjoy easy and convenient access to staff via mobile messaging, and staff are more readily available to assist via the back-end dashboard. Some hotels, such as boutique hotel brand Lifehouse’s Miami location have even gone as far as replacing in-room guest phones with its app that allows guests to communicate with staff via voice and messaging. Do this: To encourage usage, promote the app across all guest touchpoints: social media, on-property, and especially in pre-arrival emails. And then make the app relevant and useful to guests by keeping your mobile app’s content updated and ensure rapid response times for in-app communications. #3: Use guest messaging to eliminate barriers between staff and guests Rather than forcing guests to visit the front desk, or call housekeeping, it’s all about simple, straightforward guest messaging. INTELITY guest messaging puts guest requests right in front of relevant staff so that problems can be solved and requests answered quickly. To fully eliminate these barriers, guests communicate in real-time with staff via the messaging solution. This portion of the platform directly connects operations teams and guests through SMS, as well as in-app messaging services, like Facebook Messenger. Guests communicate on whichever channel they prefer, and then all these channels are combined into a single interface. All guest communications route to the appropriate channel on the INTELITY platform, connecting the guest-facing elements to the relevant staff dashboard. Streamlined guest communications boosts productivity and accuracy when handling incoming guest requests. No more missing a guest request, or dropping the ball on responding. All of this is cross-channel and cross-device. Do this: To make the best use of the messaging solution, combine it with the back-of-office platform, which creates tickets for guest requests. Reward staff for prompt responses and celebrate wins by praising exemplary interactions. Lastly, make sure to receive opt-in prior to messaging guests. #4: Digitize room service and concierge to increase non-room revenue Guest expectations around technology have evolved. The INTELITY platform offers three components of a tech-enabled in-room experience: voice, personal device support (guest mobile), and guest tablets. When combined, guests have full control over how they personalize their rooms: whether via tablet, voice, or analog dials, guests can adjust temperature, open blinds and interact with the TV. Tablets can also be additive as a concierge touchpoint, empowering guests to craft an in-destination experience that suits them. Tablets can be a value-add for boutique and luxury properties. It’s the details that make experiences in the higher-end categories stand out -- the ability to drop blinds or pick specific channels from the tablet makes it much simpler to engage with the room. A digitized room service menu also makes it much easier to order food and beverages. Guest can avoid a phone conversation and ensure accuracy of the order, all from the in-room tablet. At the Boston Harbor Hotel, 80-90% of guests use the in-room tablets, which led to 16.4% more in-room dining revenue, as well as a 90% drop in costs for providing in-room newspapers. Do this: Room casting, tablets, and voice technology need strong Wi-Fi, so be sure that your hotel’s infrastructure is capable and flexible to support peak demand. #5: Give guests instant answers with voice technology -- and encourage more incremental spend Guests prefer engagement tools that don’t require making a call to the front desk. Voice-activated technology, such as Alexa and Google Assistant, have introduced a new interface for hotel rooms. Using voice technology, guests can access instant information about your hotel and the surrounding area, as well as control the lights and temperature. Voice can also be a “butler on a budget.” Brands like St. Regis, for example, use butler service as a luxury differentiator. As you give guests more control over their experience, voice can deliver more bespoke service, such as calling up a car from the valet, promoting upcoming events, and encouraging incremental spending through dining, spa, and activity reservations. With multilingual capability, voice assistants can also help international guests feel more comfortable with personalizing their own stay. For hotels with significant global business, this is a major value add to welcoming those guests. Do this: The technology is still relatively new, and each hotel has its own voice commands. Promote your voice assistant to guests, so they understand its capabilities and benefits. #6: Update menus and other content quickly to eliminate poor service and reduce printing costs Running low on a few items in the kitchen? Need to adjust menu pricing and description to reflect an ingredient change? INTELITY’s content management solution means that availability across food and beverage operations can be updated on-the-fly. From a single dashboard, management can sync changes immediately across all channels: web app, in-room tablet, and mobile app. Instantly, there will be no more ordering out-of-stock menu items, preventing disappointment and awkward service moments. The beauty of this solution is that you don't need to reprint menus for each guestroom or proof-read many revisions of a printed menu. Typos can be fixed right away, and F&B staff can be more creative with specials and other promotions that would have required costly printed collateral updates. Do this: Review content across all customer touchpoints regularly. Even if it seems like nothing has changed, a regular review process (quarterly or monthly) may reveal new opportunities to market the hotel’s amenities better. #7: Invest in digital keys to give guests flexibility and reduce frustration Upgrading your properties infrastructure to handle digital keys isn’t cheap. Yet many guests -- especially those loyal to the major brands -- are beginning to expect digital key locks. Combined with the mobile app, digital keys give guests more control and flexibility. The ability to access a room without a magstripe key means that hotels can offer remote check-in, so guests can skip the front desk. Digital keys also reduce the common frustration of having a magnetic key stop working after accidentally placing it near a credit card. When a guest returns to the front desk to reactivate a key, hotel staff must take the time to fix the issue -- and defuse a potential confrontation. It’s an unpleasant experience for everyone involved; integrating INTELITY’s digital key into the guest experience saves hotels money and gives guests the control they expect. On the operations side, there’s a predictive analytics upside to digital keys. Hotels can learn about guest behavior to better match staff resources to demand. Mobile check-ins and check-outs mean that housekeeping can reduce turnaround time, and close the gap between hotel systems that don’t communicate with each other in real-time. Do this: Train front desk to mention the digital key capability. Not all guests want to download an app for every hotel, so it takes intelligent on-property messaging to highlight this convenient feature. #8: Get automated reports so you know what’s happening -- even if you’re not on property There's already plenty to do when it comes to running a hospitality business. Running reports and customizing Excel spreadsheets is not always the best use of time. With its platform focus, INTELITY provides a real-time pulse of the business. Set reports to run automatically and receive up-to-date information on your computer or mobile so you can act on that information, Whether you are on property or not. Do this: Share the reports with the right people. Set the right permissions to allow key staff leads to learn and improve operations based on these reports.
Most of the ‘artificial intelligence’ being sold to hotels isn’t actually artificial intelligence. The drones used to deliver room service champagne to the ultra elite back in 2014 was just a PR stunt. Don’t even get us started on Google’s attempt to outfit hotel staff with Google Glass lenses. The list goes on and on. While we’ve been bullish on the use of voice activated technology for business use such as IDeaS Revenue Solutions’ smart revenue assistant we have historically taken a more bearish stance on voice technology for guest use until recently. Admittedly, we first thought that Alexa for hotel rooms was just another PR stunt but after meeting Dave Berger and trying Volara's technology for ourselves - our skepticism quickly became enthusiasm for Volara's impact on hotel operations and the overall guest experience. Back in 2015 Dave Berger was a lawyer and AirBnB super host. As his vacation rental business grew it began to interfere with his day job due to an increasing volume of text messages from guests asking lots of similar questions. Berger was an avid user of Amazon Alexa’s smart assistant in his personal life and decided to hack together a solution that could help answer lots of these questions for guests. Doing so instantly made managing his budding vacation rental business significantly easier. That’s when he had his “ah-ha moment”. Berger knew that if he could solve this much friction in his startup vacation rental business with Alexa that hotels would benefit from the use of this new technology due to the massive amount of complexity involved in their operations. Berger didn’t just jump in and start selling his device to hotels. He spent 2016 identifying the areas where voice technology could make a meaningful impact on the guest experience. During this research phase, he developed a partner strategy and built a platform that could easily connect with other software solutions. To this day, one of the biggest pain points for guests in a hotel room is waiting on hold when calling guest services. Volara integrates with all the leading work order management systems - like Alice, Amadeus HotSOS, SynergyMMS, Knowcross, and HMobile - so guests can can make requests and get instant confirmation that the item or service they need is being delivered Another massive pain point for hotel guests lies around the fact that hotel room TV remotes are ridden with germs and bacteria. Volara integrates with in room entertainment systems like Sonifi, BeyondTV and Innspire so that guests never have to pick up that filthy remote control ever again. One by one Berger has identified areas where voice can help other tech products perform better and faster. Volara has racked up dozens of these technology partnerships to date and its platform approach has paid off in spades for Berger resulting in an exclusive partnership to provide voice technology for Marriott franchisees and even securing a nod straight from Amazon CTO Werner Vogels - no small feat. Amazon CTO Werner Vogels talks about Volara at Reinvent 2017 While we were tempted to speak with Alexa for this interview, we felt like sitting down for a chat with Berger might be a bit more productive. Dave, what was your background before starting Volara? After five years practicing law at a big law firm, I ran like hell. I always knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur and have been following my entrepreneurial passions since 2008. I had been an AirBnB Superhost for three years and one day in January 2016 a particularly needy guest began peppering me the most mundane questions in rapid succession. "Where are extra towels?" "How do I use the dishwasher?" "Where can I park?" Alexa was one year old at the time and I decided that she could help me serve my guests in a fun and more efficient way. After receiving great feedback from my own guests and measurably reducing the number of guests messaging me, I saw the opportunity for a business venture and began to consider suitable markets. I spent 2016 speaking with hoteliers and learning everything I could about technology in hotels. Thanks to some great mentors early on, we were able to identify specifically what it would take to turn a consumer smart speaker and natural language processing platform into an enterprise grade solution that's suitable for the most complex hotel environments. Today, Volara's software addresses the most common concerns about consumer smart speakers deployed in hotels - guest privacy, data security, reply accuracy, and seamless integration into existing hotel technologies. While others are charging for a "skill", Volara gives its conversation models away for free to its clients and enables others to build creatively atop of those conversation models. Who was Volara’s first customer? The Acme Hotel in Chicago was the first hotel to deploy our solution in every room. This solution is live and loved by guests today. The ownership group has since deployed our solution in another one of their hotels as well. If I recall correctly, the Acme Hotel found us. It's an incredibly tech forward property with management and ownership that immediately saw the value in our solution. Why do hotels need voice activated technology? Voice technology enables hotels to engage their guests in a fun and scalable way. Volara turns leading consumer voice technologies that your guests will know from home into a compliant, flexible, and accurate fully integrated hotel business tool that will yield measurable results. Who is one mentor that has really helped you scale Volara? Armand Rabinowitz. Armand is currently the Senior Director of Strategy and Workgroups at HTNG, but at the time we met he was Director of Innovation at Hyatt. Armand was the very first hotelier to contact us through our website and helped us understand the intricacies of working with large hotel brands. Thanks to the insight he shared early on, we have managed to develop successful relationships with four of the largest hotel brands in the world. What's the most common misconception that hoteliers have about voice technology? Some hoteliers believe Amazon's Alexa is a hotel product. We've seen this mistake lead to disastrous outcomes at The Wynn Las Vegas and Best Western. In the same way that Google Chromecast needs a hotel technology overlay, so does Amazon's Alexa. Volara has built this software overlay and I'm proud to say it is being used by every successful deployment of Amazon's Alexa in hotels today. What's the most surprising thing you've learned about scaling technology into hotels since founding the business? Hoteliers don't like to take risks on startups. Its sad and holds back innovation in an industry that is in dire need of new ways of doing business. Three years on, Volara is now well established in the industry, but we didn't reach the success we have today without a fight. Volara has built deep technical integrations for 30 plus hotel technologies - from work order management systems to guest engagement platforms to IPTV solutions to room controls to valet and safety products. Our vision has been to be the voice interface for everything in the hotel and that helped us bring credibility in those early days by associating with partners who the hotels were already working with. If you could partner with any vendor in hotel tech, who would it be and why? Hotel Tech Report, because they are trying to bring transparency and efficiency to an old fashion marketplace. Hoteliers should consider vendors based on the quality of their reviews on Hotel Tech Report, rather than by the size of their booth at HITEC. How will voice technology for hotels change in the next 5-years? Hoteliers will become more educated on voice technologies and value the solutions that provide guest privacy protections, data security, improved interaction accuracy, flexible management tools, and seamless integrations. Volara will continue to lead the pack and will be voice enabling 80 hotel technologies across 8 natural language processing platforms in 26 languages on 60 different pieces of hardware in hotels across the globe. Do you have any new products or feature launches to share? While our Alexa based solution continues to scale rapidly, we are committed to providing platform agnostic conversation management for our clients. I think most folks are aware of our joint solutions with Google and IBM Watson by now, but there is more to come. Stop by to meet us at HITEC or reach out for a confidential preview. Is there anything that the community can do to be helpful for you? Keep collaborating in the best interests of our clients. I love working with partners to achieve truly remarkable outcomes. What's one piece of advice that you have for any entrepreneurs in the hotel tech space? Focus on measuring the ROI for the hotels immediately. Nice to have solutions inevitably fail. What is the best book you've read lately and why? It’s not a book but I’ve been really passionately reading the At War section of the New York Times for quite some time and I think it’s critical reading for anyone in global business. It chronicles the experience and costs of war across the globe. The impact of war - whether on combatants, civilians, the environment, lost innovation or other aspects of our world - is something we all need to try to understand better. What is your favorite podcast I enjoy listening to the investigative reports by 60 Minutes - yes, the same 60 minutes that my grandparents watched on their black and white TV. Sometimes complex stories take time to investigate, unwind and convey in a thoughtful way. What is one thing that most people don't know about you? I lived atop a butcher shop in Hong Kong. Each morning a noisy truck would drop a pig in front of our door and my wife would say "Breakfast is here."
The Independent Lodging Congress has announced an exciting new pitch event geared at hospitality startups serving independents (find out whether your startup is eligible for INDIE Cultivate here). The ILC has long been a champion of progress in the hotel industry and fundamentally believes that technology has leveled the playing field between independents and brands. Marriott recently announced that it will add 1,700 new hotels by 2021 meaning that branded properties will be taking an even bigger chunk out of the development pipeline moving forward. “Don’t expect these properties to be anything like a St. Regis or JW Marriott, though, but more cookie-cutter properties.” ~The Points Guy Despite the aggressive growth in branded hospitality, Independent Lodging Congress is unsurprisingly bullish on independents. Many of the core brand value propositions have already been recreated by technology. For example, a core value proposition that sways owners to go with a brand is getting access the brand’s distribution network. The question is: as 5, 10 or 15 properties pop up near your hotel targeting the same customer under the same brand umbrella - is that distribution really more valuable than what you get on Expedia? I was recently researching hotels for a trip down to Miami next month and I decided to check out which Marriott properties I could stay at with the goal of racking up some loyalty points. While researching I couldn’t help but notice a big CTA on the booking engine “Select from 30 unique brands”. Dozens of Marriott franchisees compete with each other in a small Miami corridor While that variety gives nice value to me as a booker, I couldn’t help but think about the owners of those properties. There were even a handful of category 6 and 7 properties within just a square mile of each other and each of those owners was competing for the same exact business. In other words, Marriott wins no matter which hotel gets booked but only one franchisee will end up winning my business. I later realized that my Chase credit card gives me the same benefits as Marriott Bonvoy (6x points on travel) but also gives me the flexibility to stay wherever I’d like - further obfuscating the value of the brand beyond the quality and vibe of each individual property. This isn’t to say that brands don’t have value because they certainly do; however, the value of being in a branded franchise has definitely changed for hotel owners and developers of late and that change continues to accelerate. From the consumer perspective we know that travellers want unique (non-cookie cutter) experiences as reflected in STR stats around independent ADR matching branded rates. The explosion of “cookie-cutter” properties (i.e. Fairfield Inn types, not St. Regis and JW Marriott) resembles the explosion of cookie-cutter retail chains like Abercrombie & Fitch and Aeropostale which experienced rapid growth for many years before hitting a brick wall and needing to close thousands of locations in short order. Further, independent hoteliers are no longer on their own according to ILC Chairman Andrew Benioff: “All of the technology that has contributed to the leveling of the playing field vis a vis the big brands. There are so many technology solutions available today at reasonable pricing that almost any owner or investor in the space can reproduce the results of having a brand and also have the flexibility to make their property unique.” The Independent Lodging Congress fundamentally believes that big hospitality’s old boys club lead by middle aged white men has left the industry vulnerable to disruption and that progress is coming from the outside and with upstart independent boutique hotel developers such as Bunkhouse and Sydell Group. "If you look at the largest hotel firms out there, both public and private, they are run primarily by middle aged caucasian men. Only in the last 5-10 years has this begun to change. I think that this is why we have been really slow to change. If you look at the rest of society here in the US, most of the population doesn't look or act like this group of leaders. We are slowly evolving to bring in new leaders which include more women, minorities and LGBT members. This will greatly assist with the appetite for change." ILC is a champion of diversity, both diversity of thought and culture. ILC’s programming is unique in that many of the speakers are from outside the industry. Between the diversity of programming and content, it’s safe to say that ILC isn’t your grandfather’s hotel investment conference and is definitely worth checking out. We sat down with ILC Chairman Andrew Benioff to talk about his vision for the future of hospitality and what the industry can achieve by thinking outside the box and bringing new ideas from the outside to disrupt from the inside. What was your background prior to starting ILC? I began my hospitality career as formal apprentice in a traditional Japanese Ryokan in Atami Japan. I then continued with my career with a number of luxury hotel brands in the states including The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company and Nikko Hotels International among others. After attending conferences for years in both the hospitality and real estate finance industries I felt like there was a real dearth of interesting content. Most people attended simply to network and book meetings with others. I really felt like this was a shame and that these gatherings should of course be about connecting with others and transacting but also be a place of discovery, learning and hopefully lead to "ah-hah!" moments as well. A travel tech startup founder is reading this article and you have 3-5 sentences to convince them that ILC is a great place to network with top independent hoteliers. I'd actually prefer to flip this around and try and convince people NOT to join us if they want: 1-the same old canned content, 2-are content in what they know and don't need/want to learn, 3-aren't ready to be challenged and 4-don't believe that people outside of our industry have anything to teach us. Why is ILC starting to become interested in tech startups? Why did you decide to create the startup pitch event? We are not only interested in technology, and don't believe that all successful travel/hospitality start-ups have to be tech focused. We do believe though that all industries need to evolve and hospitality is no different. These new companies are discovering areas of improvement for the industry and as provocateurs for the hospitality and travel industry, it's part of our mandate to highlight these efforts. ILC features a lot of non-hotelier programming, what are some of the biggest lessons that hoteliers should be taking from other industries today? What are those industries that are innovating ahead of hotels? One of the reasons that hospitality has been so slow to evolve is its focus on doing the same old thing year after year with a spotlight on the same old industry "leaders". In actuality these "leaders" are uninspiring and do the same old song and dance continuously without any evolution. Looking outside of our industry to the disruptors in society, art and culture allows us to see where there is room for improvement and where our guests are focusing their energy so that we can then serve them better. What are the biggest changes that are happening right now specifically within the independent hotel market? I think that one of the biggest changes is that more and more developers and investors are realizing that with the advent of many new technology platforms, the big brands have less leverage with the customer and more and more travelers are looking for original hospitality experiences. I see more high quality Indie Hotels arriving in the market in the coming years and those that finance and invest in them becoming more comfortable in including them in their portfolios. Chip Conley (Joie de Vivre) and Liz Lampert (Bunkhouse) speak at ILC 2016 What is the most interesting or innovative technology that you've seen in hospitality over the last couple of years? All of the technology that has contributed to the leveling of the playing field vis a vis the big brands. There are so many technology solutions available today at reasonable pricing that almost any owner or investor in the space can reproduce the results of having a brand and also have the flexibility to make their property unique. What's one commonly held belief that most independent hoteliers believe to be true about technology that actually is false? Please explain your reasoning. As I mentioned above I think that there is a long held belief that you can only be successful if you have one of the big brand flags on your property and all of the technology and booking engines that they provide. I think that today most, if not all, of those benefits can be reproduced for Indie properties without the massive fees that the brands charge. What's one piece of advice that you have for any entrepreneurs looking to get into the hotel tech space given your understanding of the independent lodging market and buyer behavior? I think people should ask themselves carefully if there truly is a market for whatever they want to build and if any of behemoth tech companies started to look at this space. I have seen many companies come up with wonderful ideas only to be blown out of the water by the giants. I've also seen many who think there idea is great but there isn't as much of a need for their product as they think. Perhaps spend a bit more time speaking with consumers before going to far so that you can verify demand. Hoteliers historically have the stigma of being somewhat tech averse and slow to adapt, do you see that mentality changing? If you look at the largest hotel firms out there, both public and private, they are run primarily by middle aged caucasian men. Only in the last 5-10 years has this begun to change. I think that this is why we have been really slow to change. If you look at the rest of society here in the US, most of the population doesn't look or act like this group of leaders. We are slowly evolving to bring in new leaders which include more women, minorities and LGBT members. This will greatly assist with the appetite for change. Is technology more or less important for independent hotels (vs. branded)? Equally as important I think. No matter what type of property you are running exploiting any advantage is paramount and technology tops that list.
1. Don't overestimate the difficulty of delivering a personalized experience “Hoteliers believe delivering personalized experiences is hard. I have always looked at technology as an enabler for innovation. With the right enablers, hoteliers can take advantage of technology to make personalization easy, which is one of the cornerstones of our eInsight CRM product. I think either hotels don’t know where to start with their data, or they haven’t democratized access to the right people who can leverage it to drive home personalization. Hotels that standardize 2-way communication among systems and make data integrations a priority are the ones able to break through and outperform in personalization. Information is more relevant, robust and customized when all the systems are speaking to the touchpoints guests have in the journey.” ~Charles Deyo from Cendyn eInsight CRM “Many hoteliers believe that personalisation is not important enough to spend time on. But in reality, the cost of standardised digital communication, and generic upsell offers and promotions is enormous. Hotels are literally losing money with every guest that is walking through the front door.” ~Erik Tengen from Oaky Upsell Software 2. Place importance on vendor quality rather than size “Unfortunately, in this industry, the size of a hotel tech vendor sometimes is overplayed or overemphasized, while the quality of product and engineering teams is underemphasized. People often assume that large companies have better products simply because they can afford better engineers relative to smaller companies. This is far from the truth—I've seen very large companies struggle with their platforms and engineering initiatives. And I’ve seen smaller companies blow away the industry with their solutions. The important thing for hotels to remember is not to judge tech vendors by the size of the company, but by the quality and capabilities of their product and their dedication to customer service. It seems obvious, but happens more often than you think.” ~Gautam Lulla from Travel Tripper RezTrip CRS 3. Understand that artificial intelligence will not take your job “Hoteliers believe that revenue managers will lose their jobs when artificial intelligence gets good enough. I believe that artificial intelligence is going to make revenue management an even more valuable skill because it will take more insight and analytical rigor to stand out from the competition set in a data-driven world. Hoteliers are used to looking at PMS as a cost centre of the hotel. With the maturity of Cloud PMS, the paradigm has changed. A PMS should not be considered as cost, but as a system that will help them grow revenues and business. Also, for most hoteliers, deciding on PMS is an operational decision whereas I feel it should be more of a strategic decision.” ~Aditya Sanghi from Hotelogix PMS 4. Stop running your operations with pen and paper “Perhaps the most common belief I used to hear was that the Concierge didn’t need an application because they could use Excel or their logbooks. We obviously felt differently especially after spending time behind the desk and seeing the amount of work done manually and the importance of providing a tool to enable the team to be more efficient. We believe the role of the Concierge should be in the center of the hotel operation since their work touches so many departments and has such a significant impact on the overall guest experience. A good Concierge team does the job so well that they make it look easy. What is often not recognized or seen is the volume of work being done behind the scenes to deliver such a great guest experience. Investing in a tool allows the team to be more efficient and spend more time and attention on the guests. I believe the reason guests come back now is mostly because of the way the Concierge and other team members make the guests feel when they leave, more so than just having a beautiful hotel. Without a tool such as ALICE, it is very difficult to be efficient and create that great guest experience.” ~Adam Isrow from ALICE Hotel Operations Platform 5. Leverage technology to decrease staff churn “I think the single biggest misconception is that hoteliers think the solution to their traveler personalization problems is to invest in traveler facing technology and create an omni-channel experience. The biggest problem hoteliers face is actually their staff turnover. What is the point of having traveler facing technology, without experienced staff that have the right technology to empower them to deliver on the brand experience? Your staff must always come first if you want to truly personalize and fulfill your brand promise. This means hoteliers need to balance their traveler facing and staff facing investments more effectively.” ~Kevin Brown from Amadeus Hospitality 6. Place less emphasis on meeting budget in volatile markets “Hoteliers are not comfortable making changes to prices without knowing the effect it has on their ability to reach budget. In a volatile market, too much emphasis is placed on meeting budget and making safe pricing decisions that ultimately limit a hotel’s revenue achievement. Placing an emphasis instead on demand-based pricing will help secure the highest possible revenue from the marketplace. "Some hoteliers believe it is prudent to wait until business is strong and making more profit before they invest in “nice to have” tools such as revenue management software. That is like saying an athlete should wait until they can run faster before they buy good running shoes. It is the revenue management system that will enable them to maximize their yield and create the bigger profits." ~Ravi Mehotra from IDeaS Revenue Solutions 7. Embrace technology, software is cheap and extremely easy to use today “Most hoteliers are skeptical about technology - for good reason. Tech companies have a long history of over promising and under-delivering. As a result, new technologies are not often eagerly adopted by experienced hotel people. They would rather "wait and see" before embracing yet another "shiny object" tech solution. The last thing we need is another complicated software program that takes up all of our time and delivers little value. Tech providers need to focus on the benefits of their solution and design products to require minimal effort for maximum value. Don't assume that because hotels are multi-million dollar businesses that we like to sit around on our laptops all day - we have become successful by taking care of travelers - and each other - with the service and care that we'd provide to our own families.” ~Del Ross from Hotel Effectiveness Labor Management System “The most common misconception about technology is that it's too expensive. Hoteliers have this misconception because they don’t fully understand the value that the technology brings. They see it as a cost rather than as a profit center. Hoteliers often buy technology the same way they would buy a TV or a pillow. And because of that, tech vendors have been forced to limit their innovation.” ~Marco Benvenuti from Duetto Revenue Management 8. Don't ever manually price hotel rooms “They believe they can do good or decent manual pricing... but in reality there is no way a human can do even a decent job at pricing a hotel. The math behind that statement is really simple, there are two main reasons why a human has absolutely zero chance versus an automated AI system: 1) The sheer scale of the problem. If you're a hotel with 5 room types, 4 variations on each room type (breakfast/cancellation), bookable 365 days in advance, and want to update each price once per hour then you have 0.49 seconds per price to do your analysis and set the price. Even if you simplify the problem drastically, let's say you have a fixed additional cost for breakfast & cancellation, that you just want to update the prices once every four hours, and that you only allow your guests to book in the last 30 days, then you still only have 96 seconds per price to do the calculations and set the price. The sheer scale of the problem makes it impossible for any human to keep up and do a good job. 2) The complexity of the problem. It's important to acknowledge that no price is an isolated island, if you change the price of one room type for a particular arrival date then it will have an effect on all the other room types for the same arrival day. But that's not enough, it will also have an effect on the adjacent days as many people stay more than one night and some one-nighters are flexible and price sensitive. There is this ripple effect and you need to present the optimal set of prices, not the price that is thought to be optimal for one specific room type. Quite often the optimal price for one room type will have a negative impact on the overall revenue, and to calculate the optimal set of prices is both hyper complex and very computationally intensive, it simply cannot be done by a human. Humans should focus on strategic revenue management, not at setting prices.” ~Leif Jaggerbrand from Atomize 9. Stop paying massive sums for integration fees when the entire world has moved to open APIs “Hoteliers that its extremely hard and expensive to integrate different software solutions. Having built our own PMS with open API, I can confidently say that this is no longer true, and we stimulate hoteliers to integrate as much as possible to make their lives easier.” ~Matthijs Welle from Mews Systems 10. Use technology to create more personal interaction, not less “Messaging is impersonal, you can’t replace in-person interactions.” The aim of messaging is not to replace in-person interactions or even phone calls, it is to fill the customer service whitespace or void that exists today. There are a large portion of travelers and consumers today who are not communicating with your organization because you may not have the proper means. With the increasing influx of technology separating the hotel staff and guests (e.g. OTAs and Mobile Room Keys), messaging is one of the main components connecting hotels with their guests today.” ~Chris Hovanessian from Whistle
Cendyn’s Charles Deyo isn’t your typical hotel tech founder by any stretch of the imagination. Deyo is an avid scuba diver, he meditates under pyramids for spiritual guidance and even plans to play guitar at an underwater music festival next year. By 1996, the same year that Expedia was born, Deyo had spent 20 years in the hotel industry before founding Cendyn with his wife Robin to help hoteliers win in the digital age. Cendyn’s first product to market was its eProposal solution which allowed hotels to accept group business RFPs via their websites and grow their group business. While eProposal is still a core component of the Cendyn Hotel Sales Suite, it is only a small piece of Cendyn’s current offering. Today Cendyn’s sales and marketing solutions power more than 30,000 hotels globally through products that touch on hotel CRM, sales software and hotel digital marketing services. Back in 1996, Cendyn’s initial product to market was its eProposal solution which allows hotels to accept group business RFPs via their websites to increase group bookings. Today, eProposal is still a core component of the Cendyn Hotel Sales Suite. The best tech companies listen carefully to client pain points and develop solutions based on those requirements. The history of Cendyn is a textbook example of how to build a great business by listening to your customers. As the internet boomed through the early 2000s Deyo and his team noticed that there was a huge skills deficiency in digital marketing amongst hotels and began to offer digital marketing services to help clients grow their direct channel. During our interview with the Cendyn chief, Deyo told Hotel Tech Report that the biggest inspiration for building his empire was Grateful Dead frontman Jerry Garcia. When asked why, he noted that the Grateful Dead is not just an iconic band but is actually one of the greatest brands of all time. The Grateful Dead brand is so prolific that at its peak it raked in more than $90M per year. Deyo believes that the Grateful Dead’s success could be attributed to one of Garcia’s core beliefs that is summed up in this iconic quote: “We did not want to just be the best at what we did, but the only ones doing it.” ~Jerry Garcia Deyo has always wanted to innovate ahead of the competition and be the “only one doing it” as an ode to Garcia. When Deyo started Cendyn there were few (if any) online platforms facilitating group business RFPs in hotels and he wanted eProposal to be the only one doing it. While others were busy copying his recipe for success, Deyo was pioneering the concept of hotel CRM to provide actionable marketing insights where hotel marketers previously lacked any tools to make data driven marketing decisions. Cendyn is yet again pushing ahead with plans to change the way hotels leverage CRM systems within their businesses. Historically, the hotel CRM sits within the marketing function but Deyo and his team believe it will become much more operational in the future and Cendyn is focused on pioneering the ways hotels leverage CRM systems for operations and not just marketing. Related article: "Super Angel" Dave Berkus on the convergence of PMS, CRS and hotel CRM Deyo believes that hoteliers, too, can benefit massively from living by Jerry Garcia’s credo. The hotel industry is one of the most competitive in the world and in order to stand out hoteliers must find unique ways to can add value for hotel guests, shareholders and staff. In this exclusive interview we spoke with Cendyn CEO Charles Deyo about the competitive advantage enjoyed by hotel technology early adopters, the evolution of hotel CRM as an operational tool and more. Power couple Charles and Robin Deyo co-founded Cendyn together What was your background prior to starting Cendyn? Before starting Cendyn I had many years of hospitality experience including 13 years at Hyatt Hotels as Regional Controller and AVP of Sales and Marketing, 3 Years at Kerzner International as Senior Vice President during the development of Atlantis in the Bahamas and 3 Years as Regional Vice President at Boca Resorts (which also owned The Biltmore and Registry Hotels). Tell us about the Cendyn founding story. After spending 20 years in the hotel industry, I realized that hotels needed software solutions to run their business better. We developed solutions that eliminated the pain points for hotels and drove sales and marketing performance. When Robin and I started Cendyn in 1996, the Internet bloomed in front of us and we decided to use this new medium to develop web-based tools that could help the industry we had worked in for years run their businesses better. The first product we brought to market was eProposal, which is still the industry leader almost 20 years later as part of the Cendyn Hotel Sales Suite. Back then, I did it all, from being the programmer to the accountant and everything in between. We were a small, family-run tech firm. After expanding into hotel CRM and digital marketing, (we were one of the early trailblazers in these areas for the industry), the momentum kept going as we won some of the biggest brands and best hotels in the world as clients. That really amped up with the investment from Accel-KKR a few years ago that gave us opportunities to open new locations, acquire companies and accelerate product innovation. Today, we’re lucky to have over 30,000 hotel clients using our solutions. Who was Cendyn's first customer? Frank Calaguire at Starwood. Frank and I worked at Hyatt together and we deployed our first SAAS solution (Cendyn eProposal) at The Westin back in the 90’s. Frank was a good friend and the Managing Director at Westin Copley Place. eProposal is now in over 22,000 hotels worldwide. The hotel tech market is incredibly competitive, how does Cendyn stand out? Cendyn is a cloud-based software and services provider that develops integrated technology platforms for driving sales and marketing performance in the travel and hospitality industry. The Cendyn Hospitality Cloud offers the most complete set of innovative software and services in the industry, covering hotel marketing, guest engagement, group sales, and event management. Cendyn's eInsight CRM is more than a marketing tool and delivers operational insight Who is one mentor that has made a big impact on your entrepreneurial journey? This is probably not one you hear everyday in hotel tech interviews but The Grateful Dead has had a huge influence on my perspective both personally and within the realm of entrepreneurship. Jerry Garcia said: “We did not want to just be the best at what we did, but the only ones doing it.” Most people don’t realize that the Grateful Dead was one of the most successfully marketed bands of their time and turned their brand into a cash cow which generated $95 million a year at one point. What's one commonly held belief that most hoteliers believe to be true that is actually wrong? Hoteliers believe delivering personalized experiences is hard. I have always looked at technology as an enabler for innovation. With the right enablers, hoteliers can take advantage of technology to make personalization easy, which is one of the cornerstones of our eInsight CRM product. I think either hotels don’t know where to start with their data, or they haven’t democratized access to the right people who can leverage it to drive home personalization. Hotels that standardize 2-way communication among systems and make data integrations a priority are the ones able to break through and outperform in personalization. Information is more relevant, robust and customized when all the systems are speaking to the touchpoints guests have in the journey. What's the most surprising thing you've learned about scaling technology into hotels since founding Cendyn? I was always surprised that standardized integration took so long for our industry. Today, we integrate to hundreds of hotel systems which is key to getting a true 360-degree view of your guest. There are hotels leading the way in how they use technology integrations and those at the other end of the spectrum, but what we do see day-in-day-out is in those hotels that have done so, they have an improved ability to; send the right message to the right guest, through the right channels; gain a clear understanding about the history and preferences of each guest in real time regardless of how they booked; empower their guests to receive information and communicate in the ways that work for them; and deliver the best kind of service, whether it be human interaction or through the use of technology. How do you see hotel tech changing in the next 5-years? We will see more intelligent use of data with AI and bots to further leverage the guest experience. Because of more integrations between technology systems and a higher flow of data between platforms, bots and AI will increase in learned automation and intelligence that can deliver more of the right messages, at the right time through the right channel. We’re in the process of breaking new ground with CRM technology as the core with bots and AI serving based off centralized intelligence. In five years, it will all evolve around the model of a central global profile for guests that references a sophisticated rolodex of data to help serve the customer’s desire for personalization at every touchpoint. Bots will make recommendations, personalize communications and adjust service algorithms in real-time based on data points. CRM will no longer be seen as a marketing function, but rather an operational tool that intelligently orchestrates how everyone interacts with a guest. For Cendyn specifically, we will continue to grow our organic revenue at 20% year over year, along with continued evaluation of M&A opportunities. Do you have any new products or feature launches? As we continue to operationalize CRM for hotels, our latest release of eNgage allows for more sophisticated algorithms that anticipate varying engagement opportunities with hotel guests that, in turn, alert hotel staff. We have a lot of hotels using this solution with great success for personalization, including our client TFE Hotels, headquartered in Australia. They’ve got eNgage across their international hotel group in Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Denmark and Hungary. What advice do you have for hoteliers in this economy? Adopt more technology. Even with all the strides the hotel industry has made, it is still behind other industries. Technology must have an ROI by driving sales and marketing performance. With eInsight, our CRM product, we drove an average 33X ROI for our hotel customers in 2018. As the economy hits an inevitable slow down, technology will determine the winners and losers. What's one piece of advice that you have for any entrepreneurs looking to get into the hotel tech space? Keep it simple. Make it valuable. This has been a mantra of Cendyn from the beginning of our company. What is the best book you've read lately? I think we are experiencing significant generational differences due to technology, social media and the varying thought processes. Given that, I thought “Sticking Points” by Haydn Shaw does a great job of explaining how we can make this work with our evolving business teams. Great people working in harmony make great companies. What is your favorite podcast Cendyn’s upcoming podcast series, of course. What is one thing that most people don't know about you? I play guitar and am certified in scuba diving. I plan to play the underwater music festival in Big Pine Key, FL next year. I also meditate under a pyramid on life and business opportunities when needed.
In our Product Deep Dive series, we go deep into one solution to help hoteliers evaluate and assess the best software for their specific situations. Vetting vendors is an intensive process. It starts with the discovery phase, where online research and consultations with colleagues inform the initial list of promising companies. Next, that list is whittled down after deeper dives into individual products, watching demos, and likely speaking with individual vendors. Finally, the selection happens -- and the truth eventually reveals itself. After implementation, and a few months of using the service, you’ll revisit and evaluate. Was it the right decision? For the following hotels, the answer was a decisive ‘yes’ after choosing a new central reservation system. When discussing the search process with Travel Weekly, Brian Christensen, the corporate VP of revenue management and distribution for American Casino & Entertainment Properties, noted that his team “spent a lot of time on discovery” and “looked at some of the best.” The vendor evaluation process is a deliberative marathon that results in a decision with wide-reaching organizational implications. With that in mind, it's instructive to consider why hotels select one vendor over another. These insights may accelerate your own decision process when selecting a new central reservation system for your hotel. Here's why these hotel groups selected Travel Tripper’s RezTrip CRS. Meriton Group: Optimized for direct bookings on both mobile and desktop Over the past two years, hotels have become acutely aware of rising commission payouts to intermediaries. To increase direct bookings -- and reduce reliance on third-parties -- many hotels have focused their online efforts on simplicity and clarity. When potential guests can make a decision as quickly as possible, it enhances the search experience and leads to stronger performance in the direct channel for hotels. When comparing CRS providers, Meriton Serviced Apartments sought an integrated system that would power a shift from high-commission OTA channels to direct bookings on both desktop and mobile. After implementing RezTrip CRS, and its smart rate and revenue management tools, Meriton enjoyed a significant spike in direct business, says Matthew Thomas, Group General Manager of Meriton Serviced Apartments. “Our direct bookings instantly increased once we launched RezTrip across our portfolio of hotels. The newly enhanced mobile version has enabled us to capture the growing global shift towards mobile-device made bookings.” To successfully capture more mobile bookings, hotels must address consumer reluctance to purchase on mobile devices. The comScore Mobile Hierarchy report explored the “m-commerce gap,” or the disconnect between time and money spent on mobile. For hotels that want to drive more mobile bookings, this disconnect highlights some key hurdles to overcome, such as improving navigation and providing more detailed product information. After evaluating all options, the Meriton team felt that the Travel Tripper technology excelled. It made the mobile experience just as easy to use as on desktop, and effectively translated hotel’s engaging imagery to the smaller screen. Functionality: More direct bookings through an integrated booking engine optimized for conversion on both mobile and desktop Business impact: Since launching with Travel Tripper in summer 2016, Meriton has experienced significant uplift in conversion rates across its properties, particularly in its mobile channel, where it is using RezTrip’s recently redesigned mobile booking engine. Mayfair Hotel: Conversion-optimized booking flow By 2020, Euromonitor predicts that 44% of sales will be made online in the travel industry -- more than any other industry. With such a massive share of commerce occurring through digital channels, hotels must implement conversion-optimized reservation systems to compete. When the Mayfair, a boutique hotel in Miami, began evaluating new central reservation systems, the mandate was clear: Replace the existing clunky booking technology, with its poor usability, small images, and hard-to-read descriptions. Rich content engages guests, and so the hotel’s new solution had to be modern, usable, and emphasize the unique appeal of the property’s elegant, understated style. In addition to featuring bolder, more prominent images, rooms should be easy to browse, select, and book. Mayfair wanted a streamlined booking flow that didn't take too long to complete. RezTrip’s two-step process fulfilled this objective, resulting in more lookers converting to bookers on Mayfair’s website. Functionality: Simplified browsing with rich content, and a booking flow streamlined into two steps to optimize conversion across devices; Business impact: Mayfair saw an 84% increase in year-over-year website revenue, alongside a 76% increase in direct bookings and a 60% increase in conversion rates. Stratosphere: OTA-like rate controls Despite intensive marketing efforts by hotels, direct bookings remain flat. To succeed in earning more direct bookings, hotels must mirror some of these platform’s most favorable features. Consumers turn to OTAs because of usability and utility. This is especially true on mobile, which is perceived as easier to use with instant updates, discounts and streamlined search and booking. Another growing threat to direct bookings is metasearch, which also offers finely-tuned mobile experiences, such as Google’s new combined flight/hotel user experience. To compete for bookings, hotels need more granular rate controls that level the playing field with both OTAs and meta. As a casino and resort located in Las Vegas, the Stratosphere has many rooms spread across multiple room types, and, given its size, has high volume and multiple sources of revenue. The resort’s local market is also extremely competitive and prone to demand fluctuations, which requires more precise revenue optimization to adapt to changing dynamics. To improve the precision of its revenue management in the direct channel, the Stratosphere team prioritized the ability to personalize rates and offers with best-rate guarantees, strikethrough bookings, room countdowns and geo-targeted rates with Dynamic Pricing Rules. This functionality allows the hotel to do things like include breakfast in rates displayed to European travelers. With more control over individual rates and personalized offers, the hotel was able to enhance its revenue management capabilities. Functionality: Granular rate controls, such as Dynamic Pricing Rules with geo-targeting, as well as urgency messaging such as Stricter pricing and “rooms remaining” countdowns. Business impact: The stratosphere Hotel doubled the conversion rate within four months of integrating RezTrip CRS. Learn more about Reztrip CRS and Booking Engine screenshots RezTrip is an integrated solution that drives targeted results TravelTripper’s RezTrip is a trifecta: a robust central reservation system, an integrated booking engine, and a comprehensive distribution solution. It combines these three important tools into one coordinated e-commerce platform which gives hotels greater control over how rates are merchandised and distributed. The CRS connects directly to your hotel’s property management system, keeping reservation details, availability, and rates up-to-date without manual intervention. The outcomes are impressive. Meriton Serviced Apartments achieved an increase in direct bookings by switching to Reztrip's mobile-optimized booking engine. Reztrip also optimizes revenue across other key channels, as the single reservation system that connects to OTAs, GDS, metasearch, and even call centers. Mayfair leveraged RezTrip’s intuitive and elegant interface booking flow to increase website revenue 84% year-over-year. The integrated booking engine’s customizability allowed the hotel to build a powerful solution that met their exacting specifications. The Stratosphere more than doubled the conversion rate on its website, relying on geo-targeted Dynamic Pricing Rules and integrated rate matching to convert more lookers to bookers. Other features that improve conversions include automated email retargeting, strikethrough pricing, and “rooms remaining” countdowns. Inspired to experience RezTrip? Click here to learn more.
To get a grasp on the current hotel distribution landscape and how much intelligence and work is needed to optimize each channel, it’s worth taking a moment to review its early history. Distribution mix was once a simple concept: walk-ins, phone calls, and the occasional (physical) mail were, fundamentally, the sole sources of hotel bookings. But things started changing when electronic reservation systems made their first appearance in the '60s and, eventually, became mainstream in the ’80s. By the end of the 20th century, hotel distribution shifted (literally almost overnight) online, and started to resemble what it is today. Over the last two decades, consolidation and new players entering the market have been crucial to an extraordinary growth in digital hotel distribution. Flash-forward to today, the current landscape is touted as merely a duopoly held by Booking and Expedia, and that is a quite accurate statement, at least to a certain extent and for the moment being. Even though it seems like distribution is ever-moving, in fact, there are clear patterns and trends. According to Phocuswright, for example, 2016 was “the first year when OTA lodging bookings in the U.S. exceeded total hotel website gross bookings”, and forecasts expect OTAs to reach over 40% market share by next year. This means that despite above-the-line marketing, targeted discounts and revamped loyalty programmes, consumers are not shifting to direct as their primary booking option as intensely as the big chains wanted. With this in mind, perhaps hotels should start reconsidering their relationships with online travel agencies and focus on the channels bringing the highest profit and volume. In an age where OTAs and wholesalers flex their rates across metasearch engines or marketplaces it is very unlikely that users will just “stop clicking around”. You just need to accept it and move on. There are, however, alternative distribution channels that could be leveraged with success or, at least, kept under one's radar. So let's dig into these distribution Goliaths. Booking.com Born from the merging of booking.nl, bookings.org and Active Hotels (a.k.a. ctivebooking.com), over the years Booking.com became the biggest e-commerce website for travel, with around 200 offices worldwide and over 17,000 employees. Two years after Expedia turned the opportunity to buy booking.nl down in 2003 (ouch!), the Dutch startup was eventually acquired by Booking Holdings (at the time still operating under the Priceline Group moniker), which rebranded to Booking.com in 2006. The first version of the booking.nl website went live in '97, with an inventory of ten hotels and a commission rate of 1/4 of what it is today. According to its founder, Geert-Jan Bruinsma, he had the original idea during a dinner with friends, "got inspired" from the Hilton official website source code the and launched it with barely 50,000 €. During the years, Booking Holdings continued to grow thanks to an almost-mistakeless acquisition strategy: from Asian-based OTA Agoda to rental car service TravelJigsaw (a.k.a. Rentalcars.com), from travel metasearch engines Kayak, Momondo, CheapFlights, Mundi and HotelsCombined to restaurant-reservation service company OpenTable, not to mention yield management solution PriceMatch (now integrated in BookingSuite), RocketMiles, ASDigital, Buuteeq, Hotel Ninjas and the heavy investments made over the years in Chinese OTA Ctrip. Expedia Founded in 1996 as a division of Microsoft, Expedia was acquired by IAC/InterActiveCorp in 2003, which eventually spun it off in 2005. In 2012, Expedia took a majority stake in trivago (which the American OTA still owns after the metasearch went public). Under the IAC/InterActiveCorp brand first, and the Expedia's brand then, dozens of companies (eventually acquired or merged) operated and continue to operate: TripAdvisor (spun off in 2011), Hotels.com, HomeAway (merging VRBO, bedandbreakfast.com, vacationrentals.com, Abritel and FeWo), Egencia, Travelocity, Orbitz, HotWire, Wotif, lastminute.com.au, Ebookers, CheapTickets, AirAsiaGo, Venere.com (eventually merged into the mother brand), Classic Custom Vacations and many others. Today's market value of the company is almost $20 Billion, with over 22,000 employees around the World. Agoda Founded in 2005 by Michael Kenny and Robert Rosenstein, merging planetholiday.com and precisionreservations.com, Agoda can be viewed as a precursor in the industry. PlanetHoliday, in fact, was founded in 1997, just one year after Booking.nl and Expedia. Agoda focus is mainly on the Asia-Pacific region and it has a portfolio of over 1,000,000 vacation rentals and hotels worldwide. In 2007, the Bangkok/Singapore-based company has been acquired (for an undisclosed amount), by Booking Holdings, even though it continues operating independently. HRS With almost half a century of history, HRS Group is the (grand)father of all OTAs. Founded in 1972 by hotel clerk Robert Ragge, in 1995 it became the first website to provide an online hotel database. In his book, Outliers, Gladwell popularized what became known as the 10,000-hour rule, by documenting the lives of successful people. “Ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness”, he wrote, inspired by the work of Daniel Levitin, the neurologist who scientifically proved that “10,000 hours of practice are required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert in anything”. The theory is fascinating, though, not always reliable, and HRS is the perfect example of this fallacy: even with almost half a century (or 400,000 hours) of experience under its belt, today it has a significantly less prominent market share than it used to have, while OTAs born decades later have outgrown it. In 2008 Ragge's son, Tobias, succeeded his father and acquired Tiscover, hotel.de, HolidayInsider and bought stakes in meetago and Lido Group. HRS currently lists 850,000 properties, operating mainly in German-speaking Countries. Wholesalers and Bedbanks Wholesalers and bed banks both made an extraordinary (yet unexpected) comeback over the last few years, mainly fueled by nebulous B2B2C rate strategies and smart acquisitions. With its database of over 70,000 beds and around 5,000 employees, the World’s largest bedbank is, of course, HotelBeds. Founded in 2001, HotelBeds became independent in 2016 (it was, up until that moment, owned by TUI), thanks to the backup of private equity funds Cinven and CPPIB. HotelBeds recently played the divide et impera card, by acquiring two of its main competitors: Tourico and GTA. AirBnB, Google and Amazon So, while even the small hotel entrepreneur is familiar with the aforementioned players, there are at least three companies trying to undermine this status quo. Airbnb, for example, recently officially stated that it offers more listings than Booking.com, while Google entered aggressively into the travel space, thanks to the European introduction of its facilitated booking system Book-on-Google and with its redesigned destination hotels page (https://www.google.com/travel/hotels/). Amazon, after trying (and failing) to get into the industry back in 2016, is rumored to be slowly (but steadily) trying to gain a more prominent slot in the market. Conclusions Far from being fully exploited or stagnated, the hotel distribution space still has a lot of potential, both in growth and diversification. With, on one side, main OTAs turning into metasearch engines-slash-marketplaces-slash-B2B providers hybrids and, on the other, search engines and retailers playing the OTA’s game, our industry has never been so interesting.
Arise Travel is an early stage startup that most hoteliers haven’t heard of today but the firm’s technology could be the answer to the seemingly never ending direct booking wars if things go according to plan. The firm was founded in December of 2017 by two early (former) employees at cloud property management system provider Frontdesk Anywhere who got loads of experience dealing with intermediaries while building the business. Every industry has intermediaries and those intermediaries deserve to get paid for driving business to their partners. Before we jump into how Arise can help build healthier (and more equitable) relationships between OTAs and their hotel partners let’s take a quick 10,000 foot view of where the relationship sits today. Why haven't the OTAs been broken up yet? The problem with the OTA-hotel dynamic is mostly a result of consolidation that has surprisingly not been addressed effectively by most antitrust authorities. The reason that antitrust authorities haven’t addressed this issue is likely because the duopoly actually benefits consumers (by delivering lower prices for accommodations) and many of the world’s most powerful antitrust authorities have mandates to protect consumers rather than businesses. Here’s a quote directly from the U.S. Department of Justice Antitrust Division website about the group’s mandate: “Competition in a free market benefits American consumers through lower prices, better quality and greater choice. Competition provides businesses the opportunity to compete on price and quality, in an open market and on a level playing field, unhampered by anti competitive restraints.” As such, it is unclear that the Booking/Expedia duoply (which is estimated to control ~80% of the market today) will ever be broken up given the focus on consumer protection. Arise shifts the focus from direct bookings to lower commissions Historically, most of the companies that help hotels gain leverage against OTAs today have been focused on driving new direct bookings. The general idea is that by helping hotels increase their mix of direct bookings - these hotels will pay lower absolute commissions in the short term and also in theory should be able to negotiate lower commissions over the long haul. The earliest companies to play in this space were Triptease, Stay Wanderful and Hotelchamp. These direct booking platforms help hotels optimize their website performance to increase conversion and effectively maximize their funnel rather than bring new prospective guests into it. More recently, The Hotels Network and 123Compare.me have jumped into the fray. Similarly, digital marketing agencies began positioning around direct bookings with firms such as Screen Pilot, Travel Tripper and TravelClick leading the pack. Ultimately the goal of any great hotel digital marketing agency should be to drive bookings at a lower cost relative to OTA commissions. In addition to the benefits of website optimization based direct booking platforms, digital marketing agencies help bring new prospective guests into that funnel through digital marketing on paid channels such as Google, Facebook, Email Marketing and Instagram. So tech companies have gone a long way to help hotels gain leverage with the OTAs by driving direct bookings via digital marketing, website optimization, etc. While this is a great approach, Arise Travel has a surprising way to end the direct booking wars - and the team wants to do this without a single shot fired. With an OTA duopoly, is there a big enough market for Arise? While Expedia and Booking have approximately 80% of the OTA market, there are many other stakeholders in the accommodation supply chain. The total retail value of accommodations globally hovers around $570B and $200B of that gets passed to the hotel industry (Statista). Booking and Expedia revenue for all business units combined (incl. airline, activities, etc.) are ~$25B which shows that even though they have huge OTA market share, they actually have modest shares of the overall intermediary markets. So who else is in this intermediary market? Some examples include: traditional travel agencies, corporate travel businesses, smaller OTAs and OTA affiliate partners. Arise wants to help hotels fight the OTAs by mixing in more cost effective 3rd party bookings. When a hotel today forecasts a period with high demand, they’ll often use their channel manager to shut down distribution in what are called “closeout dates.” Closeout dates include peak times like big conferences coming to town, city wide events, etc. That sounds reasonable, right? Wrong. When hotels activate these closeout dates they are intentionally leaving bookings on the table today to save themselves for lower commission bookings tomorrow. Then, as occupancy begins to rise, hotels are able to increase rate which is why they’re ok to leave those bookings on the table. In super simple terms, let’s say a hotel will pay 20% to the OTA and 0% incremental for direct bookings (because many direct costs are fixed). The reason they shut down OTA inventory is because they believe that the rate increase they can command tomorrow will not justify the distribution cost today. Arise Travel founder Nadim El Manawy believes that billions are being left on the table and thinks that commissions should be dynamic just like room rates. Everyone knows that revenue management software is essential to running a profitable hotel business. If you charge too much - you lose bookings. If you charge too little - you leave profit on the table. Revenue management systems help hoteliers make sure that they can walk that fine line to maximize profitability and Arise Travel can have the same effect on 3rd party commissions. Here’s how Arise Travel’s technology works to supercharge your existing channel manager Arise automatically downloads closeout dates from your channel manager where your hotel is leaving bookings on the table. Your revenue manager can then go into the Arise Travel dashboard and input commission rates that they’d be willing to sell hotel rooms for during those periods. Rates and desired commissions then get pushed to Arise Travel’s network of intermediaries so hotels can sell rooms to prospective guests on 3rd party channels without commission negotiations or even the need for a traditional contract. Let’s say, for example, that The World Cup is coming to your city next summer so you don’t want to allow Expedia bookings at 20% commission knowing that you’ll fill your hotel regardless. You can’t renegotiate with Expedia but you can now login to your Arise Travel dashboard and notify intermediaries like small OTAs and corporate travel agencies that you’d be willing to sell rooms for a 7% commission during those times. You can even set variable commissions on a per room type basis, by rate code, day of the week and even by channel. Eventually the technology will make this all automated through integrations with top rated revenue management systems. Those intermediaries can then accept those terms and list your rooms for booking on their channels with automated rules. The big value prop for these intermediaries is that they can now sell accommodations that aren’t available on Booking and Expedia - this helps them differentiate and ultimately grow their businesses. You can now get rooms booked for a reasonable commission while driving up rates during this peak period. Consumers win by accessing your inventory in more places, distributors win by getting access to unique inventory and you win by maintaining reasonable commissions and selling your inventory more quickly. Arise’s technology handles all commission reconciliation and payouts automatically to save your team time. The entire payment and service history can be viewed at any time providing ultimate transparency into your channel management strategy. If Arise Travel can get big enough, it will eventually pressure Expedia and Booking to accept variable commissions that are market based. While Expedia and Booking may see short term headwinds from a concept like Arise Travel hitting scale, this is ultimately bringing much needed fair market dynamics and transparency to the industry which will lead to healthier hotel-OTA relationships and more innovation. Nadim has a massive vision for the industry and he needs the help of our global hotelier community to jump on board with what we at Hotel Tech Report believe is a “no brainer.” We recently sat down with Nadim to chat about his background, the future of hotel distribution, what’s next for Arise Travel and more. Hotel Tech Report's exclusive interview with Nadim below What was your background prior to starting the company? Before co-founding Arise, I led sales and partnerships for 4+ years at a cloud-based property management system company in San Francisco called Frontdesk Anywhere. Prior to moving to the Bay Area in 2011, I worked in Shanghai and grew up in Belgium. What made you decide to jump in and disrupt the travel distribution space? I met Alex Lamb, my co-founder in this business, at Frontdesk Anywhere where we were the second and third employees. Alex lead the engineering team there for 4+ years. Being in the PMS business, we became very familiar with how things work on the operational side at hotels, but we also had to work with many players in the distribution chain such as channel managers, GDS and wholesalers. We got to see how things are patched together behind the scenes today. Many of the hotels we worked with were very vocal about how a few online travel agencies were controlling their distribution and how much they were paying in commissions and fees. We also saw how the fragmentation of the PMS space and old technology used by existing intermediate networks was making it difficult for travel companies to gain access to hotel data and efficiently transact with hotels. We starting thinking about how we could use emerging technology to fix many of these problems, allowing new travel companies to grow faster and help move the industry forward. Who was your first customer? One large player in the corporate travel space (we can’t name the company yet) is taking a chance working with us in order to solve some of the problems and inefficiencies they face today. Our experience with hotel distribution technology gained over the years when building and maintaining a cloud PMS combined with our knowledge of distributed ledger technology and how it can be applied to travel distribution is what made them want to work with us. What is there so much excitement about Arise Travel as a disruptor? We build technology that helps hotels gain more control over the inventory they share with their partners. Our distributed ledger technology lets hotels enforce rate parity at the point-of-sale and dynamically adjust their commission rates based on demand, significantly increasing hotel profitability. Who is one mentor that has really helped you scale the business? I need to mention two people who have been very helpful since the beginning. Jing Zhou, who was at Hyatt for many years leading e-distribution for Asia Pacific, has been sharing her knowledge on hotel operations and distribution strategies. She has helped us stay focused when building our technology to make sure it fits with hotels needs. Varsha Rao, who was head of Global Operations at AirBnB for many years, has tons of experience in building and scaling businesses. Her constant ideas and advice on ways to start and grow the business have been extremely helpful. What's one big misconception that hoteliers have about distribution? Many hoteliers believe that they are powerless to change the distribution technology they’re dependant upon. Most hoteliers are quick to complain but because they don’t view distribution technology as a core competency, the idea of investing resources into something they’ve never taken ownership of before seems daunting. This mindset may have been reasonable in the past, but not anymore. Distributed ledger technology will show hotels that updating their distribution technology is possible with very little IT investment and without affecting their operations and current distribution channels. What's the most surprising thing you've learned about hospitality distribution since founding the business? That most innovative technology being worked on focuses on the travel search and booking process, but technology that can improve the traveler experience after booking is held back because many of these services have to rely on outdated distribution technology to function. If you could partner with any vendor in hotel tech, who would it be and why? AirBnB. Our technology creates a shared source of truth for hotels and OTAs, making it possible to automate commission reconciliation processes. With this automation in place, it becomes feasible for hotels to start setting variable commission rates for the inventory they send to OTAs. Instead of closing entire channels during high demand periods, hotels can lower their commission rate to maximize their profitability. We can help AirBnB grow its hotel business by accepting variable commission rates from hotels, giving them access to desirable inventory that is currently unavailable to other OTAs using a fixed commission model. Where do you see Arise in 5-years? Most of the intermediaries that survive of rate arbitrage and don’t bring real value to hotel distribution will disappear. We believe the efficiency and trust that distributed ledger technology can bring to the industry will drive down the commissions paid by hotels for bookings. I’d hope most hotels, including independent, will be benefiting from the control and efficiency our technology will bring to their online distribution. I’d expect many players involved on the supply and on the demand side to be using our technology. Do you have any new products or feature launches? Variable commissions hotels fully control and payouts are automatically handled. Starting with high demand periods, hotels can decide how much they are willing to pay in commissions for any given date, room type and rate. Today hotels pay fixed high commissions to OTAs and at times of high demand often take the risk to close those expensive channels as they are confident enough they’ll drive enough direct bookings to fill their hotel. Hotels no longer have to do that as they can now set variable commissions that they are willing to give OTAs on those high demand dates. We provide the transparency and control to hoteliers and we automate the commission payouts so it doesn’t add any more work for hoteliers. We work with hotel channel managers and switches. To get going hotels can contact us or also check with their service provider to see if they are already connected to Arise. Is there anything that the community can do to be helpful for you? We’d love for people involved in hotel distribution on either the supply or demand side to talk to us. The more people that understand and get comfortable with the idea that upgrading distribution infrastructure isn’t such a daunting task, the faster everyone will be able to benefit from it. Advances in Distributed Ledger Technology actually make distribution less complex than the processes in place today. What's one piece of advice that you have for any entrepreneurs looking to get into the hotel tech space? Make sure there’s a clear need for your solution in the space and if so, have a very good understanding of all the current players, how they work together and all the moving pieces that shape today’s hotel tech space.