By Kevin King
In the past ten years, Shiji Group has undergone a period of significant growth and expansion, transitioning from a China-based network system supply company, to a truly global conglomerate pushing the boundaries of hospitality technology.
Shiji began as the brainchild of Li Zhongchu. Like many innovative tech brands, Li founded Shiji in his Beijing apartment in 1998, impressing his initial customers with his dedication to service and the letter quality of his new fax machine. Almost immediately, Shiji began to expand rapidly, quickly becoming the leading hotel tech provider in China. By 2014, we captured almost 70% of the Chinese market for high-end hotel and retail technology in China, earning over $314 million in sales. This number would expand by 40% in just four years. This offered us an opportunity to expand globally, while fundamentally reimagining our relationship with technology and the hospitality market.
Today, Shiji Group is one of the world’s leading innovators in technology, providing an integrated suite of technological platforms to help connect the hospitality, retail, food and entertainment industries. In the past decade, Shiji has grown into a truly global technology provider, serving over 74,000+ hotels, 200,000+ restaurants and 600,000+ retail outlets in 177 countries and 15,000 cities outside of China. And our company is as diverse as our markets, with over 4,000 employees spread over 80 subsidiaries and 70 worldwide offices, speaking a total of 41 languages.
Connecting the Global Business of Hospitality in a Mobile-First Market
For us, “going cloud, going data, and going global” represented the future for both Shiji and the international hospitality industry.
By 2016 we had fully transformed to a world-wide consumer service platform operator. For us, “going cloud, going data, and going global” represented the future for both Shiji and the international hospitality industry. We developed a fully-integrated ecosystem of technological solutions, so we could connect the global business of hospitality—to their systems, their distribution channels, and most importantly to their guests. By 2020, Shiji was fully integrated into every major travel destination and hospitality market in the globe, with 57% of US hotels, over half of London and Paris hotels, 42% of hotels in Melbourne, and over a third of hotels in Singapore using Shiji technology.
But we did not want to undertake a transformation of this magnitude in haste. We wanted to globalize carefully and conscientiously, maximizing our benefit to international markets. We took the time to look at the emerging technological trends, listen to the sticking points and challenges affecting the market and our customers, and learn about the needs of the traveling consumer. With these needs in mind we acquired companies like IcePortal and ReviewPro, which could enhance a traveler’s experience at every point of the guest journey, from inspiration to post-stay. These companies have grown tremendously with Shiji’s resources and guidance: Today, IcePortal manages over 1.7 million unique visual assets, while ReviewPro processes over 516 million online reviews per day, greatly improving the reputation and guest experience for its 55,000-property base.
We discovered that Shiji could provide solutions to several interrelated challenges facing the hospitality market: First, we could better connect business to their own technological systems. Hotels face enormous friction when putting together a technology stack: if their data remains siloed between platforms, it can exacerbate operational inefficiencies, impede the streamlining and personalization of the guest journey, and their ability to scale. So, we developed a network of technological solutions which prioritized connectivity and an open API architecture. StayNTouch, MyCheck and Infrasys have already embraced that forward-thinking approach, while other brands such as Concept are currently utilizing Shiji’s resources and expertise to move into the openly connected framework.
We also connected hospitality businesses to the global network of payments and distribution. We wanted to offer globally expanding brands the partnerships they needed to enter China and APAC, while providing technological solutions that allowed them to easily comply with emerging financial transaction regulations. In a similar vein, we used this technology to better connect guests to their data, ensuring that their financial and personal information would not fall prey to the growing threats of identity theft and fraud. With our acquisition of Touchpeak and MyCheck, our integrated payment solutions are not only compliant with upcoming standards and regulations—including PCI DSS, GDPR and PSD2—but are also compatible with every traditional and disruptive payment gateway available on the market. Today, MyCheck manages over 85,000 users and 30,000 financial transactions per day and is growing faster than ever.
57% of US hotels, over half of London and Paris hotels, 42% of hotels in Melbourne use Shiji Technology
Ultimately, we wanted to create a suite of technological platforms that expanded the boundaries of the guest experience. From building mobile PMS and POS systems, to implementing mobile in-stay messaging, to creating a unified guest profile, we provide hospitality brands with solutions that reimagine the guest journey. Our platforms are helping businesses streamline their operations and communications, so that staff can spend less time focusing on administrative tasks and more time focusing on what they do best: serving their guests.
A Hands-On Approach to Creating World-Class Innovation
By mid-decade, the rise of mobility was fundamentally changing the face of hospitality, and we were excited about the expanding possibilities for innovation. Mobile lets hoteliers emerge from behind the front desk to interact with guests wherever they are. Li once remarked, “people are going to disappear from the front desk,” and Shiji was determined to be at the forefront of shaping this new guest experience.
To implement our vision, we began investing in companies that were pushing the boundaries of innovation and hiring talent that had a deep understanding of the hospitality industry’s needs. We asked: Which solutions could be developed from the ground up, and how could we partner with industry leaders to create an ecosystem that was conducive to innovation?
Mobile lets hoteliers emerge from behind the front desk to interact with guests wherever they are.
With StayNTouch, we invested in a mobile PMS system that was already at the forefront of guest-facing self-check-in. With additional resources, we propelled their development efforts to bring to market a ground-breaking mobile ID-verification system using advanced AI technology. The result of approximately eight months of in-house development was a mobile check-in system that was both more secure and more convenient than its predecessors, and a PMS that was literally the first on the market to accept self-service walk-in reservations via a self-service kiosk.
We spearheaded other innovations as well: Working closely with MyCheck, we developed several apps to help properties fight fraud and comply with recent PSD2 regulations. These include MyCheck PayBy, a client payment request app that can be fully integrated into your PMS, and the MyCheck Wallet, a fully branded digital wallet offering guests a seamless booking and loyalty journey ending in a one-click payment. Our product development teams at ReviewPro are also pushing the boundaries of applied artificial intelligence, developing a guest-facing chatbot that comes pre-seeded with answers to common guest questions automatically sourced from review sites and social media—a first for the market.
The Market Welcomes a Shiji that is Mobile, Connected, and Global
In the end, our approach to global expansion has paid off. Because we took the time to look, listen, and learn more about the needs and challenges of the global hospitality market, we were able to offer timely solutions to the sticking points of connectivity, distribution, and data security, while providing novel approaches to reinventing the guest experience. And because of our proactiveness, and commitment to innovation, the market has welcomed us with open arms.
When we made our debut at ITB Berlin and HITEC Minneapolis in 2019, we received a warm reception, as hundreds of industry professionals came to visit our stands and learn more about the solutions Shiji has to offer. Similarly, we received strong readership and engagement with our sponsorship of the Hotel Yearbook 2020 and our newly released GX: Guest Experience Spotlight series. All this attention confirms our initial thoughts about breaking out of China: That the hospitality market is craving connectivity and innovation.
But of course, the only constant in life is change—and hopefully change for the better. We remain committed to being at the forefront of technology, and we look forward to collaborating with our customers, our partners, and innovative brands around the world, to solve more challenges in the next decade and beyond.
To wrap up, we spent the last decade vigorously going cloud, going data and going global. We’re proud to say that the journey so far has been extremely successful and the thousands of Shiji employees who have made this happen have been nothing short of amazing. Global growth of this level isn’t easy, but it is truly exciting to be at the forefront of the technological innovations that will lead the hospitality industry into the next decade.