Q&A With Alexander Wessels of SABA Hospitality
Meet our newest partner SABA Hospitality.
In an effort to promote Frictionless Business on a global scale, Sertifi has formed a partnership with SABA Hospitality, a technology solutions provider in the hotel, casino, and hospitality industry. SABA Hospitality is based in Macau and brings over 50 years of combined experience in guest engagement, hotel operations, hotel technology, and business coaching. SABA specializes in enhancing the guest experience and increasing staff engagement through their different solutions.
Our Marketing Director, Jessica Hughey, spoke with SABA Hospitality’s Executive Director of Accounts and Partnerships Alexander Wessels on how hoteliers can deliver a memorable guest experience, what technology trends are shaping the hospitality industry, and more.
What challenges do you see businesses facing in the hotel industry in the years to come and how can SABA Hospitality help?
Wow, that’s a big question. I think broadly speaking, you can break this down into two categories: Guest challenges and operational challenges. Guest challenges essentially revolve around the question of “how do hotels evolve to meet the needs of the modern traveler?” A traveler where authentic experiences sit at the core of their wants. A traveler that is not only used to, but expects, their wants and needs to be fulfilled instantly. Operationally, so many properties still employ systems that are inefficient, expensive, and time-consuming. Systems that rely heavily on manual labor and detract from the core business of providing exceptional guest experiences. SABA helps overcome these challenges in two central ways. Firstly, by developing technology that aligns with the needs of the modern traveler. For example, our chatbot, amongst other things, will instantly answer guest questions and requests. No more being placed on hold. Simple answers to simple questions without delay. It’s instant access 24/7. Secondly, we use our operational experience to identify products that we believe will transform a property’s operational systems, and assist those companies in penetrating the Asian market. With 50 years of combined hotel operational experience, we like to think we are pretty good at identifying areas of inefficiency and the type of solutions that would be beneficial to a hotel operator. That’s why we were so delighted to partner with Sertifi. We truly believe there is a need for the eAuthorize product.
What trends do you see taking shape in Southeast Asia’s hospitality industry?
It’s no secret that the Asian middle class is growing, and with more disposable income, we are seeing higher rates of Asians travelling locally and to neighboring regions. This trend will continue, so hoteliers and the hospitality industry will need to ensure they are meeting the expectations of this traveler demographic. Secondly, it’s becoming even more apparent that the western traveler no longer views Southeast Asia as destination to lounge by the pool and sip cocktails. Travelers are now looking at these countries with a desire to immerse themselves in the culture. They want to truly experience the authenticity of a destination. They want to “experience life as a local.” Companies in the Southeast Asian region who recognize this and position their offerings as a true cultural experience will excel.
What other areas do you think hotels in Asia can leverage technology?
It’s not so much a matter of whether a hotel can leverage technology. There is technology that will perform or streamline almost any task. It’s more a matter of “will this piece of technology enhance my guests’ experience and improve my operational efficiency?” We believe any technology that redirects an employee away from menial tasks, so they can engage in meaningful interactions with guests, is a step in the right direction.
What technologies do you see revolutionizing the hotel industry as a whole?
Well, we are slightly biased here, but we think Artificial Intelligence is huge in this space. Chatbots, whether they be via a messaging platform or voice activation, they tick all the boxes in meeting the needs of the modern traveler and provide a hotel operator with significant operational savings. In a time where information is expected to be available at the fingertips, hotels must follow suit.
How can virtual assistants enhance the guest experience at hotels?
Firstly, they will give you instant answers to questions or requests. Guests will no longer have to ring the operator to find out what time breakfast is, or to get some more towels sent up. Guests will have everything at their fingertips, and they will have it from anywhere, on or off property. Secondly, and this is something we are very excited about as it really hasn’t been done before, a VA can eliminate language barriers. We are working on creating a VA that can speak whatever language the guest wishes. Having the option to communicate with the hotel in their native language can change the whole dynamic of a guest’s stay. Finally, and this can seem a little odd to the more mature guest, a VA provides the type of communication platform most people seek these days. Picking up the phone is dying. People just don’t want to do it anymore. Giving guests what they want is vital in maintaining and enhancing any guest’s experience.
Do you see AI and augmented reality replacing face-to-face human interaction in the hotel industry?
No, definitely not. We believe human interaction is vitally important in maintaining that personalized experience. What AI does is supplement that interaction. It removes staff members performing the more trivial, repetitive tasks and allows for a redeployment of that human capital into areas that will benefit from a more meaningful face-to-face-interaction.
How do you think hotels can strike a balance between being innovative but also not overwhelm guests with technology?
The balance really comes from a deep understanding of the guest journey, and implementing technology that feels personal, not “techy.” Employing technology for the sake of innovation is the wrong approach. Hotels must understand the difference between what is more of a gimmick, and what does truly enhance the guest experience. If they stick with the latter, it’s unlikely that a guest will feel overwhelmed by the technology they decide to deploy.
With all the cybersecurity breaches happening in different industries, how do you think the hospitality industry can mitigate the risk of this happening at their own hotel?
Yes, it is true that there have been several privacy breaches in the hospitality sector, and hotels are already in the spotlight due to the amount of personal data they manage. On the other hand, travelers are also more aware of this risk and are actively looking for and attempting to minimize potential breaches to their individual information. It is important that hotels have a clear plan about what is happening to their data. Nowadays, there is much more to it than simply compliance and fulfilling legal obligations, especially as hotels try to use a guest’s personal data to tailor-make an experience. From loyalty programs, to individual hotel apps, to preference collection, it is all about getting to know the guest better and providing him/her with the experience they wish for. If a hotel does not have a clear vision of how they want to bring together security, compliance, legal obligations, and the guest experience, they need to gather the relevant departments and formulate a targeted strategy.
What advice would you offer emerging hotels in the Southeast Asian market on how to deliver a memorable guest experience?
Make the experience authentic. Most travels would now prefer a small sample of local cuisine over a free drink on arrival. I can get a drink anywhere, at any time, from any bar in the world. But I can’t sample an authentic Portuguese tart from the markets of Macau in many other place (baring Portugal, of course). And make things easy. People are no longer willing to waste time on tasks that are not adding to their holiday. Whether that be a Virtual Assistant to instantly take care of the guest’s needs, automated checkout, or a seamless payment method, the experience must be easy.
What steps can hoteliers take to convert their guests into advocates of their brand or property?
They can start by providing memorable experiences so that guests cannot help but become raving fans. Most guests, especially younger travelers, now document their experiences via social media or reviews on Online Travel Agencies or platforms such as Trip Advisor. And the vast majority of travelers now read online reviews and are influenced by this research when making decisions regarding their destination or hotel. The shiny brochure or beautiful website just doesn’t have the same influence it used to. But to do this effectively, a hotelier must have deep insights into how a guest is feeling while on the property. Is the property meeting the guest’s expectations? If not, what can they do to recover the situation and turn that guest’s stay from “ok” to amazing. The SABA Guest Request module essentially takes care of this. It automatically reaches out to guests during their stay to get feedback. If a guest is having an amazing time, then it will politely request for a review. If there have been some service failures that have resulted in a negative experience, it allows the operator to rectify these challenges before a guest leaves and turn them into a fan.
With Southeast Asia continuing to be a popular tourist destination, how do you think hotels can use hospitality technology to entice visitors?
This goes back to what we have discussed before. Hotels should always look for solutions which are fit for purpose in their market. Every hotel is different and every market they operate in is different. Bring in innovative technology, which enhances the guest experience according to the concept you have in mind for your visitor. For resort hotels with big pool areas, offer a solution that takes a drink order or snack automatically, without having to looking for the one waiter on duty, who may or may not be on a lunch break. For business hotels, bring in wireless charging models to your bar area so that your customers can recharge their phone after a long, busy day and sip a drink at the same time.
Can you talk about the differences between the Western cultures and Southeast Asian cultures in terms of guest expectations and hotel technology? How can hotels better accommodate different cultures? For example, are there certain customs in Southeast Asia that are different from Western cultures?
I could probably talk an hour about this question, but let’s keep it to the point. For me, one of the biggest eye-openers is how the Asian population have mastered the skill of making their everyday lives convenient. When I lived in Shanghai, I literally had no more cash with me, let alone a wallet. I managed my life with my mobile phone. It was not intentional or even a conscious decision, but more and more I realized that I can’t live without it. I unlocked the shared bicycle to get to work with my phone. My lunch bills were easily paid over secure payment gateways using my phone. Groceries were delivered to my doorstep, ordered via my phone. That probably represents the biggest difference to Western travelers. Asian customers expect this convenience to carry forward to their travels. Whether or not in Asia or western countries, once you have experienced a cash free environment, you don’t want to use cash anymore. Language also plays a very important role in that. Travel markets are becoming more open, but learning a new language still takes time and effort. I always love to speak some German with a staff member in a foreign country while on holiday; it adds that special touch. So yes, hotels need to be more international and employ according to their target market. Remember it is all about the guest experience.
For more information on how SABA Hospitality can improve the hotel guest experience and improve staff operational efficiency, visit https://www.sabahospitality.com/.
About the Author
As the Content Marketing Specialist at Sertifi, Chandra loves all things related to writing and reading. She supports the team with content creation and overseeing the social media channels. Outside of Sertifi, you can find her exploring Chicago, recipe testing, trying out a new fitness class, or planning her next trip so that she can add to her growing postcard collection.