by Alex Shashou
From Amazon in retail, to Uber in transportation and Airbnb in hospitality, a variety of businesses across multiple industries are embracing platform technology strategies.
For the hotel industry, this new model offers an opportunity to use technology to deliver services in more convenient, faster and more transparent ways.
But simply installing a new piece of software by itself isn’t enough to capture the value of a platform. It’s easy to make the mistake of conflating a platform with an app or a website, but a platform isn’t just a piece of software. The real value comes from operational gains that result from combining different systems together into a seamless whole.
Last week, we looked at three barriers to running your hotel as a platform. Here, we look at ways to turn these obstacles on their head.
In order to leverage the power of a platform, hotels need to put in place a unified system across guests and staff in every department, allowing for open integration of external tools, channels, and vendors. They must also seek to become sticky by engaging guests with deep context through their channel of choice.
While every hotel property has unique operational needs, there are some general guidelines that can help hotel managers apply the platform strategy to streamline their operation and drive tangible results. Here we discuss what it means to be more unified, open and sticky, and how these can be achieved.
The first challenge of a hotel is to put a system in place that unifies the operations across each department.
The system needs to be centrally accessible, redundant, and deployed in the cloud. This system will serve as the foundation that the rest of the platform can be built on. It needs to be flexible enough to manage the workflow of any department while providing an aggregate view of the hotel as a whole. A General Manager should be able to understand the actions of their entire staff in one simple view. It is fine to start implementation with a single department, but the system must be capable of eventually connecting all departments.
Once this system sits in the middle of a hotel, every department must have direct access to the system in whatever way is most convenient for the role. If a staff member is at a desk, a website must be available to access the cloud. This may mean adding computers into places where there were only telephones and radios. Staff must be retrained to put all guest and internal requests into the system to ensure transparency, accountability, and history. The specific user experience needs to be molded to the needs of each staff member. Some staff need to see a quick task list while others need to plan for days and weeks out. The right user experience does not sacrifice any need.
If a staff member is on-the-go, a mobile interface must be made available with a real-time connection into the unified system, providing an alert any time a staff member needs to act on a request. The mobile system should track the location of the employee as well as their availability to accept new work. This allows computer-based dispatch of work where applicable. Mobile devices for the staff requires that the hotel establish appropriate WiFi across the property to support this interaction.
Once every department in a hotel is on the same system in real-time, the general manager is able to set a property standard for operations. The custom workflows that are created for each department need to be looked at from the property level. How long should guest requests be outstanding for? How many minutes should it take to respond to a message from a guest app? General managers can create standards for how long any guest request should take to address. Holistic monitoring and alerting across the property ensures a consistent level of service.
If the staff speaks a different language, the system must be able to translate its contents to remove barriers to communication. The most important part is to get every staff member that is involved in servicing a guest online together with full context about the guest. This also includes staff members who may not interact with the guest directly, like housekeepers. Ultimately the system allows staff and guests to interact in a fluid way. Information is fully shared between all participants. It is easy to fulfill request, preempt problems, and build a consistent experience.
Once the base infrastructure is in place, the unified system needs to become the hub for multiple solutions by providing an open application programming interface (API).
An open API is the technology equivalent of a bridge, allowing the selective connection of outside systems in the existing infrastructure. This allows the entire hotel operation to be accessed and augmented. Great platforms use an open API to augment their core offering, and allow their clients to be limitless in their tools. This approach allows the ultimate collection of data and also offers boundless opportunities for customization. As part of the API, there needs to be an integration layer where the platform is able to connect to critical systems for the hotel.
The most obvious integrations should come from core systems like the PMS. Since the hotel platform is focused on various departments serving guests, the PMS contains much context about those guests and their stay. As the platform executes services, the profile of the relevant guests in the PMS should be updated with information that allows the front desk and reservations team to continually provide better accommodations.
Information about guest services rendered should also be sent to the CRM used by the hotel. By capturing the activity of guests on property in a central place, marketing teams can better target their campaigns. Likewise, loyalty programs can be enhanced to provide a better experience based on observed guest habits in-stay. Repeat guests can in turn receive a familiar treatment creating greater brand loyalty.
For departments such as F&B, the platform should be directly integrated with the point-of sale system allowing guests to order directly. Since every request comes through the same endpoint, an order’s lifecycle can be tracked alongside maintenance, housekeeping, and valet requests. This information is particularly interesting since it usually involves monetary transactions which can help optimize hotel revenues.
When it comes to specialized tools for departments, it is ideal to integrate them into the common flow of the system to continually provide a unified view. Specialized systems for Valet, Spa, Maintenance, Housekeeping, and any other department can all be networked together through the core platform allowing for a connected and seamless operational view.
An API also allows hotel chains to access an individual property from the brand level technology. This can empower brand apps to have a two-way integration to the full service suite of their hotel. Rather than having hotel specific apps, brand apps can gain more traction because they can be much more useful with on property service access.
Having an open API also opens up the possibility for a hotel to integrate closer with their surrounding area. It can be possible to connect directly with a local service provider such as their food delivery, tours, transportation, concierge and more but keep it all within one controlled infrastructure. As guests seek out more authentic experiences, the API approach allows expanding the hotel offering while maintaining operational oversight. An open model to services also allows limited service hotels to enhance their core offering with local and web vendors.
Providing an open API absolves the hotel from doing integration work itself. Third parties that need to leverage the API get a clear roadmap of capabilities while the hotel maintains full control of what each consumer of the API can do. This offers the flexibility to grow without necessitating capital expenditure.
Stickiness is about solving real problems for guests.
Currently strategies for guest technology offer very shallow solutions, but with a unified platform and an open API, every department in a hotel becomes activated. Similar to watching a car approach on the Uber app, hotels that have an open API can build services into their guest engagement channels. This could mean requesting a towel from the brand app, requesting valet to pick up bags via SMS, or building a chatbot to order food directly to the POS. By providing real-time tangible value through the guest’s channel of choice, the digital engagement that a hotel has with its guest can be much more fulfilling, and hence more sticky.
The specific offering to guests depends on the brand, but an open API allows the interaction to come from any channel. By meeting guests on their platform of choice, hotels can allow for a more seamless experience that can create better stickiness. Brands that provide immersive experiences on their website can integrate in-stay action items, or improve service offerings in their mobile app since an API will allow sending requests from above the property all the way down to an individual staff member at a hotel. This can make the websites and apps much more useful, and hence more sticky.
As guests interact on the platform, every action builds a deeper guest profile and allows the property to anticipate the next guest request. By leveraging data recorded into a central system, the hotel can truly capitalize on loyalty and can provide a consistent personalized experience. Platforms offer an incredible competitive advantage to a hotel because they provide complete control of the end-to-end guest experience — something that typically is very fragmented. Combining efficiency and empowerment will encourage guests to be much more sticky with the platform, the property, and ultimately the brand.
To conclude, while every hotel property has unique operational needs, there are some general guidelines that can help hotel managers apply the platform strategy to streamline their operation and drive tangible results. Hotels should strive to be unified, open and sticky. This means they must first put a system in place that unifies the operations across each department. They must then make this unified system the hub for multiple solutions by providing an open API. Lastly, hotels should strive for stickiness by providing real value for guests.