The Journey from IT Manager to VP of IT with Virgin Hotels’ Jason Doebrich
By Jordan Hollander
Last updated May 25, 2022
5 min read
How far do you want to take your career in hotel IT? If you have aspirations to make the leap from on-property to a corporate or regional role, then you’ll be inspired by the career trajectory of Jason Doebrich, the VP of Technology at Virgin Hotels. We had the chance to talk with Jason about his experiences working at several top hotel companies, serving in both on-premise and corporate roles. Jason offers some great advice for anyone looking to further their career in hotel IT and shares exciting anecdotes about his challenges and learnings along the way.
After graduating from Florida State University with a degree in Information Science, Jason started his career as an IT manager at Morgans Hotel Group in Miami Beach. He worked on-property first, then became the Regional IT Director overseeing the Shore Club, Mondrian, and Delano. Jason’s next career move took him to Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, where was the on-site Director of IT at the Mandarin Oriental Miami for several years before earning a promotion to a regional role, in which he oversaw IT for all the Mandarin Oriental properties in the US as the Corporate Regional Director of IT. In 2022 Jason joined Virgin Hotels as their Vice President of Information Technology.
As Jason explains, IT is a challenging and fast-paced career. In the hospitality industry, technology is a complex vertical, which involves building partnerships with technology vendors and thinking creatively to solve problems. Although some non-tech folks might think so, technology cannot solve every problem in hotels, so IT professionals need to work hard to implement technology seamlessly while also using critical thinking skills to figure out whether the problem at hand can be solved with people or process improvements.
The First 100 Days: Assess the Tech Stack, Interview Key Stakeholders, Prioritize Goals
Coming from Mandarin Oriental, Jason was presented with a major cultural shift when he started his new role at Virgin Hotels. The Mandarin Oriental brand was all about high-end, old-school luxury, while Virgin is young, fun, cutting-edge, and tech-focused. During his first couple of months at Virgin Hotels, Jason made a point to gain a solid understanding of the tech stack at his new company, get to know key stakeholders he would be working with, and develop a prioritization framework for the goals he wanted to accomplish in his role.
Getting acquainted with Virgin’s tech stack wasn’t terribly overwhelming for Jason because he already had experience with several systems that Mandarin Oriental used too. Like Mandarin Oriental, Virgin’s property management system is Infor, and they use Sabre SynXis, Agilysys' InfoGenesis point-of-sale system, and SEVENROOMS restaurant management system. In addition, Virgin works with some exciting guestroom tech systems, including Runtriz (to power their LUCY app), like Innspire (guestroom TV system), Salto and Inncom (lighting and thermostat), and Virdee (self check-in kiosks). Virgin Hotels stores guest profiles in Cendyn, their CRM system, and uses ALICE for staff collaboration and communication. Cendyn and ALICE also communicate with Virdee and Runtriz so that actions or requests made in the LUCY app can flow through other back-end systems.
Another important focus point of Jason’s first year is to make sure his technology strategy aligns with the 12-month goals of the greater Virgin Hotels organization. The company’s goals for the next year include expanding the Virgin Hotels footprint, entering the residential market, and collaborating with other Virgin brands. For example, the company’s points program, Virgin Red, offers some exciting possibilities for deeper integration between Virgin Atlantic , and Virgin Voyages and the hotel product.
How Virgin Hotels’ LUCY App Delivers Better Guest Experiences
One initiative that falls under Jason’s purview is Virgin Hotels LUCY app, which is powered by Runtriz and bills itself as a guest’s “personal comfort assistant” before, during, and after stay. Jason remarks that the past several years have brought a flurry of excitement about apps in the hotel space, with most major hotel companies debuting their own apps that are packed with features. But Jason thinks that the app craze is temporary; he predicts that the pendulum will swing back toward an app-free world where guests can access app-style functionality in their web browser without needing to download anything.
That being said, the LUCY app is one of the coolest in the space. LUCY has integrations with Innspire and Inncom so guests can control the TV, lights, and climate within their room from the palm of their hand. In addition, guests can use the app to both check in and enter their guestroom, since the app works as a mobile key too. When a guest is ready to check in, they can download the app and enroll in Virgin Hotels “The Know” membership program, which allows guests to do mobile check-in. The check-in process is actually handled by a different system, called Virdee, which powers the hotels self check-in kiosks too. Virdee integrates seamlessly with Runtriz’s LUCY app, so it doesn’t matter whether a guest checks in on the app or on a kiosk - they can still access the mobile room key functionality. In the background, Virdee runs some fraud prevention checks so that everything is secure.
Where does Jason find inspiration for the future of technology at Virgin Hotels? One of the top brands he admires is Disney, and he is impressed by Disney’s implementation of their RFID “magic bands” at theme parks. Jason can see the potential to expand RFID technology not only at Virgin Hotels properties, but perhaps at other Virgin companies.
Advice for Hotels When Working with Startups
Hotel IT departments have the unique opportunity to work with smaller technology companies, many of which are start-ups or early-stage companies. As you work to build a future-proof tech stack, you’ll need to carefully consider which vendors align with your needs and goals. Jason shares a few nuggets of wisdom when assessing potential software vendors: look for startups with financial backing from reputable investors, a leadership team that includes industry veterans (in leadership roles within the organization or on the board), and APIs that allow integration with your existing software. Integrations are important because they allow data to flow between systems seamlessly. One factor in HotelTechReport’s HTScore is available integration options, so you can be confident that systems ranked highly on HotelTechReport have robust integration choices.
Years ago, hotels usually opted for one large property management system that could do it all, but in recent times, it has become much easier and more efficient to work with multiple vendors that are experts at what they do. For instance, a vendor that offers software exclusively for upsells and upgrades is probably much better at it than a rudimentary upsell feature tacked onto your property management system. However, the key to being able to tap into all of these specialist vendors is to use a core property management system that’s flexible enough to adapt and integrate with a multitude of other products. You might need to invest a little more upfront to switch to a modern PMS, but it will unlock many revenue opportunities in the future.
Advice for IT Managers Going from On-Property to Corporate IT
After hearing about Jason’s experience in corporate IT, perhaps you too are interested in growing your career in the hospitality technology space. In Jason’s experience, a corporate role brings its own challenges to the table. Rather than facing pressure from your property GM to make tactical changes on property, you’ll face pressure from key business leaders who expect you to be a strategic resource and a generalist.
The actual responsibilities of a corporate IT leader are quite different from those of an on-property IT manager. For example, when you’re working on premise, you’re responsible for maintaining servers, WiFi, and other on-site services. On the corporate side, you’ll be responsible for managing relationships with vendors and coming up with ideas for new tools and processes that can scale to the entire portfolio of hotels.
But some of Jason’s top advice for developing your corporate career isn’t related to IT at all, but to your network and business skills. Jason recommends broadening your understanding of hotel operations out of the IT world, like getting familiar with general business and financial strategy. Another recommendation is to learn how to “manage up” by listening to the c-level executives and asking them what success looks like. Mentors can also be hugely beneficial as a sounding board and resource, but also as a way for you to tap into their own networks. Jason, for instance, still maintains close relationships with some of his mentors from Morgans and Mandarin Oriental.
Regardless of where your career in hotel IT takes you, it’s sure to be exciting. Hopefully some of Jason’s experience can inspire you to continue learning, iterating, and reflecting on your own journey.