Webinar Recap: Hospitality Technology Year in Review
Earlier this week, we sat down with a panel of hospitality leaders to reflect on 2023 learnings and look ahead to 2024. We discussed everything from ways they grew business and maximized productivity through staffing shortages to changing trends and what they’re anticipating for 2024.
Let’s meet the panelists:
- Tim Debruin, Corporate Director of Catering, Davidson Hospitality
- Katie Lee, Chief Information Officer, AKA Hotels
- Mark Rupert Read, IT Director, Firmdale Hotels
In case you missed it, we’re covering the highlights for you. Throughout our discussion, we drilled into a few themes: business rebound, technology use, and 2024 outlook.
Did you realize growth this year – and if so, what do you think you did right?
Tim: We grew both our portfolio and revenue in 2023. A large focus was placed on team member attraction and recruitment, making sure we were staffed up and trained to handle the volume of inquiries and get business on the books. We also looked at technology to help us do more with fewer people.
Have you seen business or client behavior at all?
Mark: There are more virtual options for those that can’t attend live, which creates a higher technical requirement than before. Another change is the business week is now shorter for the events business. It’s now Tuesday to Thursday instead of Monday to Friday, though Saturday and Sunday business has gained momentum.
Tim: We're finding booking and event detailing windows being compressed, so we're being required to do more in a shorter period of time. The more we can increase efficiency the better. Also, more clients are asking for ACH, which let us avoid higher fees.
Are you still experiencing staffing shortages? How are you pivoting?
Mark: We have gone back to fairly normal strength, whether it’s in-house staffing or agency staffing. The challenge is finding people who really want to serve, because that's what it's all about. Also, having a great place to work and looking after people is key to retaining people.
How has technology helped you maintain or increase business?
Katie: We use technology to really drive into other markets. We’re a smaller brand, so we’ve increased the number of partners we work with to help increase awareness. Technology also lets us be more responsive in order to maintain and increase business.
Tim: We embrace technology that’s affordable and practical as much as we can. You need to pull as many efficiency levers as you can, and technology’s one of them. For example, you can now do video conferencing and triple the amount of bookings in a matter of days. Or Sertifi helps us shorten the sales cycle so staff can move on from that stage more quickly.
Mark: The faster you work, the faster you can close business. We look at solutions that can reduce repetitive work or do work that a staff member doesn’t enhance. Also anything we can do to find answers on our guests without having to ask them, or being able to do anything the guests may ask with ease, is a priority.
The hospitality industry has been historically slow to adopt new technologies. Do you think the bubble will burst on legacy systems and/or processes sometime soon?
Katie: Yes, and I really believe it has to do with how we invest our time and funds. We're service companies, not technology companies, so we're investing in our guests. And if tech fails, we're at risk of failing our guests and not meeting their expectations.
Mark: It’s definitely not an early-adopting vertical or one that likes paying for technology. But technology has pivoted to the cloud and having services that can be turned on and off quickly, which is helping us invest in technology quicker and with less risk. At Firmdale, we're really following the vendors’ lead. More of them are going to the cloud, and we need to keep things updated.
Is AI worth considering or just noise?
Tim: AI is this incredibly powerful thing that you’re afraid of because you can’t mishandle it. But better to see what it might bring while being cautious and using the right controls. If we don't embrace it and learn more about it, it could walk all over us.
Katie: I’ve heard someone say, “AI isn’t going to take your job but the person using AI will take your job.” I don’t think you can think of it as just noise because someone is going to use it and do it better than you are, whatever “it” is.
We conducted a research report earlier this year, and a third of hotels reported they’re still using insecure methods, such as email and fax, to collect payment information. Do you think it's a lack of understanding how insecure those methods are?
Tim: Sometimes it's a matter of that turnover and new staff not realizing how insecure it is, especially if a guest is willing to give you their payment information that way.
Mark: We’ve moved to using secure links for obtaining card information, which is lets us assess the risk of a card. You need to take appropriate procedures to protect your business from loss. For example, we had a late booking on a Thursday for a Saturday birthday, and the only time we knew it was bad was when the bank told us a week later. So now we accept Bacs (ACH) payments for same-day payments.
Looking Ahead to 2024
What industry trends are you keeping an eye on in 2024?
Mark: I see Baks (ACH) becoming more prevalent. Ultimately, we want the buying journey to be as seamless as possible and reduce our fraud risk.
Tim: We're really looking at sustainability and health-centric offerings. For example, on the sales and catering side, looking at offering more plant-based food. I also think contactless experiences are more expected now, so we need to be prepared for that.
How can businesses make room for more technology in 2024 budgets? What advice do you have for getting buy-in on new technologies?
Mark: It’s really about proving the ROI. Is it a financial increase? Is it cost reduction? Make it tangible and measurable.
Katie: I would recommend aligning very closely with your business partners to map out a holistic strategy and decide what'll help create the best guest experience, as well as where as you can save money. To get buy-in, I would think about the end user's use case or problem and be really clear how it will help them.