Everyone texts -- and not just with friends and family: 9 out of 10 consumers prefer to text businesses they frequent. And, increasingly, many turn to messaging apps for regular communications: 55% of U.S. consumers use a mobile messaging app at least once a month. The proliferation of inbound communications channels creates complexity for hotels; it’s just not simple to manage, track, and triage requests across so many different channels. This complexity is why more hospitality brands are implementing guest engagement technology. The tech pulls guest communications into a single platform, enabling guests to communicate seamlessly with hotels via text messaging, apps, and social media. These platforms generally rely on automation and A.I.-powered chatbots to augment human customer service agents, a trend that Salesforce sees as growing by 241% in the next 18 months. The combination allows for a more nuanced approach to customer service, pushing predictable requests to chatbots and complex interactions to humans. This combination increases the relevance, accuracy, speed, and convenience of your guest communications. A recent SalesForce report predicts a 241% increase in usage of A.I. chatbots across travel and hospitality. One of the leading guest messaging platforms serving hospitality brands is Zingle, which enables hotels to provide more consistent, accurate communications through whichever channels guests prefer. The platform also streamlines comms for staff, uniting all conversations in one place so nothing is overlooked. The benefits of stronger guest engagement is threefold: improved operational efficiency, better guest satisfaction, and higher RevPAR. Staff is more efficient, wastes less time, and respond to requests quicker, so guests are more satisfied and leave better reviews (and thus higher RevPAR). Here are three key ways that Zingle’s guest engagement platform increases the relevance, accuracy, speed, and convenience of your guest communications. #1: A more personalized experience Personalization is certainly buzzed about -- but it’s no longer just a buzzword, it’s a best practice. For hotels, this plays out in very specific ways, such as these two recent experiences from Hotel Tech Report staff with hotel guest messaging platforms. The Thompson Cape in Cabo used a guest messaging platform to ask about allergies during our stay last September. We disclosed a severe allergy to pumpkin seeds which enabled the hotel to ensure all outlets (e.g. the pool bar, room service, etc.) were able to help us avoid incident. More recently, at the Kimpton EPIC Hotel in Miami during Amadeus’ customer conference, a front desk agent named Dante texted the guest to let them know of his availability for any issues; sure enough, the key didn’t work and Dante sent a new one up after a single text avoiding what could have been an extremely poor arrival experience. These experiences underscore just how much personalized texting can help to improve the guest experience and mitigate risk of issues while on property. Unfortunately, there’s still a disconnect between what consumers expect and what hospitality brands deliver. In a 2018 Epsilon survey, 87% of respondents said they are more likely to do business with travel websites/apps offering personalized experiences. And yet only 64% say travel brands currently deliver personalized experiences either very or somewhat well. The gap between consumer expectations and actual performance is a massive opportunity across a hotel’s operation. For marketers, personalization can boost conversions for things like end-of-stay surveys and review requests. For GMs, personalization means more efficient allocation of resources. Notable feature: Put your hotel at the leading edge of personalization with Zingle’s modules, called “zings.” Each zing is customizable to respond to specific triggers, similar to setting up marketing automation workflows or email drip campaigns. These flows allow hotels to customize how messages are routed, and what happens on specific triggers. For instance, hotels can personalize a checkout survey or escalate a lost-and-found request to the right person. #2: More streamlined communications There’s nothing worse than a hotel that silos guest communications by channel, as it leads to a poor experience -- a guest may have messages unanswered or have to explain a situation over and over to whomever is tasked with answering a particular channel. And that’s not just frustrating for guests: Hotel staff also struggle with siloed guest communications, as knowledge isn’t always shared across shifts. Without a single source of truth, there’s a bad feeling of always playing catch up. Part of providing a consistent experience means that guests are able to communicate how they like with the hotel. Guests want to be able to chat, text, or call, and know that the requests are all being monitored. They don’t care how they make a request; they just want requests answered -- and fulfilled -- promptly. A guest messaging platform helps hotels meet that expectation. With a single platform for communications, staff aren’t constantly toggling between tools and can respond to guests across all channels (including popular messaging apps like WhatsApp). The fact that Zingle’s A.I.-driven system also answers common questions and escalates service issues to humans means that it’s like having a new staff member working 24/7. Hotels that use Zingle emphasize how easy it is for both guest and staff, saying that it is a “wonderful amenity that streamlines communication.” “We like the ease of contacting guests. This is great for special in-house offers at the outlets, we have seen extra revenue at the spa when we send out specials. It's also great to alert groups when the function has been moved inside due to weather. We had a pipe break a few weeks back and used Zingle to alert the guests that the water would be shut off from 1-3.” ~ Assistant GM from Clearwater, United States The fact that this GM identifies both guests and associates as strong advocates underscores how powerful a unified communications platform can be. Staff is less stressed, confused, and overwhelmed managing new and existing requests, and guests get the support they need quickly on channels they already use. This consistency help hotels deliver the best experience possible -- and to quickly resolve emerging problems before they escalate. Notable feature: Zingle’s platform resolves common guest requests with intelligent routing. There are also “quick keys” for common messages, which saves agents time when responding directly to guests. The intelligent routing and shortcuts reduce the amount of time staff spends on repetitive responses while also quickly getting guests the information they seek. #3: A more empowered staff A guest engagement platform makes staff more productive. Guests receive responses personalized to their requests, some of which are boilerplate responses to common questions (“Where’s the gym”) and others are written by customer service agents. With Zingle handling routine requests, staff can devote more brainpower to complex tasks. The Salesforce report we mentioned earlier also found that: Chatbots make customer service agents 64% more efficient and frees them up to spend more time solving complex problems. Guests also get frustrated when hotels make it difficult to find answers to common questions. With customer service agents spending less time on repetitive responses, it benefits both teams and customers alike. Staff have more bandwidth to resolve those thornier guest issues which results in a better guest experience. For example, let’s say a front desk agent is busy answering a phone call about the pool’s opening hours. Zingle’s A.I. could have answered that question on its own, freeing up the front desk agent for higher-impact tasks, such as taking a new reservation or handling a high-touch guest request. As La Cantera Resort & Spa’s Director of Revenue confirms in a recent review, Zingle’s automation makes guests happier and frees up staff so that more can get done: Read more Zingle reviews Notable feature: Sentiment-based alerts. Zingle actively monitors inbound communications, acting as a 24/7 sentry for your property’s guest experience. Overlooking a negative message can poison the guest experience -- and damage your brand. Zingle’s sentiment-based alerts allow you to prioritize resources so that the most pressing situations are addressed first. This automatically identifies opportunities for service recovery -- and ensures that a bad situation doesn’t get worse. Bringing it all together With its cross-platform messaging, Zingle will keep your staff organized and on-point, uniting guest communications in one place -- regardless of channel. The platform does all the work, reliably and consistently. Guests don’t even need to know how their requests are processed. The platform simply routes it all according to a property’s rules, without any intervention. For pricing, Zingle offers a free trial so hotels can try before they buy. After the trial, there’s a one-time implementation fee and a monthly subscription charged on a per room basis. To get set up, you’ll need to thoughtfully map out your guest touchpoints, connect your communications channels to the platform, and then train staff. Zingle’s team has 10 years of experience, so implementation actually becomes a great opportunity to improve operations. One final piece of data to guide your decision in choosing a guest messaging software: consumers prefer a blend of chatbots and human agents. It’s not as simple as replacing one for the other. By implementing a A.I.-driven model that relies on the strengths of both bots and humans, hotels stand to benefit immensely from an improved guest experience that results in better reviews.
Hotel Guest Messaging Software Software Articles
How Whistle used Lean Startup strategy to become the hotel industry’s favorite guest messaging platform
When non-technical entrepreneurs start a tech company, they usually start by spending ~$50,000 for a software development agency to go build their cool new idea. Startups that begin this way often burn through resources quickly and double down on markets before they even understand them. Steve Blank’s Lean Startup methodology has helped thousands of startups avoid these pitfalls. The methodology teaches startups to run a series of experiments that help founders learn quickly about the markets in which they’re operating without burning through resources too early. Running lean also forces entrepreneurs to get out of their comfort zones (usually behind a computer) and perform deep market research with prospective clients. Blank’s Lean Startup strategy is centered around the concept of an “MVP” (minimum viable product). The idea with an MVP is to build the absolutely least amount necessary to prove or disprove a hypothesis. According to Blank, creating a successful business from scratch begins with developing a hypothesis, analyzing the risks involved, then setting out to disprove each of those risks using the least resources possible. Lean Startup practitioners are non-technical hackers in their own regard, they start by asking the right questions and then build creative low cost solutions to answer those questions. Chris Hovanessian’s journey and the founding of Whistle is straight out of the Lean Startup playbook. Whistle’s guest messaging software is world renowned today, but when Chris started his business most hotels didn’t even know what “guest messaging” was. Chris, like most entrepreneurs, started with a problem. While working in the corporate relocation business he noticed that he was able to give clients great customer service when they were at home but when they got to their respective destinations, many of them didn’t have local phone (or data) plans so they were left in the dark and it created tons of problems from a customer experience perspective. He also noticed that they were communicating on a variety of platforms like SMS, Viber and WhatsApp when they were home and that messaging was becoming both cheaper and more widespread. Chris believed that messaging was the future and had a hunch that it would completely change the way businesses delivered customer service. "Texting is the most frequently used form of communication among Americans younger than 50. Sending and receiving text messages is the most prevalent form of communication for Americans younger than 50. More than two-thirds of 18- to 29-year-olds say they sent and received text messages "a lot" the previous day, as did nearly half of Americans between 30 and 49." ~Gallup To validate his hypothesis, Chris began talking to dozens of local business owners from all walks of life. One day, while speaking with a hotel manager, he realized that messaging could add a ton of value for hotels given their complex operational needs, employee shift schedules and given hotels’ maniacal focus on delivering a great guest experience. After coming to this realization, Chris scheduled a series of meetings with local hoteliers to validate his hypothesis. Before meeting with a second hotelier, Chris created mockups of what the messaging product would look like so that he could get more detailed feedback on the concept. Before the end of the meeting, that hotelier inquired about pricing and asked when they could go live. Chris partnered with co-founder Jonathan Rojas, a sales guru and college friend, then found a technical partner and built an MVP for that client since they didn’t even have a product yet - the rest is history. Chris’ partner Jonathan even started working part time as a front office manager to perfect the product and deeply understand how it was being used by clients. Steve Blank often tells entrepreneurs to “get outside the building” and Jon’s decision to work at a hotel while starting the business was exactly that. Hotels may not have known about guest messaging when Chris and Jon started the business, they certainly do today. Whistle has won Top Rated Guest Messaging Platform in the HotelTechAwards for 2 years in a row and the company is now in hundreds of hotels around the world. The old guard often saw technology as a risk to the human experience of hospitality and messaging has proven to do exactly the opposite by creating stronger connections between hotel staff and guests. Our cell phones are highly personal to us, they’re the first thing we check in the morning and the last thing we see before we go to sleep. They’re how we connect with friends, family and colleagues. Any hotel that doesn’t offer the ability for guests to text for service is missing a huge opportunity to surprise and delight. I had an incredible messaging experience while traveling to Mexico recently. Before we arrived at the hotel we were asked if anyone in our group had allergies - a proactive touch that likely saved us a trip to the hospital due to my friend’s severe pumpkin seed allergy. Our room was below the rooftop bar so when the DJ got too loud we texted the front desk late at night. To our surprise, the hotel staff told us that they felt terrible and were happy to upgrade our room at no additional charge to get us away from the noise. Messaging enabled the staff to turn what could have been an awful experience into a moment of surprise and delight. The best part is that we didn’t even have to pick up the phone. We caught up with Chris to learn about the Whistle founding story, how hotels can transform the guest experience through messaging, the biggest mistake that hotels make today and more. Whistle CEO Chris Hovanessian speaks on a hospitality panel with former Starwood CEO Jeff Lapin What was your background prior to starting Whistle? I attended Loyola Marymount University (LMU) in 2011 with a major in Business Administration - Entrepreneurship. At LMU, I gained hands-on experience with starting companies from A-Z, met my cofounder Jonathan Rojas, and was also a chapter founding member of professional business fraternity, Alpha Kappa Psi - Psi Epsilon. During my last semester and after graduating from LMU, I began working in corporate relocation. There, I worked with Fortune 500 companies to relocate their executive and personnel between headquarters, and to the U.S. Through this position, I gained exposure to certain aspects of hospitality, and immediately realized the importance of streamlined communication. What made you decide to create a guest messaging company before most hotels even knew that they needed this kind of software? In the corporate relocation world at the time, my clients came to the U.S. and primarily stayed in hotels. Once they arrived, their mobile phones were essentially useless, as they did not have new data plans in place and would have been charged enormous fees. As a result, all logistics were planned weeks in advance via email. If I needed to get in touch with the client, one of the only ways was to call their hotel and ask to be transferred to their room. As you can imagine, they were not regularly boarded up in their rooms. Through this frustration, I quickly found a better solution: ask clients to download various mobile messaging applications that were popular in their country at the time (e.g. Skype, Viber, and many others), and to connect to WiFi as often as possible. With this approach, I was more likely to engage in real-time communication. Then one day, when coordinating with multiple clients at once through multiple channels, it hit me - I need an aggregate solution, which supports all channels! We jumped in and started Whistle thereafter, using the lean methodology and identifying Hospitality as the most apparent application for the software. Who was Whistle’s first customer? Al Munguia, of the Jupiter Hotel in Portland, Oregon. Before we even built a product, we used the Lean Methodology to get off the ground. I was conducting interviews with willing participants to determine the pain points, and eventually to shape the MVP. Al was the second interview I conducted during the “Solution Stage”, which is where you show mockups or a wireframe of the potential product, and then gauge feedback for improvements and enhancements. 10 minutes into the call, he asked, “this looks great, how much does it cost?” I wasn’t prepared to answer that question so I just threw out a number, and he told me to let him know when they could start. I said one-week, and then we got to work building the platform! Most hoteliers know that guest messaging is a must have today and there are lots of players in the market but Whistle has won top rated guest messaging platform for 2 years in a row, why do you think that is? Messaging started off as a nice-to-have, but is quickly evolving into a requirement, similar to WiFi a decade ago. Whistle is the easiest GMP to get started with; we offer a free trial with no commitments, you can get setup in minutes, and you will see results on the first day of usage. Whistle will boost your guest engagement levels, drive up your guest satisfaction scores, provide ancillary revenue, improve your operational efficiency, and streamline all of your departments’ logistics -- our customers can’t live without it. Whistle's guest messaging software helps hotels run more efficiently and deliver impeccable service Who is one mentor that has really helped you scale the business? We’re so lucky to have such a strong circle of mentors, it’s truly amazing - I wish I could name them all! Someone who’s been there with us every step of the way is Michael Panesis: President and Chairman Emeritus of Tech Coast Angels Central Coast, Founding Member of Santa Barbara Angel Alliance, and the Executive Director of the Center for Entrepreneurship for Cal Lutheran. Mike has helped us in nearly every aspect of the company, and we wouldn’t be where we are today without him. The one piece of advice that really stuck with us was, “Keep selling!” We followed through with this approach, gained more ground, and eventually the pieces started falling into place: more people started believing in us, the product evolved, the team grew, and our impact tremendously improved. What's one commonly held belief that most hoteliers believe to be true that actually is false? “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. What's the most surprising thing you've learned about scaling technology into hotels? The hotel industry is very hard to break into as a new company, but then gets easier as your brand grows. We’ve all seen overnight virality in the B2C space, but hotels tend to have their guard up more-so than any other industry I’ve experienced. It’s a tight-knit community, and as a result, it takes time to grow organically and reach the inflection point. You can pump out all the marketing and metrics around your company’s impact that you want; if no one knows you, they’re likely not going to work with you. Have been a particularly good partners that have helped Whistle scale along the way? For Whistle, PMS partnerships in general have been especially powerful for both us and our PMS partners. It gives us the opportunity to grow, while providing tremendous added value to our PMS partners, making their product more sticky because we can ultimately extend their reach into the guest journey whereas the PMS usually is just used by the hotelier. Where do you see Whistle and the guest messaging space in 5-years? For the guest messaging category as a whole, artificial intelligence and machine learning will become more prevalent. AI has progressed significantly within the last two years, and we are beginning to see it provide more value. Messaging will also begin to touch more hotel software categories, beyond the guest and past the PMS/CRM. I think we’ll also begin to see consolidation within the category, speaking from the business perspective. We see Whistle in tens of thousands of hotels around the globe, providing a holistic messaging platform for guests and all departments/aspects of the hotel. People think messaging capabilities have matured, when realistically we’ve barely scratched the surface. Is there anything that the hotel tech community can do to be helpful for you? We’d really like to learn more about marketing best-practices in hospitality tech. We have a great solution with strong impact on direct bookings, and we’d like to get the word out more! What's one piece of advice that you have for entrepreneurs looking to get into the hotel tech space? It’s hard, but definitely worth it! The hotel industry is fun, traveling is literally part of the game, and everyone knows the importance of letting loose every once-in-a-while. Just like in any other industry: make sure you do your research ahead of time, find early adopters/partners, and do everything in your power to learn from them over time and keep them happy. What is the best book you've read lately and why? “The Hard Thing About Hard Things”, by Ben Horowitz. It came out a few years ago, but I just got around to reading it last year. This is a book for founders by a founder, now VC. It’s all about the ugly bits and hard truths of entrepreneurship, not the glory. It’s very comforting to learn of others’ horror stories, because it’s usually largely untold. You come away from this book understanding that most of the hardships you go through are actually very common, and that you’re not crazy after all! I highly recommend it. What is your favorite podcast I love The Joe Rogan Experience What is one thing that most people don't know about you? For the past 7 years I’ve practiced a form of intermittent fasting called time-restricted eating, where I eat only one meal per day and am fasting for the rest of the day. Fasting has helped me feel a lot healthier.
Last week Hotel Tech Report attended ITB to discover the most cutting edge innovations in travel and hotels. Each year thousands congregate at Messe Berlin to connect with peers, partners and clients from around the globe. Below are 5 key trends that every hotelier needs to know about this year. In this article we outline each trend, tell you how it impacts your hotel and give an overview of the companies that launched or showcased on trend products at ITB. For those of you who couldn't make it to Berlin we also cut a reel from the show so you can get the next best thing to being there. Check out Hotel Tech Report's official ITB Berlin 2019 Recap video above 5 key trends & takeaways from ITB 2019 1. Automation is going mainstream 2. Software tools are breaking down operational silos 3. Hotel software is moving towards self service 4. App marketplaces are soaring 5. Meeting venues are getting wired up Our take on automation in hotel software Automation allows for time consuming, tedious and repetitive processes to be handled completely by software. When a task or process reaches the limits of the software’s capability, the appropriate team member is looped in to take over which is a beautiful thing. Let’s face it, if you’ve ever worked in a hotel you know that there are dozens of repetitive tasks that seem like a computer should be able to handle and in many cases perform even better, and now they can. Automation frees up staff to focus on the things that those computers can’t handle like high level strategic thinking, trying new products and serving guests. Many hotels are still afraid that technology and the personal touch are conflicting ideas; however, innovative hotel groups are realizing that technology and automation actually enable them to focus on the personal aspects of experience in a way they couldn’t when they were bogged down with repetitive tasks. What's new in automation? IDeaS launches Investigator to let revenue managers uncover the rationale behind automated pricing decisions by asking Alexa. IDeaS announced Investigator, an intuitive way to answer your management's question: How did you achieve that price and those results? IDeaS G3 is the most popular RMS on the market and now clients can ask the system via Amazon Alexa to rationalize the decisions that it automates to provide transparency into the decision making process that is out of a revenue managers hands and handled by the systems powerful A.I. engines. Hotelchamp launches Autopilot to help hoteliers leverage web data and user behavior to deliver personalized web experiences to boost conversion. Hotelchamp announced Autopilot technology, which wants to transform how hotels approach their online guest bookings and experience. Autopilot uses AI to deliver an adaptive experience that is tailored to every single website visitor, and is completely GDPR compliant. Using an A.I. engine to identify customer segments and audiences, Hotelchamp Autopilot can automatically serve the best information for each guest. Autopilot has been trained using pre-populated content, insights from the Hotelchamp data science team, and millions of A/B test impressions. Using this knowledge and live insights from the hotel’s website, Autopilot recognises and personalizes the website experience in real-time to convince visitors to book direct. All Hotelchamp tools can now be controlled by Autopilot, meaning the system will only deploy the right tools at the right time to the right audience. This process happens in real-time and is entirely personalised to each individual website visitor and moment in the booking phase. Crave Scheduler enables hotels to send targeted automated messages generating $5,000/mo in late checkouts. With the amount of times mobile comes up in conversation and the media, you might think BYOD (bring your own device) is the only way to go but the reality is there are lots of occasions where hotels just simply don’t have the ability to get a guest’s contact info or get them to download an app. Crave Interactive has a unique, and near unavoidable, position in the guest’s periphery with its in room tablets that see upwards of 90% guest engagement. At ITB, Crave announced a new feature called Crave Scheduler that puts a unique spin on automation allowing hotels to set rules to send target messages to guests. One of the prime use cases that Crave customers have been taking full advantage of is timed late checkout offers which have seen upwards of $5,000 month in revenue at Crave hotel partners who received early access to the feature. UpsellGuru announced "Auto Pilot" which automates the entire up-selling process. Upsell Guru now sends targeted emails, calculates the dynamic minimum and maximum upgrade bidding prices, sets up the system to decide which offers to accept and when, updates the PMS - all fully automated not requiring human interaction. The new feature allows hotels to up-sell their rooms & ancillary services without moving a finger. This saves hotels plenty of time and allows them to use the system without having to log-in on a daily basis. They’re initial trial was successful with a British chain of 30 hotels where they achieve GBP 65,000 per month in up-selling revenue without any manual human work. Quicktext showcased its website chatbot to help guests find answers faster while unlocking $140,000 in requests per 100 rooms. With Quicktext, guests can book at your hotel through a conversation (on various channels like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Website Live Chat and SMS), something that has been mainstream throughout Asia (specifically China) via WeChat but has been slower to catch up in the West. The most practical use of chatbots is on a hotel website where prospective guests often get lost looking for basic information. A chatbot can answer critical questions instantly like “how far is your hotel from the convention center?”, “what is the best way to get from the airport to the hotel on public transportation?” and “can we add a cot to our room?”. This helps shorten the time needed to research the hotel and in turn increases conversion into your booking engine flow. Humanise.AI had Gem on display boasting automation of 80% of inquiries. Humanise.AI announced automated web-chat for hotels ensures that guests get an immediate response most of the time, but can still summon a member of hotel staff when needed. When hotels use human-only web-chat systems, they often struggle to respond to enquiries quickly enough, meaning guests leave the web site before they get a reply. With Humanise’s Gem product, they claim to automate ~80% of enquiries, radically improving the guest service and improving conversion-ratios for direct bookings. SABA put its multilingual guest request and F&B ordering chatbot on display. SABA Hospitality Technology announced a bespoke and fully automated hospitality chatbot (SABAGuest Request). This multilingual chatbot and digital F&B ordering platform provides guests with a seamless communication experience, without the need for downloads. It provides operators the opportunity to eliminate language barriers, provide instant answers to all guest requests and enquiries, and engage with guests on their preferred communication platform: messaging. This allows for the redeployment of staff away from call centers and other low-value repetitive tasks, to engage in meaningful guest interactions that help build long-term guest loyalty. Our take on breaking down silos in hotel organizations It’s no secret that hotels have historically suffered from siloed organizational departments because historically without better communication tools and access to data, teams were essentially on an island in their own physical locations. Technology companies are starting to realize that their products and tools can help hoteliers to become more effective by aligning departments around common goals, systems and data. At ITB we saw a lot of this happening as evidenced by a shift where CRM companies are starting to focus heavily on the operational applications of their guest data where historically that data has just been used for marketing purposes. Who's breaking down operational silos? TravelClick weaves Demand360 data into its Campaign Advisor toolkit to leverage market intelligence data to optimize marketing campaigns fostering collaborative efforts between revenue and marketing. TravelClick announced the addition of Demand360 to the Campaign Advisor toolkit. Building on last year’s email send time optimizer, Campaign Advisor now allows hoteliers to take the guesswork out of marketing by providing them with recommendations on when to run marketing campaigns based on predictive occupancy in the market. Demand360 is the hospitality industry’s competitive market intelligence product providing forward-looking reservation metrics and competitive share by segment and channel. Hoteliers using TravelClick’s GMS and Demand360 products will have access to current and projected occupancy data versus competitive sets to best identify the most valuable time periods to run campaigns, allowing them to avoid offering discounts and packages during peak market occupancy and place campaigns when they need it most. A huge pain point for hoteliers is knowing when to send promotions and emails to customers, as hoteliers do not have a clear picture of how their future occupancy compares with their comp set. It’s hard to determine the most valuable time to run a campaign. The Campaign Advisor and Demand360 integration, which is proprietary to TravelClick, takes guesswork out of the equation and enables hoteliers to leverage market data to feel confident that they are choosing the best time to run campaigns and capture demand. Serenata CRM announced Decision Maker, a solution that combines business intelligence with campaign management. Serenata Intraware's Decision Maker allows different users groups like owners, management, operations and marketing to view the same data but from different perspectives to get an optimal view of the hotel operation, identify potential problems and take corrective actions. The Decision Maker KPI dashboard gives a high-level insight into revenue, OTA share, loyalty contribution and other key metrics and trends. Other dashboards give subject matter experts from operations and marketing the ability to drill-down and identify the root cause for a problem and based on this insight create marketing campaigns using micro-segmentation to mitigate the problem without changing tools or breaking the workflow. Cendyn announced eNgage which brings marketing’s CRM data and customer profiles to front line operations teams bringing the gap between marketing and operations. Cendyn's next generation product empowers front-line and call center staff to instantly access guest profiles including historical guest feedback, membership information, brand-wide stays, social profile information and more. Used in conjunction with Cendyn’s eInsight hotel CRM, eNgage sits on top of a hotel’s property management system or call center application and intelligently guides staff to create authentic, meaningful encounters and upsell offerings based on guest history, preferences and loyalty status. This lightweight application can be accessed on any device and features configurable messaging prompts and data displays. Like all Cendyn products, eNgage integrates seamlessly with other hotel systems, utilizing an open architecture that ensures the accuracy and completion of guest information for all team members at every touchpoint in the guest journey. Cendyn’s eNgage solution allows hoteliers to provide the right approach to personalization for guests throughout their stay. eNgage brings to life all the data that hotels are collecting on guests and it displays it in real-time through an application window that always sits on top of the hotel PMS. For staff on the front-line, access to data instantly is critical for them to manage their workload and allows them to navigate every situation elegantly with customer service and upselling, so guests feel known and valued, not overly monitored. Fornova expands its business intelligence offering to create a cross department interface for data insights. Fornova announced that they recently acquired HotelsBI, a hotel Business Intelligence platform. With this acquisition, Fornova now caters to all roles and departments in the property and chain. With this acquisition, Fornova now has three product offerings; Distribution Intelligence, HotelsBI & eCommerce Optimisation. HotelsBI simplifies the process of analysing internal and external data sources thanks to simple, intuitive dashboards - enabling faster, data-driven decisions to optimize hotel performance. Revinate’s CRM is now being used by front desk staff and showcased the scalability of its platform on newly AWS servers. This shift allows Revinate to scale more efficiently and ultimately open guest data to new departments. Revinate showcased the capabilities that get unlocked when front desk staff and managers can access CRM data. MeetingPackage.com brings revenue management and pricing optimization to your sales team. The Company announced a partnership with IDeaS revenue solutions to bring real time dynamic pricing to meeting venues. When paired with MeetingPackage’s online booking engine for event spaces, this is a truly groundbreaking development providing hoteliers with real time insights to optimize pricing and a seamless, intuitive, flexible and real time booking experience. Our take on self service software in the hotel industry This is one of the trends that we’re most excited about at Hotel Tech Report. Freemium and free trials are ubiquitous in the software world but it’s not until recently that it’s broken into the hotel market. The challenge historically with hotel software has been that you need to ingest data from core systems like the PMS to make any software work; therefore, it’s hard to offer a free trial or self service. As the hotel software market moves this direction we’ll continue to see exponential upticks in innovation and sophistication. Another key reason that hotels don’t like trying technology is because even if they like the solutions that they try - they’re so busy that they don’t want to add one more thing onto their teams’ respective plates. Long complex implementations have stifled innovation for years and lead to a massive trust gap between buyers and sellers. At ITB, Oaky cracked the code on this problem by launching it’s simple onboarding wizard which helps hotels go live in just a few simple steps. Who's helping you take things into your own hands? Oaky’s new self service onboarding lets hoteliers start upselling in under 5-minutes. Oaky announced an onboarding wizard which allows hoteliers to go live themselves, by completing a few steps. This reduce onboarding time and effort, and allow hotels to buy Oaky from marketplaces and go live without human touch. Inside the wizard they’re putting together many millions of upsell moments, and predicting the optimal upselling set-up based on the type of hotel and its guests. From combining variables around the upsell, with data around the guest and the property - they suggest the optimal setup for the hotel (what deals to sell, which content, and so on) which also predict how much conversion and ancillary revenue guests that have not yet booked will spend using this setup. In today's revenue management, the room rate is often based on the room and not taking predictable revenue from segments into account. This upsell variable can impact the distribution decision and help hotels better price their rooms. When the revenue management system knows the upsell spend of a guest from various booking channels, they can deduct the distribution costs and end up seeing how to price their rooms for a more profitable booking. Some segments spend 20% on top of the ADR, which makes sense for the hotel to 1) have an upsell setup that allows for that, and 2) an RM strategy that takes it into account to acquire more of those (more profitable) guests. Atomize’s self service functionality lets hoteliers try out automated revenue management on their own time. Atomize showcased its advanced revenue management platform that has flexibility that allows hotels to control as much or as little as they’d like when it comes to revenue strategy. Atomize’s mobile first platform has been designed from the ground up with the idea that hoteliers should be able to go live and try it out without ever speaking with an Atomize rep. The company’s founder, Leif Jaggerbrand told us that he’s had clients come in that his team has never met from countries he’s never heard of. This dynamic is widespread in the broader SaaS industry and companies like Atomize are bringing this dynamic to hotels. Cloudbeds’ PIE bakes new revenue management capabilities native into the PMS. Cloudbeds announced PIE - Pricing Intelligence Engine. PIE is built directly into Cloudbeds hospitality management suite. It is seamlessly integrated with the entire Cloudbeds suite, including PMS, booking engine and channel manager. This helps hoteliers and hosts who want one easy-to-system to manage everything. Many of Cloudbeds’ clients have never used revenue management software before so this provides a lightweight way for them to get started making better pricing decisions. Our take on hotel software app marketplaces Marketplaces are nothing new to the software industry. The reality is that it’s impossible for one technology company to be the best at everything. Historically the hotel tech industry has taken a different approach where incumbents have tried to bolt all functionality into the PMS and maintain a closed architecture but that is rapidly changing as hoteliers are increasingly unwilling to work with closed vendors and sub-par tools. In response to the shift most forward thinking providers are taking towards open architectures, several innovative cloud PMS companies have taken note from tech darlings like Salesforce, Intuit and Apple by creating marketplaces. These marketplaces facilitate seamless integrations and eventually the ability to easily try new products with the click of a button making it easier than ever to find the best tools to grow your hotel business. Cloudbeds, Mews, Hotelogix, protel and Apaleo were the latest entrants into the marketplace space each launching their own native marketplace baked into their PMS empowering hoteliers to easily tap into a plethora of best-of-breed tools to grow their businesses right from their PMS. eRevMax was the first non-PMS marketplace on the market and Snapshot was next but SiteMinder and more recently BookingSuite are clear favorites in the race to marketplace dominance. Hapi is also taking a unique and differentiated approach by building a marketplace that is solution agnostic. Hoteliers should note that none of these marketplaces have gained significant traction from a demand perspective so the field is wide open. While the idea has been around for some years we are still in the early innings. Two-sided marketplaces require supply and demand to develop but those rarely happen simultaneously. Each of the players below has focused on signing supply/tech partners lately so it will be interesting to see which is able to deliver the best user experience and actually change the way hotels interact with their software. Who's who in the rise of marketplaces Cloudbeds Marketplace. On top of announcing its native revenue management tool, PIE, Cloudbeds announced the official rollout of its marketplace offering enabling its 20,000+ hotel clients to access a variety of best-of-breed 3rd party tools to mix and match to find the perfect fit. Mews Marketplace. In a blaze of glory Mews Systems continued its streak of creative conference displays to showcase its marketplace with this year’s theme of Pimp Your PMS (a parody of MTV’s Pimp My Ride) and its booth was cleverly referred to as ‘The Pitstop’. In true Mews style, each team member was adorned head-to-toe in race car pitstop jumpsuits with patches for various apps that are integrated into their marketplace. Touche team Mews, touche... Hotelogix Marketplace. Hotelogix Marketplace launched at ITB and is a one-stop shop for all the hospitality technology needs of a hotelier. It helps hoteliers find and evaluate best-in-class Hotel Technology products on a single platform. Hapi. Hapi is taking a unique and differentiated approach by building a marketplace that is solution agnostic. Why is this important? By being solution agnostic, Hapi's marketplace is freed from the confines of being locked into a single PMS. In fact, Hapi offers technology partners (ie marketplace apps) a way to normalize fragmented and messy data into a streamlined and unified structure opening up the potential to integrate to multiple PMSs (as well as various other hotel systems). Their marketplace offering enables partners to gain exposure to hotels on the platform and enables hotels to tap into other available systems that are connected to Hapi. Although Hapi is a smaller marketplace with only about 30 partners currently, its connectivity to multiple solutions from companies like Oracle, Infor and Salesforce signals a great deal of potential. apaleo. apaleo announced its One connection, where data from all pre-connected tools within apaleo's store is available directly within apaleo’s property management system. No switching between browsers or systems. It happens all too often that hoteliers start off their work day organized, and then somehow within a matter of hours (or sometimes even minutes!), end up with dozens of browser tabs open and many systems running. Especially for front desk staff, it takes tons of clicks and searching around to find the info they need, when they need it. It isn't pleasant. With apaleo One, all the info that hoteliers need is visible within apaleo's PMS, saving staff time and creating a more seamless journey for guests. protel Services Marketplace (SMP). While not quite its first appearance, protel proudly featured its services marketplace at ITB showing off its shiney new native ratings and reviews (syndicated from yours truly) to help hoteliers research, vet and discover the best tools to grow their businesses without leaving the protel app store. Pretty awesome! From the protel team, “The SMP empowers protel customers to choose from a variety of certified and evaluated 3rd party technology vendors covering all the essential hospitality technology services, such as RMS, CRM, PMS and POS. In other words, it's THE App Store to start integration with protel. It's also the point of entry to integrations for any 3rd party vendor to showcase and offer their powerful services to our 14,000 customers around the globe.” The protel SMP marketplace features reviews from Hotel Tech Report to deliver transparency for its users BookingSuite App Store (by Booking.com). BookingSuite unveiled its app store for the first time where hoteliers can use single sign on (SSO) to activate new apps. Many hoteliers are naturally wary of relying more on Booking.com or giving them more data, but overall it is a clear strategic move by Booking to provide more value to hoteliers to mend their often shakey relationship. BookingSuite’s approach is similar to the way LinkedIn, Google, Amazon and Facebook allow users to login to 3rd party apps with their APIs. The difference between BookingSuite and these other tech giants is that they want to take commissions (into perpetuity) from technology vendors. The commission vendors pay in the BookingSuite App Store is 25% for year 1, then 15% into perpetuity. If you are a vendor with an average monthly revenue of $800 per hotel and a 7 year average customer lifetime that means you'll be paying Booking $2,400 in year 1 and $10,080 over the duration of the contract to acquire that single customer. In our opinion, this fee will eventually be passed to the end user (hoteliers) over time and is just another form of integration fee. Google and LinkedIn give away this service free to foster innovation and strengthen their respective platforms. So while BookingSuite’s tech is innovative we’re concerned about their commercialization model and understand why hotels and vendors might want to remain cautious. eRevMax. eRevMax rolled out updates to its LiveOS platform that allows its hotel clients to centralize the usage of various software applications into one interface using single sign-on. While the LiveOS platform was one of the first to offer a marketplace offering, they seem to have fallen behind the competition with a limited range of apps available but seems to be pushing forward continuing to try to continue to explore the potential of LiveOS as a central operating platform, that can plug in various systems to help hotels make critical and time saving decisions across multiple systems without having to piece the data together manually. Our take on wiring up meeting spaces for easy booking During November’s Phocuswright event Hotel Tech Report tried to book the rooftop of several hotels for a client event. In order to book the spaces we had to go to the hotel websites and fill out a form, then wait for responses from sales reps. Some websites didn’t even have a form so we had to manually email reps based on contact info from their website (that we had to dig around for). Out of the 5 desired locations which were some of the hottest hotels in downtown Los Angeles - not a single one responded within 24 hours and 1 didn’t respond to our inquiry at all. Then to make matters worse, by the time they responded the first question was ‘how much budget do you have to spend’. Needless to say, this was a pretty horrible customer experience so we decided to take our business elsewhere and avoided hotels all together for our event. Imagine if you had to write to a hotel to inquire about availability. Now imagine that when you wrote, the hotel wrote back asking “what’s your budget?” The idea is absurd. Hotel websites and OTAs have wired up the industry to make sure this would never happen again. It starts the relationship off with a bad taste for the customer and completely undermines the intended nature of a collaborative ally that a sales manager should be for any client but especially given that they are a prospect who intends to spend thousands of dollars to throw an event. Meetings and events contribute $325B of direct spending in the U.S. alone (source AmexGBT) - so it’s about time this highly profitable inventory got wired up. Who's laying the groundwork to wire up meeting venues? MeetingPackage.com brings channel management and a seamless booking experience to your meeting space inventory. Meeting Package’s Joonas Ahola Joonas also announced his firm’s launch of a meeting space channel manager which allows inventory and rates to syndicate not just on a hotel’s website but across a myriad of 3rd party channels that have popped up to help them find new demand to generate additional revenue . Meeting spaces today can be booked on platforms like AirBnB as well as on niche marketplaces like Breather, Bizly and VenueBook. Venuesuite launches demand side marketplace to help venues and planners work better together online. Announced its direct booking platform (or marketplace) that helps venues & planners work better together online. The platform significantly simplifies the RFP process and sourcing of venues. The time required to book a venue for a meeting/event is reduced from days to minutes. Both planners and venues. It enables planners to find venues fast, book instantly and configure meetings & events 24/7. For venues it generates more revenue via qualitative leads & higher conversion rates as prices are shown upfront to bookers. Within 10 months 1,000+ spaces available in The Netherlands via dedicated venue partners who've joined the new way of online (platform) working. Other notable product launches and showcases Business Intelligence Pegasus announced its Business Intelligence Platform. It's difficult, if almost impossible to transform raw data into actionable insights - it pains most hotel companies, particularly independents. Pegasus BI combines guest data from multiple sources and deliver it with automated intelligence and an easy-to-understand dashboard. Hoteliers can gain immediate insights that allow their properties to increase bookings, revenue, occupancy and profitability. Revenue Management RevControl announced rate recommendations calculated by room type separately. This announcement is specifically meant for hostels where the rate difference between private rooms and individual beds in a dormitory is huge and unrelated. It is now possible to use a separate set of business rules for each room/bed type and link each room/bed type to its exact match at hotels in de comp set to get individually calculated rate recommendations for each room/bed type. RateBoard announced revenue management modules for leisure hotels. RateBoard offers a special module for leisure hotels, taking historical holiday seasons from different countries, matching this data with the booking window of the different nations and optimizing the forecast due to this important factors. HotelPartner Yield Management announced the implementation of success-based billing models. The implementation of success-based billing models aligns incentives between HotelPartner and clients since they don't charge new partners without having achieved added value in regards to room revenue. This is an interesting and innovative approach - we're curious to see how it works as demonstrating uplift is a really difficult thing to prove given market fluctuations and the massive # of variables that can't be controlled. Marketing Travel Tripper announced Real Time Ads & Metasearch Direct. These tools help hotel marketers minimize costs and maximize RoAS on their digital marketing campaigns. Real Time Ads is the first digital marketing tool that allows hotels to advertise—in real time—their rates, availability, popularity and more right on their Google search ads, delivering double the conversion rates. With Metasearch Direct, Travel Tripper has helped hotels generate 38x their spend on metasearch with our direct connect to Google Hotel Ads. Their unique commission model means that independent hotels with smaller budgets can play on the metasearch channel without any risks—and for less cost than an OTA commission. Travel Tripper announced ADA Monitoring Platform. Many hotels in the U.S. are in constant risk of ADA compliance lawsuits simply because their websites are not accessibility friendly. Not only does the TT Web team offer full-service ADA audits on websites, but they also have built out an automated ADA monitoring platform that performs website checks in real time to ensure compliance. Hotel marketers are immediately notified whenever an element of their site falls out of the accessibility guidelines (for example, lack of alt tags, color contrast etc.) Serenata CRM & IgnitionOne launched a next generation CRM partnership that combines both historic guest information combined with real-time intent data. By tracking and scoring website visitors interests and propensity to convert hoteliers can tailor messaging, content and offers, both on the website and in the booking engine accordingly to this data. The scoring technology also supports new guest acquisition by identifying unknown website user that show high interest in a hotel property or a specific offering from the hotel. Based on the interest and score, the visitor can be prompted with personalized newsletter invite. This approach has proven to massively increase the number of newsletter signups, something necessary for many hotels after recent introductions of privacy regulations like GDPR that eliminated a large part of the hotels marketable profiles due to lack of marketing consents. The newly created newsletter subscription profiles are enriched with the interests and intent information from the IgnitionOne scoring engine monitoring the hotel website and can be used for marketing purpose complementing the historical data points already stored in Serenata CRM. With Serenata CRM and the real-time intent triggered personalization powered by IgntionOne you can deliver a true personalized experience for your guests and website visitors to drive incremental revenue. Integrator announcements HAPI announced it’s recent Salesforce integration following a 2-way oxy connect with Oracle’s PMS dailypoint™ - software made by Toedt, Dr. Selk & Coll. GmbH announced a data cleansing solution which allows hotels to automatically clean, correct, and de-duplicate their guest profiles and push that data back to the hotel’s PMS. The fully automated, AI-based process includes hundreds of steps, reviewing all key data points within the guest profile. It removes duplicate profiles, corrects mistakes made from human errors, corrects addresses for more than 240 countries and ultimately creates one single, accurate guest profile for each guest. This data is stored in the central data management solution by dailypoint™ as well as pushed to the hotel’s PMS so that data is accurate across all key sources. Operations Betterspace GmbH announced Smart Check-out feature with digital invoice and the Self-Ordering function, both for the digital guest directory iQ Tab.The Smart Check-Out enables guests to comfortably check out of the hotel and allows them to view and split their invoice digitally and receive it by e-mail. Thanks to this feature, long waiting lines at the reception desk are a thing of the past. Self-Ordering for the digital guest directory gives guests the opportunity to order food and drinks with the digital guest directory - without leaving the hotel room. Orders are sent directly to the hotel restaurant Both features simplify operational workflows, optimize processes and thus relieve staff and relax guests. This reduces administrative/bureaucratic efforts, saves time and money and the time saved can be devoted to what is important: hotel guests. Customer Alliance announced Customer Experience Hub extending their surveying capabilities from solely focused on post-stay reputation and review gathering into the full guest journey. The Customer Experience Hub allows hoteliers to customize automated messaging based on events through the guest journey to collect feedback and pipe it in real time to the department or team member who can act on it to recover fast, improve the guest experience and in-turn--improve review sentiment and gss scores. Travel Appeal announced Mobile Coach, a mobile app designed for on-the-go managers. By combining artificial intelligence with human experience, the Coach is able to detect even the most granular details from customer feedback. It’s the perfect solution for obtaining actionable insights about everything that really matters to a business. Review and operations management, made simple. The Coach app not only improves and simplifies business strategies, but helps users manage and respond directly to customer feedback - reviews, posts and photos published by customers are delivered directly to your mobile. Uncover what your clients really think to offer the best experience and maximize satisfaction. Live updates and a seamless user experience allow managers to track competitors and monitor brand reputation while also collaborating and assigning tasks to staff members. hotelkit GmbH announced a HOUSEKEEPING module. Their existing platform is used by over 40.000 hotel employees in more than 800 hotels worldwide. This new solution now focuses on all housekeeping needs and guarantees high-quality housekeeping standards through fully digitalized processes. Through an easy and modern paper-free task allocation, housekeeping processes are way more efficient. The workload can be distributed efficiently according to an employee's time and skill credits, thus, productivity is enhanced. Through digital checklists, quality standards are significantly high and the entire cleaning process can be monitored easily through real-time tracking. Smooth and efficient housekeeping routines are a crucial aspect in hotels, as cleanliness is particularly important when it comes to the guest decision making process. However, typical housekeeping processes within hotels are still highly inefficient. In order to be able to substantially increase guest satisfaction, hotelkit HOUSEKEEPING was developed together with several luxury hotels - among them the Sacher Hotel Vienna and Salzburg, and the Radisson Blu Hotel Hamburg Airport. As all processes are digitized, fast reactions, increased quality standards, and high guest satisfaction can be guaranteed! Knowcross announced PANIC BUTTON. Hospitality workers are subjected to an inordinate amount of sexual harassment and abuse, which is why as a technology provider we considered the introduction of Panic or Safety Buttons as our way of giving back to the industry. Panic buttons give hospitality workers the ability to summon assistance when needed. PANIC BUTTON helps hotels to provide a safer working environment by instant reporting of harassment complaints by hospitality workers by using technology such as GPS and Bluetooth. Guest Applications & Devices Criton announced multiple property group functionality which was piloted with London-based Cheval Residences became the first brand to adopt the new product. Created specifically for the hospitality sector, the new product gives accommodations providers with multiple properties a platform to include information on each one within a single parent app. With locations across the capital city, luxury serviced apartment specialist Cheval Residences are the first group to adopt the new technology with eight of their luxury properties contained within their new app. Group functionality is a game-changer for multi-property organizations like Cheval; enabling them to showcase the unique personality of each property while reinforcing their brand, increasing direct bookings and driving loyalty from new and repeat guests. GuestTraction announced online check-in to reduce queuing at Front Desk by moving check-in to pre-arrival. More than a third of guests polled (38%) indicated that a source of frustration was the front desk taking too long to complete requests.
How many hotels are there in the world? Back in 2012 STR estimated 187,000 hotels with more than 17.5 million rooms globally but we’ve seen estimates from Booking and Expedia north of 300,000 and that figure is growing at a rapid clip. Hotels have a stigma for being slow to adopt technology but that’s changing quickly as digital natives moves into leadership roles at hotel groups around the world. Hotels are extremely complex businesses to run operationally with lots of moving parts. How do you price across channels? Which channels do you focus on? How do you manage bookings? How do you service guest requests across shifts? How do you recruit and train new talent in a business with massive turnover? Hotels need software for all aspects of their complex businesses including: finance, revenue, operations, guest experience and sales. The typical hotel can run on up to 15 different technology systems. Multiply that by the number of hotels in the world and it’s easy to understand this massive market opportunity. Shockingly, tons of hotels today still run their operations on pen and paper or via on premise systems from decades past. Cloud computing was a buzzword for the rest of the world back in 2010 but here we are nearly a decade later and hotels are finally catching up. When venture investors look at hotel tech they see the biggest online market in the world (travel) and a massive whitespace for technology companies that can solve real business problems and deliver strong ROIs for hotel clients. They see a rapidly expanding middle class with discretionary funds for leisure travel and a booming corporate travel market for companies looking to connect employees and clients through meaningful in person experiences. Adding to these macro trends - fast, frictionless API integrations and the low delivery cost of cloud computing catalyze the perfect environment for outsized venture returns. Here at Hotel Tech Report we get tons of calls from investors asking us which companies they should consider investing in but few understand this market like Matt Melymuka at PeakSpan Capital. Matt and his team at PeakSpan have developed a sophisticated understanding of this nuanced market opportunity and have put money to work in some of the most innovative and successful companies in the space such as Cloudbeds and Zingle. We have yet to meet an investor who understands this market better than PeakSpan so we were lucky to catch up with Matt to understand his view on the market. Top venture firms like Thayer Ventures and TCV also invest heavily in the space but few offer the level of support and guidance to portfolio companies that Peakspan offers to hotel technology companies. The firm is unique in its thesis driven approach that has identified hotel tech as a key area for investment long before this thesis became mainstream. In this interview we’ll talk about the evolution of hotel management software, how customer messaging platforms are changing the way hotels interact with guests and why hotel tech companies need to build globally distributed teams in order to win. PeakSpan's Matt Melymuka leads the firm's hospitality practice How did you get into the wonderful world of venture? I've had the pleasure of working with growth-stage software and technology businesses my whole career, and have been a tech enthusiast my entire life. I started my career in investment banking and then transitioned to principal investing, as I really wanted to work more closely with entrepreneurs and teams who have a shared passion for innovation. While every stage of company development is interesting and unique, I have always focused on companies in the "growth phase", and really believe it is the most intellectually stimulating and exciting phase of evolution - companies that have matured beyond the concept in a garage phase and have answered some of the existential "Can we build it? Will they buy it?" questions, and are looking for a thought partner to provide capital and guidance as they look to navigate the next part of the journey. The challenges and opportunities our teams face are typically related to execution and developing/implementing sensible scaling initiatives, iterating our collective way into the optimal investment plan that drives resilient, sustainable growth and long-term value creation. How does PeakSpan operate under the hood? PeakSpan has a simple, highly-focused mission: to be the partner of choice for growth-stage, B2B software companies. Our focus manifests itself across every area of our business, but I'll highlight three primary areas, as well as one philosophical tenet that underpins our strategy and approach to working with teams. First, we only invest in business-to-business software companies. Next, we focus on a tight roster of themes (we call them our "BluePrint Market Themes") as a firm, and Hospitality is one of those themes that I lead for PeakSpan. Third, we only invest in emerging growth-stage companies, which are businesses which as noted above have stripped away some of the binary risk levers associated with classic venture capital. The whole point and purpose of our focused approach is to develop true domain expertise in the categories we invest in, to cultivate long-term theses and informed perspectives on segment evolution (market dynamics, nuanced trends, competitive landscape, buyer dynamics, etc.) to enable strategic levels of rapport with the teams we partner with - from the first interaction and every one after that. Every time we meet with an entrepreneur, we should be bringing a distinct or unique insight or perspective to the table (informed by a breadth of experience) and adding value to that entrepreneur or team in some form or fashion. Lastly, we only put senior investment professionals (Partners) who are domain experts in the category at the tip of the spear, doing the first calls/meetings (and every successive call/meeting after that) with the entrepreneur, to enable a peer-to-peer, decision maker-to-decision maker dialogue that we firmly believe is more respectful and human beings prefer. You've already lead some pretty sizable rounds in hotel management software companies - tell us about those investments. We've invested in i) Cloudbeds, a leader in the cloud-based property management system ("PMS") arena, providing an end-to-end solution encompassing property management/operations and channel management/distribution for independent hotels, hostels, B&Bs and short-term vacation rental owners, and ii) Zingle, a leading provider of guest engagement solutions, enabling hoteliers to deliver personalized communications with their guests across channels, at scale, with high efficiency through the application of AI-enabled automations and intelligent process/workflows. We led the Series B financings for both companies with meaningful 7-figure investments in each business. Cloudbeds offers a truly end-to-end platform, providing hoteliers with the tools and technology required to efficiently identify, attract, engage and convert potential prospects (channel management/distribution), as well as everything required to manage their property on the back end (property management/operations). The platform is easy to use and navigate, encompasses a rich feature set satisfying all core needs, and is offered at a disruptive price point/solution value. The breadth and depth of Cloudbeds' platform is unmatched in market, and is supported by a best-in-class customer success effort, ensuring client experience is paramount. Cloudbeds co-founders Adam Harris and Richard Castle ribbon cutting the firm's new San Diego office Zingle provides a next-generation approach for hoteliers to engage with their guests in a highly-personalized, real-time manner, at scale with tremendous efficiency. The Company's platform gives control of the guest engagement and dialogue back to the hotelier, enabling direct, seemingly bespoke communications with their guests to ensure top tier satisfaction. Zingle intelligently leverages NLP and AI coupled with deliberate, intuitive workflows to deliver these individualized dialogues at scale, with strong efficiency. Guest requests are satisfied in real-time, enabling properties to differentiate through experience, while driving massive ROI through process automations and service efficiencies. How do you come usually across your investments? In both cases, we had developed a deep perspective and investment thesis on the market opportunity for these businesses informed by our thematic focus, and reached out directly to the founders to start a dialogue. These businesses are exhibiting top tier performance across numerous vectors, and (not surprisingly) they were garnering significant interest from the investment community, so we had to work hard to prove value and demonstrate the impact we can bring as a partner to consummate the partnerships with these amazing teams. We're privileged and humbled to work with both of these companies. What's one piece of advice you have for hotel tech entrepreneurs when raising capital? Similar to how we execute our own mission at PeakSpan, we're big believers in focus in company development. There is no need to cede ground on overarching vision and market opportunity, but pursue your mission with ruthless prioritization and by setting sensible, incremental goals and milestones, preserving optionality and alignment with your shareholders along the way. One founder we once worked with had a great quote that I think about every day, noting "Most companies don't die of starvation, but rather indigestion." Biting off more than you can chew and introducing unnecessary operational risk into a business can be toxic, so set reasonable goals, attack them with focus, and then reevaluate and recalibrate as you continue to turn over cards of value creation along the way. How do you think the hotel management software space will evolve over the next 5-years? Despite all the innovation that has taken place in the sector over the last decade, there remains massive, untapped opportunity and potential in many categories within the hospitality arena. Despite being one of the largest and most dynamic segments of the US and global economy, penetration of cloud-based technologies in the segment remains incredibly low, and the vendor landscape remains tremendously fragmented on a global basis. Cloud-based platforms combined with innovative go-to-market strategies will enable vendors to effectively and efficiently target, acquire and retain clients, delivering powerful solutions to clients across the full spectrum of property types, including the long-tail segment. Industry fragmentation and the disparate nature of data within the hospitality arena will continue to drive the need for systems to be developed with extensibility at their core, enabling quicker, lower cost implementations and seamless communication across platforms. There remain so many areas across the hospitality landscape that are under-penetrated or currently served by solutions that are deficient or ineffective - as an investor, this creates an incredibly compelling and exciting opportunity to partner with amazing entrepreneurial teams to capitalize on these opportunities! People often say that hotels are a bit slow to adopt technology. Do you agree? There is definitely some truth to the comment, and one of the main reasons from my perspective is the mission critical nature of the data housed in many of the platforms used by hoteliers today across their operations. This makes it harder to adopt new, innovative solutions than some other categories - even when solutions are better, faster, cheaper and more efficient, there can be operational issues that create friction when considering migration to a new platform. I believe the tide is turning, however, as new technologies and approaches are reducing those barriers, and awareness/appreciation for the need to evaluate and implement next-gen technologies and (importantly) behavior/process change to drive efficiency across organizations has never been higher. If you were leaving venture capital tomorrow to start a hotel technology company - what would it be and why? I won't give away my next area of focus, as there are a few areas I am really interested in investing behind, but I will categorically say that I would not want to be competing with Cloudbeds or Zingle. Both of these teams represent everything I look for in the companies I partner with - passion, grit, humility and integrity - and they are quickly establishing true market and thought leadership in their respective segments, supported by best-in-class technology platforms. What is the most surprising thing that you've learned from investing in hotel tech? The fragmentation of the category globally continues to amaze me. This creates a lot of opportunity, however also (typically) requires the intelligent application of a globally-distributed team to compete on a truly global basis. What is the best book you've read lately? Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari is fascinating - I would describe it as Freakonomics for Anthropology. It provides an eye-opening perspective on human kind. It's not a book, but I'm also completely hooked on the Freakonomics Radio podcast. What is one thing that most people don't know about you? While I live in New York City and have for more than a decade, I am a die hard Boston sports fan, having grown up in the Boston area. I'll never surrender to the dark side! For all 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 love to develop relationships early, and I am always interested in meeting with entrepreneurs who are going after strategic segments of the universe. In terms of specific parameters, we look for companies with $3-4M+ ARR, growing rapidly on a capital efficient basis, who haven't raised significant prior institutional capital. We typically invest anywhere from $7-15M initially, and always look to lead the rounds we invest in.
Bethesda, Md. — Sept. 6, 2018 — StayNTouch, Travel Tripper, and TrustYou have partnered to launch a new report that examines guest experience trends and their adoption in the hotel industry. The report provides key insights and takeaways to empower hoteliers to improve their own guest-driven decisions and gain a better understanding of the market. The study surveyed more than 300 hoteliers in the U.S., Canada, and key hotspots around the globe on questions regarding check-in technology, upsell opportunities, guest communication, and more. Some key findings: 41% of respondents do not offer their guests a choice of check-in method; 70% of respondents never or only sometimes convert upsells or upgrades at check-in; 68% of respondents recognize the need to improve their use of mobile technology to improve the guest experience. In addition, the survey also reveals interesting trends about guest communication and staff responsiveness, mobile booking and check-in, the use of guest data to improve guest stays, and the ability of hotels to capture guest feedback and act upon it. The study allows hotels to see where they stack up in comparison to their peers, as well as offers important takeaways on how hotels can move the needle forward on improving the guest experience through technology and data. Frewoini Golla, Director of Marketing for StayNTouch, noted why these findings are critical for the hotel industry. “By and large, hoteliers understand the importance of offering a unique guest experience, but understanding and evaluating the the current state of the guest journey is critical for hoteliers to begin making the necessary strides in their guest engagement strategy,” she said. “We are excited to have worked alongside our partners at Travel Tripper and TrustYou to offer hoteliers this comprehensive guest experience assessment report.” Nancy Huang, Director of Marketing for Travel Tripper, also commented on the relevance of the study for hotel vendors. “Studies like this not only help hotels to benchmark their own performance, but they also help hospitality suppliers to better understand and adapt their technology to hotels’ needs,” she said. Valerie Castillo, Vice President of Sales & Marketing for TrustYou, remarked on the different perspectives between hotels and guests. “It was especially interesting for us to see the difference in how hotels and travelers assess the guest experience,” she said. “We have made significant strides over the last few years, but the hospitality industry is still a ways away from perfectly mirroring guest’s needs.” To get your free copy of The Complete Guest Experience: How Does Your Hotel Stack Up? Download it here.
Smile! That's what hotel staff are trained to do even when talking on the phone. When you smile, you sound pleasant and interested. What are we to do in a world of texting and chat? As text messaging and chat become the communication channels of choice for consumers, more hotels are adapting to the trend by inviting travelers to connect with them by SMS, chat widget, or messaging app. Consumers love messaging because it’s fast, easy, and convenient. A Nielsen-Facebook survey found that 56 percent of people would rather message a business than call customer service. And more than half of respondents said they are more likely to shop with a business they can message directly. For hotels, messaging represents a fundamental shift in how employees communicate with guests—and with one another. To help with the transition, employees need tools and guidelines. Above all, they need strong leadership. Whether you’re a general manager, front office manager, or hands-on owner, here are six steps to success in text messaging and chat. 1. Choose the Right Tools Hotels have numerous options for messaging software, but not all are created equal. Beware of “free” solutions, standalone apps, and chatbots that try to substitute human hospitality with artificial intelligence. Your messaging platform should be designed to serve the unique needs of hotels. And it should integrate with your internal communication systems to facilitate collaboration across shifts, departments, and properties. If the messaging solution is overly complex, it will be avoided by staff. Keep it simple and easy to learn so that staff love messaging as much as guests. 2. Assign Responsibilities Who should oversee guest messaging? The front desk is the obvious choice. It’s open 24 hours, and staff are skilled in guest service and trained in reservations. Besides, with fewer guests calling and dropping by these days, it’s often an underutilized resource. But all departments play a role in internal messaging. As a manager, you must ensure that employees understand and fulfill their responsibilities so that no guest request goes unfilled and nothing falls through the cracks. Keep a close eye on communications, looking for opportunities to increase efficiency and improve service. 3. Establish Guidelines Messaging with guests is different from messaging with friends. Without proper guidelines, employees risk coming across as unprofessional or impersonal, and guests may end up frustrated or angry. Set basic guidelines such as: ● Respond promptly. People expect a quick response to text and chat. Set a maximum response time such as five minutes. ● Personalize. Introduce yourself when messaging a guest for the first time. If a sender is unknown, politely ask for their name and room number. ● Be courteous. People are often on the go when messaging, so keep messages brief but never abrupt. Always remember the pleases and thank-yous. ● Be professional. Adopt a friendly, conversational (but not casual) tone. Avoid obscure emojis, jargon, slang, and anything else that may confuse or be misinterpreted. Always check spelling before sending. ● Don’t use texting to sell. Texting is a very direct, personal connection with guests. Avoid the urge to send marketing messages. Keep each touchpoint service-oriented and guest-centered. ● Be secure. Never collect credit card data or other confidential information on messaging platforms. Send a link to your booking engine or call guests to gather this information. 4. Reach Out to Travelers. Once you have the tools, responsibilities and guidelines in place, it’s time to reach out to travelers. Here are a few ways to connect: ● Display a chat widget on your website. Earn more direct bookings by offering assistance, answering questions, and providing recommendations in real-time at that crucial time when traveler shoppers are on your website considering your hotel. ● Send a pre-stay text. Ensure a smooth check-in by inviting guests to start planning their stay prior to arrival. ● Invite guests to message you. Let guests know there’s a new way to contact you by sharing a text number on your website, in confirmation letters, and at check-in. ● Send an in-stay text. Prevent bad reviews and earn rave reviews by checking in with guests during their stay to ask how things are going and offer assistance. ● Send a post-stay message. Thank guests for choosing your hotel and ask them to write a review or survey. Invite them to text you when planning their next visit. 5. Create Efficiencies It’s high time to ease off paper-based memos, forms, logbooks, checklists, and phone calls, which are inefficient, hard to track, and easily misplaced. Today, everything should be digitized so that it’s accessible and trackable from any device or location. This includes policies and procedures, schedules, task lists, and contact lists. Use automation tools to send texts to select guests at certain times of day, auto-replies to advise incoming messages of average wait times, and message templates to instantly reply to common questions and requests. Set up notifications to alert staff of daily tasks, cleaning schedules, and preventative maintenance. 6. Track Performance Last, create accountability by setting objectives and tracking performance, including average response times, task completion rates, direct bookings, upsells, and guest ratings. Share results with the team, recognize achievements, and inspire staff to strive even harder to master the art of messaging. For more tips and ideas, check out HelloShifts’s Hotelier’s Guide to Digital Messaging.
Gone are the days when travelers had to visit their local travel agents to book flights or search for a suitable hotel. To cater to the ever-growing market demand and attract a digitally adept customer, travel companies continue to improve their services and seek ways to make travel ever more convenient. Just look at how JetBlue, Marriott, and Ryanair transform travel experience digitally. According to Expedia, travelers visit 38 sites on average while planning a trip. The plethora of travel search journeys begins with googling and ends with online travel agencies and TripAdvisor. While this problem can be solved more conventionally by unifying user experience within a single platform, it has yielded a great opportunity. To avoid tiresome planning and simplify booking process, we can use chatbots – mobile user-friendly personal assistants with analytical and predictive capabilities. A chatbot is a program designed to simulate human conversation using artificial intelligence. After becoming one of the trendiest words of the past year, chatbots are predicted to disrupt the travel industry and set a new standard in the mobile booking arena. As the mobile-booking share is flourishing – it’s expected to become 70 percent of all digital booking by 2019 – users are drawn to chatbots, an available and personalized shopping tool. Besides, a good chatbot can help users reduce long hours of indecisive search. We’ve already covered the basic principles for designing chatbots, and now we want to focus on the use of the technology in travel tech. Four Use Cases for Travel Chatbots Among many potential uses of technological advancements in travel, chatbots occupy their own niche. Being the next tier in the evolution of personal assistants, bots can handle a broad range of tasks, depending on the domain they are used in. Just as in finance or healthcare, there’s only so much you can do with chatbots in travel. Let’s have a look at the categories indicated by Sabre to explore the basic use cases for travel chatbots. Reservations agent Booking.com, Skyscanner, and many other reservation services already allow travelers to seek flight and hotel recommendations, and book them via Facebook Messenger, Slack, or Skype. These chatbots offer better and more personalized customer experience when compared to websites and apps and are often similar to calling a human operator. Users are usually prompted to start with typing their starting point, destination, and desired dates, that will then allow a bot to search through hundreds of sites for the best deal. Moreover, travelers can expect additional functionality such as “Route tips” by Skyscanner showing the cheapest or the busiest weekday to travel, or the “Inspire me” option on Cheapflights. Disruption and customer care manager In the social-media dominated world, vendors find it hard to keep any disruption processes private and avoid negative word of mouth. Customer support via chatbots allows users to privately address their complaints that AI can automatically prioritize and categorize for easier handling. Now, instead of looking for a contact number or addressing their troubles to staff members not responsible for a failure, customers can use a bot to request support. Furthermore, travel businesses can track problems and react to them accordingly helping to diminish some of the stress their employees experience. Checkmate allows hotels to respond to feedback in time and avoid negative reviews. The platform opens a convenient channel for personalized and automated communication between visitors and staff that allows customers to leave a request via chat that is then transferred to a designated staff member. Thus, employees address failures in the moment, before a negative review goes up on TripAdvisor. Online Travel Agency Due to the natural-language-processing (NLP) capability, chatbots can understand or be trained to recognize vague queries such as “romantic beach getaway” or “Europe family vacation” to offer a complicated set of services, from transportation to places to stay and visit. A bot will catch the trigger words and use them in the search without making a customer go through a long survey with limited reply options. After helping find a perfect hotel and the best flight deal, a bot will locate a rental car service, provide a local weather forecast – even taking the customer’s budget and dietary requests into account. While travel assistant Mezi takes time to reply, the bot plumbs the depths in search of the most personalized options, whether it’s a hotel with a pool or a vegetarian meal on a plane. Kayak will also update you on your flight status and dispense travel advice. Mezi provides an exhaustive travel assistance Local insider With the mounting popularity of Airbnb and hostels, many travelers are looking for ways to experience foreign places like locals do: to live, eat, and relax like a native. A bot for Uber, Marsbot from Foursquare, and Assist allow travelers to experience cities through local reviews and recommendations. Depending on the desired activity, be it brunch or a game of laser tag, these chatbots take their content from nearby locations and provide options as if a traveler was a resident. So, customers don’t have to search for the most recommended places on social media or browse the local discussion boards. Now, how can both travel service providers and their customers benefit from chatbots? The Benefits of Building Travel Chatbots Aside from opening a personal and smart communication channel between you and your customers and adopting one of the most impactful technologies of the near future, there are plenty of reasons to use chatbots for your travel business right now. Here they are. Saving time/process automation Many queries that travel service providers handle on a regular basis can be addressed by a chatbot. By delegating the easily automated tasks to a bot, you can leave employees to manage complicated queries where human interaction is necessary. According to Juniper Research, chatbots will help eCommerce companies save $8 million by 2022 by saving $0.70 per every user interaction. Additionally, a good bot can unclog call centers and automatically handle things like routine booking changes. Pypestream leverages the power of NLP to help companies resolve repetitive queries and transfer complex issues to human agents. Digital payments Such messaging platforms as Messenger and Telegram allow users to make payments directly in a chat, without transferring them to a website and repeating the payment information each time. The credit card info that’s already stored in the app’s system can be used to make purchases via a bot. Thus, bots provide a simplified experience and can basically replace traditional websites and apps for the users who rarely utilize them. Hipmunk’s Bot accepts payments on Facebook Messenger Saved user history Chatbots make it uncomplicated to return to the previously discussed data because the conversation history stays available to customers. A user will always be able to return to the previous suggestions and have all important information saved in a single conversation flow. 24/7 customer support Today, advancements in artificial intelligence allow bots to identify and solve simple yet urgent problems without human involvement. Customers won’t feel abandoned regardless of the time zone they’re in, and travel companies can save on call center operators. Our client Marko Cadez, CEO of Fareboom, an OTA incorporating data science for price prediction, notes: “Travel has one very important component. When you’re on the road, when you’re traveling, the problem has to be solved right now. So I think for a very long time in the future there’s going to be still the need for a combination of a chatbot – which can automate things – and experienced agents that will actually help you when something goes wrong.” Skipping app development Chatbots provide quick and efficient communication that is so characteristic of the mobile experience. The survey by Opera Mediaworks revealed this unsurprising data: Eighty-five percent of travelers book travel activities via mobile. Aside from that, most people already rely on smartphones during trips to navigate, search for restaurants, and make digital payments. How many apps do you have on your smartphone? Chances are, you, just like most people, only keep the apps directly related to your everyday life. Since most people travel 1-5 times a year, your branded app will probably be in the 26 percent of apps abandoned or deleted after the first use. Facebook Messenger, on the other hand, the world’s number one messaging app, will most likely be actively used for a long time along with the chatbots it carries. Things to Consider in Building a Travel Chatbot Not all chatbots, just like not all apps, succeed. Instead of rushing to create a bot just for the sake of it, use our recommendations to ensure that your chatbot will be both enjoyable for your customers and profitable for you. Step one: Ensure security When using mCommerce platforms – which is what travel companies often are – users must be sure that their payment details or passport information will stay safe. In the case of third-party platforms such as Facebook Messenger, requests are automatically verified using authenticated tokens that allow an app to send a user’s information to a parent platform. Regardless of the chosen platform, security is in your hands as well. Aside from a simple user authentication, there are other ways to secure a customer’s info, such as timeouts, Touch ID or retina scans, end-to-end conversation encryption, and self-destruction of sensitive messages. As a travel tech consultant, we always recommend our clients to start with safety measures first. Step two: Choose one skill Chatbots are not meant to completely replace your website and therefore don’t have to satisfy each aspect of customer experience. Which is why you need a chatbot with skills sufficient to respond to the challenges your customers will most likely experience. “At first, your purpose should be connected to your target market. You should start small and focus on giving unique functionality to your bot. Personalize your bot differently from other bots available in marketplace,” says Pax Bhati, Senior Manager at EY. Start with one customer segment and analyze what questions or requests you receive from them most often. That will help you define what kind of a chatbot would serve this segment best. Step three: Support AI with a human Currently, a common practice for chatbots is to communicate with customers using only AI and in case a bot struggles to find a solution, transfer them to a human operator. But remember that the ultimate goal for designing a chatbot is to delegate the tasks that can be automated, not to make it reply to custom requests. Additionally, make sure that your customers understand they’re talking to a bot. If you lead a customer to believe that a bot is a human assistant, it will end in user confusion and disappointment. Step four: Prepare full experience People often turn to chatbots when they don’t have the time or patience to browse unwieldy mobile websites. So, make sure that a user won’t need to google each significant detail that a bot can provide itself. For instance, if you suggest several hotel options, include each hotel’s rating and mention whether there’s a cancellation fee. Step five: Stay connected Don’t abandon your users after you’ve helped them. Message them after the flight or hotel check-in, ask them to rate their satisfaction with the chosen service, or offer suggestions about local restaurants and events. Make sure your messages are unobtrusive and caring. Competent chatbots encourage customers to come back and fall into a loyalty loop, converting one-time users to lifelong clients. Step six: Eliminate the language barrier To provide a multilingual experience and greatly expand your audience, consider creating a chatbot that people can use regardless of their native language. There are two ways to do it. The easier one would be building a bot that doesn’t include NLP and uses predefined questions and answers. Booking.com, for instance, uses templates with pre-translated questions and replies that allow hotels to chat with customers in 42 languages. Another method is to design your bot to fit different patterns and train a natural language processing model for the new language. Take note, that even though the second way requires more time and effort, the possibilities of using NLP for understanding and learning from a user’s intentions meets the expectations of users to converse with bots the natural way as if they were talking to a real person. Step seven: Bring extra value to the table You need to justify the necessity to create a chatbot instead of a website or an app. Use unique capabilities of chatbots to augment your current services or provide an exclusive look at something customers already use. For example, Waylo‘s Messenger bot allows travelers to track hotel prices in the entire city or the desired area and book hotels at a price predicted to be the lowest at the time of visit. “It can be a notification platform or the ability to comfortably share someone’s location,” says Balint Pataki, founder of ChatbotTutorial.com. “With the latter, there could be some great additions, such as little tips around a place. Delivering great content in an engaging way to a relevant audience is always working, no matter what channel is used. It can be WiFi passwords to airports, visa tips for certain countries, etc. A great example of something extra with the power of integrations and location sharing: Chris Messina had his bot connected to Uber, and if a user took a ride to a town, they’ve received a notification with Chris’ recommendation for that place.” Final word Chatbots and AI adoption are not only changing how customers are connecting to retailers but also transforming the way the world is going to communicate in the immediate future. According to a study by Twilio, nine out of ten users would like to connect to brands via messages. Faced with major digital disruption and the growing need to adjust to the customer’s digital needs, travel companies have to provide excellent customer experience, and chatbots can be a big part of that. Along with providing instant response throughout a traveler’s journey, bots are becoming even more personal than human operators – almost as one of the trusted friends in your contact list. And even considering that the technology in its current state is still new, its adopters are investing in a future where human/AI conversations are not just efficient but expected. We’re excited to see it happen. How about you? Tell us what you think about the role of chatbots (and conversational interfaces in general) in the travel industry. And if you want to know how else to apply AI in Travel Tech, check out our story about data science use cases in travel.
The Hospitality Management department at the Rochester Institute of Technology is housed in the College of Applied Science and Technology. I cannot imagine a more appropriate home for a hospitality program today, given the rapid incursion of technology in a historically tech-shy, high-touch oriented industry. Technology is everywhere: Josh Bersin notes that business models are being rapidly disrupted and organizations have to respond to the growth of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics. Platform technologies and business models are displacing established ways of doing business. The hospitality industry is not immune to these developments “ witness Airbnb, a prime example of the platform revolution and its impact on legacy hospitality (if only at the peripheries at this point). Other technologies are advancing as well and as Carson Booth, Vice President Global Property Technology at Marriott International, notes, technology such as "AI will become embedded and ubiquitous" in the hospitality industry.The purpose of this essay is to understand some technologies that will impact the hospitality industry in the near future “ the year 2020 is arbitrary, I had first titled the article as 'Hospitality Technology 2025' but the pace of technological developments shifted the horizon! In a survey of the rapidly growing commentary stream on technology, it appears the following will have a great deal of impact on the hospitality industry: robotics, 3-D printing, internet of things and data, artificial intelligence, and "trust-through-algorithms-and-ratings". Each of these is elaborated in the next paragraphs. Caveat: This is a very quick overview. Each of these technologies is complex and is associated with a number of 'human' and moral questions. For example, who is responsible for a death if the vehicle causing the accident is a self-driving car? Are consumers ready to accept a high-tech, low touch hospitality environment? Is society ready to support displaced employees? And there are, of course, other technologies not covered here.Robotics has the potential to be a big disrupter of current hospitality industry models. A number of trends “ advances in robotics, the ability of robots to 'empathize', to touch, feel, the development of sensor technologies, and demographic and societal changes that accept robotics as a given in many service jobs means that robots will become increasingly common in the industry,. Already a number of hospitality organizations both large and small are 'proof-of-concept' testing robots in their front office and check-in operations “ for example Hilton (McLean, VA), and the Henn-Na Hotel (Japan). Other applications include in housekeeping and in the kitchens. Currently, Asian consumers appear to be more readily accepting of service and humanoid robot servers and support staff than in the West. The International Federation of Robotics predicts strong growth in a variety of applications to the end of this decade. This trend towards greater number of robots becoming inserted into the service-value chain is likely to grow stronger with advances in artificial general intelligence, deep machine-learning, and neural networks.3-D Printing is another area that may have profound effects on a number of hospitality operations areas including in the kitchens, engineering, guest amenities and related areas. If spares can be printed on-demand, associated costs will probably change. On a larger scale, even complete hotel buildings can be 3-D printed “ an extension of the modular construction methods adopted by a number of hotel companies in Europe and in the US. A number of companies are experimenting with 3-D food printers for the domestic markets. How much longer before 3-D printers render room-service obsolete? When 3-D printed foods gain wide acceptance in the domestic markets, it has implications for take-away and eat-in restaurants alike. Together with robot kitchens that produce chef quality meals, 3-D printing will transform the F&B industry.Data Mining and the Internet of Things (IoT) is increasingly becoming important in industry. John Keller notes that "billions of sensor-driven devices [connected] to each other, the Internet, national networks and distant cloud-based applications" carry large amounts of data "that can be captured and analyzed" to enhance business operations. He identifies the hospitality industry as one that depends on the IoT to personalize the guest experience. Mobile devices are used by guests to check in and enter their rooms, sensors adjust room temperature and lighting to guest requirements and help provide the guest a unique experience. Data collected from guest stays help rationalize the use of power and utilities in hospitality operations. Some utility companies can now remotely manage home thermostat settings to reduce the consumption of fuel and provide economies to both homeowners and the utility. The data generated from the various devices that guests and hospitality associates use can provide valuable insights that will enhance guest experience; customized, individualized experiences will be only a button away.Artificial Intelligence (AI) appears to be the lifeblood of the advancements in robotics and IoT. Experts distinguish between generalized and specialized AI. Specialized AI is about using algorithms to figure out increasingly complex but narrow set of tasks; generalized AI refers to the ability to discern actionable patterns out of masses of data using neural networks and deep learning. The driverless car, IBM Watson's abilities, and Google's DeepMind project are examples of generalized AI. As AI becomes more sophisticated, a number of tasks in the service value chain can be replaced with AI driven robots “ for example, hotel room pricing decisions or inventory management. Already concierge services, room service delivery, and housekeeping operations are supported by AI. For the hospitality industry, simultaneous translation capable robots may replace consumer contact service individuals.Trust through algorithms and ratings is an area that has great significance for how hospitality operations are managed. EBay and Airbnb are examples of this: both buyer and seller rate each other and this defines the level of trust and propensity to do business again. It also defines the ability of the seller to attract new buyers. In an increasingly algorithm and ratings mediated business environment, organizations have to perhaps reimagine their customer relationship models “ how is trust in a brand generated? The ability to build trust through algorithms and the advent of the 'gig' economy may change the employer-employee relationships and have an impact on hospitality industry employment practices.Conclusion Hospitality organizations will have to respond as these various technologies are adopted at a higher rate in the general organizational environment. It is important that they adopt a proactive and strategic stance and fundamentally (re)design themselves as technology-centered organizations. Technology-driven transformations will impact the structure of the industry as well: in some organizations, technology will be used visibly front and center (for example, service robots) in guest interfaces and back-of-the house operations with the aim of economizing. In others, technology will be used in back-of-house and support operations but have human guest relations experts at the guest interface to provide the 'high touch' experience that those willing to pay premiums for it will demand. Back of the house operations such as inventory management, room pricing decisions, or human resource management are likely to be equally technology driven. The choices made about technology and human interfaces with guests will distinguish groups of organizations.Thus, it appears that the industry is on the cusp of a very big transformation driven not only by technology but also demographic and economic changes.
AirBnB is open for Business Travel. You wouldn't have seen it coming 4 months earlier if you were listening to the industry leaders.Chip Conley, AirBnB: "... I can't see we'll be going after the core business guest." Arne Sorensen of Marriott agrees pointing to the record numbers hotels are posting. Hoteliers are told they have nothing to worry about. Or do they?AirBnB is a classic case of Disruptive Innovation: an innovation that creates a new market and in a few years, moves to an existing market to disrupt.There is no reason for any of the hospitality leaders to spook the hoteliers. AirBnB, for obvious reasons and the brands because, well, they are in the business of building the "brand" to collect licensing fee. At its core, AirBnB is a technology company. Last time a new technology came up against the brands, we got Rate Parity and RoomKey.The pace of disruption in this case (time between denial and announcement) is less than 4 months. 4 months! If you are a hotelier, dependent on the actual performance of your hotel, please read on.If you are asking "is AirBnB a threat?", you are doing it wrong. Before we get to why, let's take stock of where we are. Everyone agrees that the AirBnB hosts should abide by all the laws and pay their fair taxes. This includes AirBnB though they think the laws need to be revisited. To best understand AirBnB, you should try it first hand. If you have not experienced AirBnB, let me indulge you a bit:The AirBnB Experience Recently, I had my first AirBnB experience. I registered late for a conference and found most hotels booked solid. So, I headed to AirBnB. The AirBnB UI is gorgeous but the beauty is not just skin deep. Every user interaction is thought through in great detail.I had a few specific questions I needed answered before booking. I sent my question through AirBnB's messaging system to a property that seemed to fit the bill. While waiting for a response, I found a couple of other places that looked promising. On the messaging page for a new property, my original question was autopopulated. Just one click needed! In a matter of couple of minutes, I was able to select and communicate with 5 desirable properties. I had never experienced this in my entire hotel booking experience, ever!A few minutes later, the answers started pouring in. I finally found the answer from a property I liked. I was feeling so productive! Just as I was wrapping up the booking, AirBnB reminded me that there were people who I have asked questions of. Perhaps I should let them know so they don't waste their precious time responding to me.This, ladies and gentlemen, is technology in the service of hospitality. Helping both hosts and guests. The AirBnB magic continued. AirBnB technology kept me in touch with my host all through my stay and reminded (forced!) me to write a review.Riding the dual trend: Software and Millennials To understand AirBnB, you have to understand two big trends underway: 1. Millennials are the dominant group of the labor force today and growing (35% Millennials, 31% Gen X, 31% Boomers). The Millennials are the core business guest of tomorrow. A group AirBnB denies going after. 2. Software is eating the world.AirBnB grew on the back of Millennials, starting in a downturn. It brought affordable and unique lodging options to a generation that's techsavvy but does not have much spending power. Born in the silicon valley, AirBnB brought strong technical chops to the table. To make sure they were "doing it right", they hired Chip Conley as their Hospitality Czar. Conley made sure every aspect of AirBnB technology was in the service of hospitality. The results speak for themselves. AirBnB has benefitted from the two trends Millennials looking for better experience on budget and software eating the world.For most Millennials who have experienced AirBnB, the hotel booking/stay process is jarring. Due to historical reasons, the hotel industry embraced technology in a haphazard way. Brands, OTAs, and review sites imposed onerous and often conflicting technical demands on hotels. The result is a user experience that is not the best either for the guests or the hoteliers.Conclusion So what's a hotelier witnessing an about turn by AirBnB in less than 4 months to do? Treat the AirBnB threat as an opportunity to learn. AirBnB has shown how and what technology Millennials prefer to use. And now, you can too. Luckily, software is getting cheaper. It is in the cloud, for rent, on every device, without long term contracts, and is user friendly.Don't wait for the next downturn and remember, anything can happen in 4 months.
No one can dispute the influence that technology is having on the Hospitality Industry and specifically on how we deliver Customer Service and how we enhance our guests' experience;· AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality) · electronic check-in and room selection · virtual concierges with SMS communication throughout your stay · voice activated roomsIn 2014 Starwood Hotels & Resorts introduced us to the world of keyless entry and since then no one has looked back. In 2014 Hilton Worldwide introduced digital check-in, allowing its loyalty program's members the freedom to select their room; a first for the industry. They followed that up in late 2015 with digital key. Marriott International, not to be out done, announced in January 2017 that it too would be introducing its own version of a digital key to 500 of its hotels. These features, while supremely beneficial to their guests, ostensibly removes one of the most integral touch points that your team has with your guests.The irony is that the technological component is becoming easier to implement and manage while the human component is still just as difficult to master.Your job now is to find new ways to interact with your guests, and I am not referring to SMS messages after they check in or using other forms of Social Media during their stay. While these tools allow you to efficiently and effortlessly keep in contact with your guests, they will not necessary allow you to actually connect with them.Great customer service is all about making a human connection. Actually interacting with your guests and having a face-to-face conversation. Although, too many times those face-to-face conversations happen when something goes wrong; your tablet or smart phone cannot replace a light bulb, help you when you have an issue with your bill or simply empathize with you when you experience a problem. A relationship is not built when we are only there to resolve issues or solve problems. Real relationships are built when we interact with our guests and have a real conversation with them.I am just like most of you; without my phone I am somewhat lost. Like most of you I actually enjoy being online and being part of a global community. I have used digital check-in and enjoy the option of selecting my own room.But now as the Hospitality Industry, and the way we provide service, is undergoing this transformation it is an interesting juxtaposition. The "new" way in which faster is better and more efficient; versus the "old" way which may have been slightly slower but was, and is, far more personal.This is the modern way of life and the new reality for our industry. We need to learn to reapply the basics of providing great guest service, with every interaction we have, and make the transition seamless.You and your teams need to put back the positive value in those interactions. More importantly you must capitalize on those opportunities when they are presented to you. We need to connect with our guests on a personal level and create a memorable experience for them.I have been asked many times why did I get into Hotels. The main reason why I wanted to work in this industry is because I like meeting new people. No matter what new technology may be on the horizon, for our industry, I will accept it and embrace it.But I will always remember why I got it into the hotel industry.To actually meet people.