Where’s the Secret Sauce?
By Terence Ronson, Hospitality Professional, Technology Consultant, Public Speaker and Inventor
Another HITEC has come and gone, and what a blast it was! Baltimore was HOT – not just because of the searing heat, but also more importantly due to the masses of super TECH that was on display @HITEC. And let's not forget the jam-packed parties (a.k.a. Networking events). If you attended HITEC, you will know what I mean, if you didn't, too bad – it was a hoot.
Bumping into long lost buddies is always welcome, and this year was no exception. I think I did more handshaking and hugging in the aisles and at "networking events" than I did on actual booths. One individual was so pleased to see me that he insisted on taking our photo and posting it onto Facebook…
Sadly though, I was unable to attend any of the education sessions, which greatly upset me – but there are only just so many show hours, and when you deduct HFTP and HTNG meetings as well as a few private briefing sessions, you are not left with very much availability. Still, I hope some were digitally captured for posterity, and I can play catch-up when they are finally distributed.
But what I was in search of was THE SECRET SAUCE. So many folks use this term that I was hoping to taste it, or at least catch a whiff of it – but alas, it eluded me.
At HITEC - I was on a mission. I wanted to find out how technology can justify itself in a Hotel. I'm realistic enough to understand that we can't operate Hotels without certain forms of technology, but how do we really measure the effectiveness of it, and justify the expense to Hotel Owners, who are themselves looking for an ROI on just about everything.
Over the last 2,000 years that we've been operating Hotels – admittedly, there has been some improvement, or has there? In their most basic form they still provide the same thing – a place to break a journey, get some rest, something to eat and drink, and wash-up. How they do it, comes as many variations as there are colors on a Pantone color chart.
A Hotel is simply broken down into two parts: Hardware – the physical building and systems, and Software, the people who make it run and whatever you say or think - give it a unique personality. Again, these come in many flavors, shapes and sizes, but the fundamentals are still the same.
The Guest varies by Demographic, but all said and done at the end of the day, the needs and wants are the same - a clean, comfortable and affordable place to stay.
So where's the problem in delivering this?
Those of you who are regular readers of my BLOG – know that I often point out deficiencies in a Hotel that I have stayed, and my Baltimore and New York experiences were no exception. I will keep the names of the establishments out of the comments – but feel free to speculate:
- One night I wanted a cab. I asked the Bellboy who was standing around at the front of the Hotel (I assume this is his station) to help me get one – his job – I again assume. Few moments later he had hailed one, and it arrived into the Hotel's entrance area. He opened the door (I assume his job) and when I had sat down and told the driver where to take me – he promptly slammed the cab door realizing I was not going to tip him – for doing his job, that admittedly he's already paid to do. He walked away sulking…
- Then there was the fact that the Hotel does not change towels or linens on a daily basis – apparently to help save the planet… On two occasions they took my wet Bath Towel and hung it on the hook behind the bathroom door – where my dry T-shirt was already hanging, and so the T-shirt became wet, and unusable…
- Let's not forget the charge for Wi-Fi. I was categorically told by the lady who checked-me in that it was inclusive in my room rate. "Just log-on as normal" she said, and it will be taken care of – it was not. I was charged and not just for one connection in the room, but for multiple devices.
- Lastly, I sent three shirts to the laundry for cleaning so as not to schlepp too much dirty stuff around with me on the next leg of my journey. Two of the three shirts were returned with black oil stains on the front. *
- My choice of Hotel was one that I last stayed at in 1975, and after making a booking on Agoda, I wrote a short note on the Hotel's Facebook page to say how much I was looking forward to coming back. After a few short hours, they responded saying how happy they were I was returning and looked forward to my visit. When I checked in, the Receptionist treated me like "a nobody", did not welcome me back, and gave me a sub-standard corner room. There was no Banana in my room – or even a Welcome back note from the GM. Come to think of it, for the 4 nights I was there, I did not see any Management in the public areas…
- My room (1448) had a stale odour, chipped wash basin, one of the blinds did not have a pull string, some walls had torn wall paper, one of the photos over the bed had "a stain" on the glass (I hate to think what that was…), one of the air vents was stained, and I had to pay for Wi-Fi although I'm 100% sure Agoda said it was inclusive.
- I was allowed two bottles of House drinking water per day from the automatic mini-bar. On two days, they were not replenished and I had to request them.
- One day, I returned to the Hotel after doing some shopping. The cab pulled up at the Hotel entrance and I opened the door in front of the Doorman who was busy counting his tips. To help get out of the cab, I lifted the bags off the back seat on to the ground, in front of the Doorman. Do you think he helped me? Dream on!
- I invited a friend for Dinner at the Hotel – in one of their signature restaurants – a steak house. Our so-called Waiter was the most un-attentive individual I have ever encountered. It was like it was such an effort for him to serve us. I heavily discounted his tip!
OK – enough of that griping - let me get back to the main reason for this BLOG and that is the hunt for the Secret Sauce.
Justifying tech expenditure is becoming more and more difficult, and I'm constantly challenging, as well as being challenged as to why we should be adopting certain Tech strategies, and to justify them. One of those might be for example, should we still put a HSIA wired port on the desk when most people connect over Wi-Fi? Another could be – do we need so many standard power sockets when people mostly require USB power. I ask myself, is USB the new Universal power socket?
So, when I met up with three leading vendors at HITEC I was trying get a feel for this kind of justifiability. They specialize in the following areas:
- Point Of Sale and PMS
- IPTV/In-Room Entertainment and HSIA
- In-room Tablet based services and apps
What was I looking for?
I was hoping that these companies could provide me with meaningful metrics on how their systems are being used – for example:
Point Of Sale and PMS
Apart from Hospitality - these folks are also heavily involved in the Retail space servicing several leading high street retailers. These retailers' measurement of customer behavior is literally off the charts. They know, for example, what time people come in the store, what are the popular items they look for and buy, how long the average person stays in the store, how they pay, how often they come back, if something is on special what else they may be tempted to impulse buy, where items should be placed in the store, and of course the average transaction value. They also know to play different music at certain times of the day so you are either walking more quickly, or subdued to take more time to wander through the aisles.
Questioning this Vendor if they take the info from their own PMS and compare it to the data from the PoS to see if certain demographics have additional purchases and what exactly they purchase, they look back at me with blank faces.
With this type of data, could we do predictive analysis based on future business on-the-books and then used with revenue management systems, could support the decision making process as to which type of guest will yield more, and how certain offers in F&B or other areas of the Hotel may be attractive to them. They don't.
Similarly, I asked these guys if they could tell me how certain types of Guests used the TV? Could they tell me for example if a specific Guest demographic stayed longer on HBO or BBC than others? How often was the TV remote clicked, how often was the TV used for wake up calls, or the PPV system used, again by a certain guest demographic. They could not.
In-room Tablet based services
Their VP Sales and CTO told me that their solution was mainly used for: Wake up calls, requesting amenities and room make-up or turndown, and ordering room service. When questioned if they could tell me how many Guests used the device versus say calling down or speaking with a real member of staff, they could not. Could they then tell me which type of Guest likes to have a wake-up call, or request a room turndown, they could not!
So, using just these three examples, I'm finding it hard to understand the justification process for (certain types of) technology in a Hotel.
Saying these are service enablers, or add to the guest experience is no longer good enough – we have to have hard facts and I'm wondering how we can get these. Recently, one CTO of a major Asia based hotel group asked me if I had access to any reports which showed how guests were rating internet access – much like they would the comfort or cleanliness of a room, and I could not produce any. There was just anecdotal evidence to say Guest's need it, but how they enjoy consuming it, or paying for it, was not measured. At least I could not find any information to substantiate this.
Then another question is niggling at the back of my mind. If we know that Guests are not using the in-room phone for revenue generating purposes, and that they receive calls on their mobile phone versus the in-room phone, the question is not why do we place so many units in a room, but why do we still install voicemail for Guests, if it's almost never used?
Taking these examples, and my comments on the two Hotel experiences - it's definitely time to get back to basics and question why we do things.
What are the true benefits these technologies bring to the Guest and business? How can we measure the effectiveness, and to really understand the masses of data that these systems collect, which can better help us provision services to guests, rather than guess which I believe in many cases we still do, and often fail miserably.
If you have found the Secret Sauce – please send me some!
* After raising these comments to the Hotel, they agreed to refund my HSIA and laundry charges.