How to build a tech stack based on what your guests need (instead of just what’s available)
By Margaret Ady
Don't lie; you know you've done it. I sure have. The hotel breakfast buffet. You're so hungry and there's so much food. You want your money's worth. Each station looks better than the one before it, and those decorated plates piled with pancakes the size of your head make it all too delicious to pass up (I usually have these as my "dessert course"). How can you say no? Decision fatigue kicks in, your better sense of judgement goes out the window, and you go after that buffet like a boss instead of thinking about how you'll be in bed for the following three hours wishing you hadn't eaten all of the things.
It's called overindulging. And it isn't just happening at the breakfast buffet. It's running rampant in hotel tech.
We are bombarded every single day with new technologies, urgent trends, sniffs of what our competitors are implementing, "how-to" guides, interesting sales pitches, and the like. The tech buffet is as full as it's ever been. CRM. Of course. Revenue management system. Yup. Channel management technology. Mmmmhmmm. Artificial intelligence. Yes, please. Blockchain technology. Okay, that sounds good. Energy controlling apps. Sure, why not, that's like putting a vegetable on my plate—It's good for me, right? Mobile keys and self-service apps. Yup, no brainer. Interactive displays, virtual reality, location-based marketing, chatbots, facial recognition. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.
Approaching the tech buffet hungry is a very bad idea. Every hotel has different needs, different guests, and different concepts. The one thing that every hotel needs in order to build the right tech stack is a solid PMS backbone. From there, hotels should, instead of devouring everything that hotel tech has to offer, stop. Take a moment, think about your strategy, focus on the things that will boost profitability and improve guest experience. It will save you from an upset stomach and an empty wallet later. If you're still hungry, you can always add on or test a new app later.
Consider some of the unique concerns and technical requirements for just a few different hotel types:
Small, Independent Hotel: Streamline Guest Service
Small hotels generally run a tight ship. With a far more limited staff, many staff have multiple roles. Creating a tech stack that frees them up to serve guests in the moment by doing some of the automated tasks for them can have a real impact on the bottom line. Small hotels might avoid big-time revenue management tools or sparkly non-essentials, such as virtual reality, and instead focus on apps that will turn the property into a well-oiled machine. Consider, instead, coupling a simple to use cloud-based PMS with a lean RMS that requires little to no staff training and can automate pricing adjustments. Guest-facing technology will depend heavily on your guest segments. For instance, if you serve a tech-savvy crowd, think about a self-service model that may be comprised of mobile keys, automated check-in, texting for linens, and self-serve check-out. Or maybe you're just embracing the digital age and need to focus on building the best core technologies, such as a great internet booking engine with a user-friendly interface or automated confirmation emails with a personalized touch. Each of these gives guests the autonomy they want by automating the basics so staff can focus their attention on the areas of service where human touch makes the difference.
Flagged Hotels: Cover the Basics Before Undertaking Bells & Whistles
The trouble for big hotels and chains: there's staff and frequently the budget to implement all manner of technology. With fewer limitations, how do you choose from the smorgasbord of tech? It's riskier territory for big hotels because the opportunity is big but too many technologies can dilute the impact and you want to be sure they are all integrated. Hone in on your goals and have your revenue manager look closely at where you can create real change. All will need the core PMS, one that is cloud-based with open APIs to give bigger brands the flexibility they need. From there, real change will look different for different brands. Some will need measurement tools; others will add process controls; still others will enhance guest services. Hilton, for instance, has deployed a platform gathering data from 4,500 hotels regarding energy performance. The platform is the first step in creating a system-wide approach to conservation. Big hotels will want to be sure they have covered revenue management apps, distribution, and guest-facing technologies, such as self-service apps before diving into major measurement on behind-the-scenes tools.
Resorts: Uniformity is the Goal
No category understands the challenge of the buffet better than the resort, with golf, restaurants, tennis, spas, horse-backing riding, three different pools, evening s'mores by the fire, and so much more. Offering consistent service across all rooms and activities can be a real challenge. Doing so requires integrated systems that give the guest the feeling of interacting the same way for every kind of reservation (i.e., a spa reservation should look and feel like a tee-time reservation). Once guests arrive, they should be addressed the same way at different locales. Managing inventory across the various outlets must be streamlined in a way that management can evaluate the costs and revenues. The focus when building a tech stack should be on creating consistency, not generating more technology, unless it's clearly needed.
Business Hotels: Make Everything Easy
If the bulk of your business is business, that might be a bonus. Your needs are far clearer than some other categories. Distribution strategies are paramount to ensuring you get those last-minute business trip bookings. Group and conference center technology serves the bottom line. Focus also on apps that streamline check-in, check-out, dry cleaning, room service, restaurant selections, and so forth to give business guests more time to do what they came to do. The more successful they feel when they leave, the more successful you have been during the stay.
I'm all for trying new things. And hotels should be too. Go to the buffet and go bananas if you really want. But you'll find that the most painless approach to tech is to get your foundation set (read: a cloud-based PMS that can easily connect – no disparate technologies!). Then test new technology methodically and only if and when it will really boost the productivity and profitability for your particular property type. Instead of piling everything on your plate, take it one (or two) at a time. If you're still hungry after the pancake dessert course, grab another plate and dig in. I won't judge.