Will HITEC finally address the need for operational efficiency? 

There is no denying the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated many of the challenges facing the hospitality industry and with changing guest behavior brought new demands to the forefront.

By Katherine Grass, CEO, Optii Solutions, Austin, Texas

Hygiene and cleaning have moved from behind-the-scenes to front of mind for all guests and it has become a priority and differentiation point for many guests when booking a hotel.

Alongside this, the demand for personalization has continued to grow, which has put increasing pressure on lean operations teams to help meet this demand alongside managing the day-to-day operations as they recover.

Guests can access more information than ever before when choosing their hotels. So, hoteliers can no longer ignore these developments if they want to stay competitive – and if they get it wrong then they face poor reviews online which would negatively impact the brand long term.

With HITEC in Orlando this week celebrating its 50-year anniversary, we are hearing about the key themes and issues facing hoteliers and how technology can help. Each year I find myself both inspired and surprised by the conversations.

We have seen amazing technologies and capabilities come about in the 50 years HITEC has run, as well as the changing landscape of hotel technology, but we’ve also seen how we haven’t been able to reach the full potential of many of these technologies as we haven’t addressed what is truly needed to achieve them. Yes, we want to achieve personalization, and, yes, we want to provide the best guest experience, but this cannot be achieved without addressing the operational complexities that will enable these new technologies to be executed in a smart and efficient way.

Why operations tech is so important

Hotel operations technology have helped hotels to pivot during the pandemic and enable them to adapt to new cleaning protocols and guest demands. For many, it finally shone a spotlight on the importance of investing in the right technology stack for their specific hotel needs.

The ongoing staffing shortages and workforce management is certainly an area of discussion this year at HITEC as hotels face a labor crisis alongside pent-up demand resulting in higher occupancies.

Hotel operations should and need to be a central theme of these big influential conferences, but unfortunately, I don’t think they will be. If we’re talking about staff shortages, we need to talk about operations. If we’re going to talk about personalization and meeting customer needs, we need to talk about operations. Operations forms the backbone of any hotel that will enable it to function and fulfill any of the goals or promises of the tech developments we hear about so often.

Achieving personalization

Let’s take a deep dive into the hot topic of the moment, personalization. Both the travel and hospitality industries have inched closer every year to achieving a higher degree of personalization for customers. It isn’t at the same pace as other industries such as eCommerce (Amazon) or content streaming (Netflix), but the demand from travelers and guests can no longer be ignored. Visionary leaders talk about providing unique trips for every guest, but the reality behind the scenes is different.

Technology is being hailed as the key to providing personalization, but a hotel PMS currently doesn’t provide the full suite needed to achieve full personalization. So, there will be a big reliance on people.

Hotel operations managers are understandably nervous about how they execute the type of personalization guests are expecting with the challenges they face around staff shortages. If guest A wants a particular brand of Champagne in their room, who on the team is going to be able to facilitate this? How can we do this efficiently, so we don’t waste resources on simple tasks? How will it be recorded as complete? These are all questions on hoteliers’ minds. In other words, how will hoteliers fulfill promises on property that are made online with lean and new teams? It’s easier said than done.

Technology certainly has a role to play in helping to make personalization a reality, as hotel operations software can be used as a tool to help operations teams track and assign these particular tasks. By enabling your teams with the right technology, you can make their day-to-day jobs easier and more efficient and ensure they can do more with less which is crucial at this time for the hospitality industry – and make sure the Champagne is delivered in the most efficient way.

The challenges of the past two years have provided a moment of reflection that the hospitality industry has never had before. It can use this as a real turning point for hospitality technology, where hoteliers can look at those key issues of the moment such as personalization and staff shortages and take a step back to understand how they can execute on these visionary aspects.

If I had it my way, hotel operations would be a the forefront and a central theme for discussion for all hospitality technology events, and I’m hoping that the spotlight shone on areas such as housekeeping and front desks during the pandemic has also shone a light on the critical need to consider operations alongside each new technology, and how the people and technology behind operations can make the difference in the overall success and recovery of our industry.