Source: CoStar Group
by Dana Miller
February 1, 2021
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the need for leaner hotel operations and enhanced tech features for both staff and guests.
Panelists in a session of the online Hotel Optimization Conference titled “Technology — Are You With IT?” said the brands used to drive tech investment decisions, but recently franchise owners are taking the lead.
Neal Patel, treasurer of the Asian American Hotel Owners Association and managing partner at Blue Chip Hotels, said that in response to COVID-19, hotels are implementing technologies that some hotel owners thought they’d never need.
“A lot of times, we were driven by the brands,” he said. “The brands were telling us, ‘You have to do this, you have to do that,’ but now the hotel owners are taking initiative, because we know these are unprecedented times and we have to step up and get the guest confidence back.”
Scott Strickland, chief investment officer at Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, said his company has also shifted in that sense, adding that many of its franchisees suddenly became both owners and operators during the crisis. In the past, franchisees faced with similar challenges might have stepped away from their hotel.
“The best case is we’re listening to the franchisee. Let’s listen to the franchisee advisory council; let’s listen to AAHOA,” he said.
Where Hotels Are Investing Now
Cloud-based technology, 5G and machine learning are among common tech investments being implemented and considered by hotel owners.
Brian Kirkland, chief technology officer at Choice Hotels International, said 5G is going to be “an interesting driver for where guests’ expectations go.”
Patel said 5G could potentially save costs and eliminate the need for Wi-Fi.
“If 5G is much faster than what we are currently offering, then no one’s going to be using our hotel Wi-Fi and we’ll be saving huge costs. It’s going to be one of our major expenses being cut out,” he said.
Kirkland said cloud-based technology is also getting a lot of attention among hotel owners.
“The reality is there’s a lot of evolution happening that’s empowered by the cloud. The cloud is making it possible for some extremely advanced technologies to become mainstream — things that weren’t possible before. We didn’t have enough staff to go out and build machine-learning and [artificial-intelligence] capabilities and virtual assistance,” he said.
Panelists all emphasized that staff training has increased and become more versatile as it has moved online.
In the past, training required a team member at the property to train staff in person.
Patel said AAHOA this year alone hosted more than 200 webinars. Of those, 180 were COVID-19-related.
“We are trying to make sure that the members have everything they need to educate themselves about this pandemic. We’re also learning new information every day, and [we]want to make sure that the owners and members and our team know exactly what’s going on or what the best practices are,” he said.