Andrew Metcalfe, chief technology officer at Guestline says the user experience for the guest – and the hoteliers – has to change
Most of the technology industry has moved towards the idea of seamless integration and data flows, enabling richer functionality and greater potential to enhance that functionality too. It is hard to ever fully know how the hospitality industry will evolve in a similar vein. In some ways the sector has been slower – up until now – to adopt the integrated mindset as comprehensively as other industries. For instance, many hotels still host much of their system within their premises, largely due to the need for a physical presence. Encouragingly, more office-related systems are now hosted in the cloud, enabling workers to access systems remotely and therefore also allow the integration of other remotely-hosted systems.
If we also look to other industries and their systems, we can learn from their evolution. Companies like Microsoft and Apple – which previously operated a more closed source or isolated business model – have now recognised the need to partner with other leading technology companies, often even their direct competition. Social media, for instance, has forced both Microsoft and Google to require integration with Facebook and Twitter where previously they would have tried to build their own networks. Some of this is undoubtedly trial and error; indeed they tried with their own platforms but discovered that users wanted to stick to their existing networks. Now the integrations on Windows, Android and iOS with Facebook and Twitter accounts are taken for granted.
So, how does this translate to a hotelier’s property operating systems? Cloud-based software has transformed the way that hoteliers manage their properties and their distribution channels. At the heart of all this is the property management system (PMS). This part of the change has largely happened, although hotels with on–premise solutions are yet to be able to take full advantage of the next phase afforded to them.
Just like Microsoft and Google found when looking to social networks, hoteliers are finding that the next phase in the hospitality technology revolution is driven by the guest experience. The user experience for a guest will need to change in order for a hotel to stay competitive. For example, guests increasingly expect to be able to check-in on their phone, request services ahead of arrival or during the stay, to be remembered for having stayed previously and even to collaborate with other guests throughout this process.
The PMS is often regarded as the ‘beating heart’ of a hotel’s operations to manage not just the bookings, but also the whole guest experience. Plus, it has an integral role in updating staff on volume of sales, vacancies, management of room rates and much more. Taking it one step further, the PMS also now has to connect with multiple hospitality operational systems, such as electronic locking systems and energy systems, for example, to manage key cards and room temperature.
Now we need to add these guest experience elements, potentially under a banner of customer relationship management (CRM) or “socialising” the experience. Having a system that can easily and seamlessly interact with the leading players in delivering these services is going to be crucial. The factors for a PMS to achieve this include having an open ecosystem, which is most typically cloud based and therefore always connected. This also means having open API integrations and also intelligent data processing to help make important decisions, or at least recommendations, automatically. Of course, this is just a starting point.
The trend is not limited to just the guest experience. More traditional operations of a hotel also benefit from similar ecosystem integrations, and new start-ups are emerging all the time to help with a range of operational efficiencies and enhancements.
From my perspective, the priority for hoteliers thinking about future proofing their technology requires being cloud-based and open to integrations, but importantly to respect privacy concerns. As has always been number one in the hospitality sector, maintaining great quality service is an absolute essential. Technology integration is showing its prowess through new ideas and exciting opportunities that improve how hotels do business and become more profitable. It is fascinating to be part of such an exciting period for technology functionality and innovation.