Integrating disparate hotel technology systems has been a challenge for decades, but it feels like new consumer demands have finally forced a sea change. Suppliers over the past few years have prioritized an open approach when building their systems. New “platforms” that connect various systems through open APIs are popping up, and solutions providers finally seem to be taking the onus of integrations off the hotelier and taking responsibility for ensuring their systems work well with others.
On a recent webinar, panelists from apaleo and SHR discussed current hotel operations strategies that are forcing tech providers to be more open and innovative. Trends like contactless check-in and direct bookings require tech systems to share data in real time, and new efforts from tech providers to unlock their data will pave the way for future innovation.
“One of the reasons why hotel groups very rarely upgrade their technology is because they are concerned about the time it takes, the effort it takes, and the investment it takes,” said Uli Pilau, CEO and co-founder of apaleo. “Our goal, in today’s modern world, is to reduce all of that to zero.”
Here are five benefits to deploying a tightly integrated hotel stack spurred by new guest demands:
1. Increase efficiency
It’s no secret that hoteliers are preserving profitability by cutting back on labor costs and working with smaller staffs. Even if they wanted to beef up staff, in many cases, employees simply aren’t available.
“How do you overcome the problem of low occupancy to hit break-even or even make money during difficult times? The answer is really automation through technology – automating any procedures where it’s not necessary to have human intervention,” said Uli.
For dynamic disciplines like marketing, pricing and distribution, automation can eliminate the need for employees to constantly be monitoring data and making small tweaks to the strategy. Updating data within systems can be extremely repetitive, according to Angelo Directo, VP of Application Design and Development for SHR, so his team’s efforts are spent creating workflows that reduce the amount of manual work required.
“We noticed that large chains have complex rate loading processes,” Directo said, “so we want to set up logic that allows users to update their rates, restrictions, inventory or pricing in automatic ways at regular intervals, or at least notify them of changes. Especially as they see market conditions change, we want chains to be able to make changes quickly through automation.”
2. Modernize guest experiences
Whether it has been spurred by cleanliness and safety concerns as a result of COVID or by a general adoption of self-service tools, guests today want a contactless arrival and check-in experience.
“What was a nice-to-have before has changed into a must-have,” Pilau said. “Many guests actually pick their hotels by whether they can provide this functionality today.”
He said hotels in some segments – upscale and luxury hotels, for example – still want to retain a hands-on, personalized experience. Everyone else, he said, is moving toward a mobile guest journey where travelers interact with the hotel mostly through their mobile device.
“The key now is getting those systems connected to old and legacy PMSs, which used to be very cost-intensive,” Pilau said. “We think open platforms have evolved to a point where any hotel can do that today in a very fast, quick and cost-effective way.”
3. Prepare for future APIs
Hoteliers may know what systems they need to connect and what data they need to ingest today, but the panelists said new innovations are coming all the time, meaning open platforms are the best solution to future-proof your business.
“We've created a product called Bridge – an automation platform that interconnects systems and data – and of course we’ve started by integrating our own CRS, CRM and RMS tools,” said SHR’s Directo. “But we also consider third-party APIs because we want to give hoteliers the freedom to build a connected tech stack and ingest data with no coding involved at all.”
For example, SHR is evaluating APIs from the U.S. federal government regarding the tracking of COVID cases by geography, APIs from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security regarding TSA checkpoints, and they’re closely monitoring the development of decentralized identity verification that allows secure storage of digital health passes.
“With Bridge, we can connect to these data sources and then trigger campaigns in Maverick (SHR’s CRM) that can send appropriate messages to the guest, such as a pre-stay questionnaire or a health assessment form,” Directo said.
4. Improve conversion on direct channels
While hotels still benefit from working with OTAs, leaders are getting more creative with providing an elevated booking experience on their own channels.
“For example, more hotels are deploying customized booking engines that focus on the guest experience, selling packages, tours, and combining the traditional hotel rooms with other amenities and experiences,” Pilau said. “We also see some new distribution partners emerging and those require connection to a hotel’s channel manager. Today, when a new distribution partners goes to a general manager and says I want to help sell your hotel rooms, the GM usually has 100 sites already in queue and won’t get to the new channel for a couple years. With an open platform, actually any channel could get a direct connection at any time without waiting to develop an interface, integration or pass a certification.”
Beyond providing inventory, Directo said SHR gives hoteliers the ability to change the content on their websites in a dynamic manner. “We're developing widgets that allow hoteliers to easily embed content from the CRS right into their website. Maybe it's their promotional rates or maybe it’s certain rates that are specific to a tier or segments in their CRM,” he said.
5. Simplify the check-in process
Pilau said many of Apaleo’s clients are taking steps to reduce friction for guests at check-in. Different hotels have different goals here, he said, and not everyone wants guests to bypass the front desk completely. While some Apaleo clients have removed staff from the front desk entirely, he said, others have taken baby steps and implemented technology to remove parts of the process.
“It really depends on your product and which services you still want to offer at the hotel level, but we have some groups in Europe that have moved to entirely staffless hotels. They only have a few people at the corporate headquarters to perform the core corporate functions – accounting, some revenue management, some distribution control,” he said. “That means the mobile guest journey has to be 100% reliable – there’s no backup. Hoteliers need technology that can automate 100% of the process.”
Both panelists suggested that innovative hotel companies – the risk-takers – will be the ones to flourish in the future. Instead of relying on a predetermined technology stack, they suggested hoteliers think freely about creating the optimal guest journey and relying on open systems to facilitate.
by Jason Freed