Is hospitality ready to service the digitally savvy travel consumer?

Today’s typical online travel consumer – your past, current and future hotel guest – is exposed to more than 250,000 digital micro-moments a year, from social media interactions to messaging to quick reads of the headlines on their smartphones, according to Google Research.

This year travel consumers will spend more time on digital media – 6:41 hours/day – than all other media (TV, radio, newspapers, magazines) combined at 5:30 hours/day, according to eMarketer.

With the explosion of the “digital way of life,” the customer journey has turned into a digital customer journey that is becoming increasingly complex, forcing hoteliers to overhaul their technology stack, corporate and marketing strategies in order to engage, acquire, service and retain these digitally savvy travel consumers across multiple digital touch points and across all digital channels and devices.

Unfortunately, our industry is vastly unprepared for this new digital reality. Long gone are the years when staying at a hotel meant experiencing better technology and amenities (flat-screen TV? HBO? High-speed internet?) compared to the guests’ own homes. Right now, most hotels are desperately lagging behind the technology – devices, amenities, mobile and cloud services – customers enjoy in their own homes, from cloud applications and mobile assistants to IoT-enabled devices, streaming media, 6G Wi-Fi and “smart” homes.

From a technology perspective, the urgent challenge to hoteliers is to create a “digital technology environment” in order to engage, convert and retain the guest throughout the digital customer journey and its dreaming, planning, booking, experiencing and sharing phases and provide hotel and room technology services, amenities and applications that are at least the same or better than what guests already enjoy at home.

What are the main reasons for our industry’s technology deficiencies? One is the systemic underinvestment in technology and especially in mobile and next-gen technologies and cloud applications that has been plaguing the industry for many years now. The other main reason is the shortage of hospitality-schooled digital technologists and strategists that can guide the technology adoption.

Education matters

Today there is a clear deficit of proper hospitality industry education in digital technology and the latest technology innovations, trends and best practices. How many hospitality schools today teach hospitality technology courses? How many offer professional development technology courses and certifications on vital hospitality tech applications? Only a few.

A few years back, New York University’s Tisch Center of Hospitality launched graduate and undergraduate “Hospitality Technology” courses and recently opened its Hospitality Innovation Hub. Les Roches Global Hospitality in Switzerland now offers a Master’s in Hospitality Strategy and Digital Transformation. Both of these programs – I am privileged to teach at both – are a great start to educating future hoteliers on the business applications of technology and providing our industry with future digital technologists.

We need to educate and create the next generation of hospitality digital technologists who understand the business applications of hospitality technology and are able to assess the technology needs of the organization.
Max Starkov

Don’t get me wrong: I am not preaching for hospitality schools to start teaching IT and software engineering, computer sciences or PhD-level data sciences. These specialists we will continue to hire from the general labor markets. But we need to educate and create the next generation of hospitality digital technologists who understand the business applications of hospitality technology and are able to assess the technology needs of the organization, devise its technology strategy and optimal tech stack, evaluate and select the most appropriate tech solutions and oversee the implementation and ongoing integrations of the solutions.

This is the job of hospitality digital technologists and technology strategists, not of IT engineers, software engineers or data scientists.

Graduates from hospitality schools should be intimately familiar with the optimal hotel tech stack and how to use technology solutions to improve customer service and operational efficiencies and lower labor, operational and distribution costs while increasing revenue. They should be able to answer confidently questions like “What are the benefits of a cloud PMS versus an on-premise PMS? Why does the hotel need an RMS? How can use CRM technology to increase repeat business? What type of CMS do I need for the hotel website? What type of DMS technology do I need to improve conversations and revenues of the property digital marketing? How do you create a fool-proof issue resolution system at the property? A 100% contactless guest experience? How do you implement automation, robotization and IoT devices to improve customer service efficiencies and lower labor costs without diminishing guest satisfaction?”

Bill Carroll, PhD, clinical professor (online program) at Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration underscores the importance of technology education in hospitality: “The role and use of effective digital technology and digital marketing have become even more important as the hospitality industry recovers from the COVID-19 crisis. Hospitality programs have an obligation and opportunity to serve the industry through education, both online and offline and research.”

Scott Dahl, program director at Les Roches Global Hospitality in Crans Montana, Switzerland, shares the same views: “The hotel industry has been in a digital transformation since the OTAs began revolutionizing the way people book rooms more than 20 years ago. Since then, advancements like Big Data, cloud computing and standardized interfaces have continued to accelerate this transformation, but for the most part, hospitality education has failed to react. At Les Roches, we now offer a Master’s in Hospitality Strategy and Digital Transformation, focused on maximizing emerging technologies in everything from the customer experience to distribution. And if the overwhelmingly positive response from our industry partners is any indication, we’re on the right track.”

In addition to the typical concentrations in hospitality management, revenue management, marketing, real estate development and finance and accounting, hospitality schools worldwide should prioritize a concentration in hospitality technology, which will benefit not only hoteliers, but also the myriad of hotel tech vendors out there.

Today’s hospitality industry has to transform itself – whether willingly or unwillingly – into a 100% digital technology-enabled service industry powered by online, mobile, cloud, IoT, AI, robotics and blockchain tools and applications. It is a very positive sign that digital technology is already making its way into every aspect of some smart hoteliers’ operations, guest services and communications, revenue management, distribution, CRM and marketing.

This “leap into the digital future” necessitates the education of a new generation of hospitality technologists and strategists who understand the business applications of technology and who can lead the digital transformation of our industry.

* This article published originally as part of Max Starkov’s The Tech Center column in Hotels Magazine

About the author…

Max Starkov is a hospitality and online travel tech consultant and strategist.