Owners warn brands over failure to meet digital guest journey expectations

Access to best-in-class open and scalable digital systems is becoming a key deciding factor in brand selection.

Rupert Simoner, board president of HR Group, a multi-brand owner and operator with 150 hotels in Europe, said: “To the big brands, maybe this is a warning. We are working with the biggest brands and some are more open [to using third-party technology] than others.”

“We have decided internally, for those that are not opening up or are trying to push their own solutions or something which is not what you actually want as the hotel owner or operator, then we will stop.”

He added: “Digital guest journey systems are going to be so critical to our success, we are not going to run our operations on something we can’t control and design, because there are other brands out there with whom we can work.”

Susan Bland, managing director of RBH Hospitality Management Ltd, a UK-based multi-brand owner operator, agreed.

“It is a brave move to say no to certain brands because they are not as tech savvy. But as an industry, we need to move this forward and the only way is to stand up to those that are holding us back,” she commented.

Digitalising the guest journey is seen as an essential antidote to profit erosion from high operating costs and falling guest satisfaction.

Historically, the hotel brands were tech innovators, particularly with central reservation systems. But a long lull in R&D has left most branded hotels with antiquated property management systems.

Some are still using DOS (disk operated systems) computers to check-in guests, as if a mouse or cursor had never been invented.

Impact on staffing

The lack of tech investment at property level is negatively impacting the ability to attract and retain staff.

“We had staff leaving because they were pissed off with the system,” said Simoner. “Why do I have to push 13 different buttons in various sequences to check in a guest? This is not a job that I like. My mobile phone can do more than this computer, and it works intuitively.”

Equally, a full digital guest journey is fast-becoming what guests expect. Uli Pillau, founder & CEO, Apaleo, said: “My son, 26, tells me he will not go to a hotel where they expect you to stand in line and wait for a check in. This will really kick in over the next 5 to 10 years because the younger generation do everything online.”

Several reasons for the slowness in upgrading legacy PMSs are put forward by hotel owners and operators here, but Simoner said that purchasing a cloud-native PMS was a relatively modest investment considering all the other costs owners need to cover.

To increase workforce productivity in general, managers need to ask their teams directly which parts of their jobs are causing them the biggest headaches.

“Our housekeepers told us they were having some difficulty in lifting up the beds so we implemented a system that can lift the beds automatically and that has increased our productivity by 15%,” said Eric Omgba, co-founder, Alboran Hotels & Hospitality.

HR Group is using vacuum-cleaning robots, which improve the quality of the housekeeping roles. “The robot can clean rooms at any time of day, four o’clock in the afternoon or three o’clock in the morning. The guest doesn’t care who is cleaning his room. It doesn’t matter if the room is five-star luxury or one-star, it needs to be done,” Simoner said, adding that digitalisation can improve the quality of many jobs by taking care of dull, repetitive tasks.

Hospitality needs to: “open up and become a very modern employer,” reckoned Marius Donhauser, CEO, Hotelkit GmbH. “One part of that should be to really involve your people in the decision making, go out to the engineers and the housekeepers and let them give their input into how to design a new room,” he said.

All those quoted in the article appeared on stage at the International Hospitality Investment Forum held in Berlin between May 15 and 17, in a session called - Doing More with Less: Increasing Workforce Productivity