Industry Update
Opinion Article21 May 2020

Interview with Hospitality Trailblazer Michael Schubach

Michael Schubach discusses the current hospitality climate and how contactless technologies will aid hotel reopenings.

By Kal MacDonald, Director of Business Operations at Percipia

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It is no surprise that the Coronavirus has shocked the hospitality and travel industry in a significant way. March travel restrictions and stay-at-home orders were the first punches thrown. Then came an increase in unemployment claims and dwindling discretionary spending — a perfect storm for a long-term disaster. To recap, hotel closures began at the end of March then carried into the entire month of April and some carried into May. Even with governmental assistance, recouping the lost income of the past two months is going to be difficult. That is why it will be imperative that hotels reopen the right way in the coming weeks.

If any hotel is a cause of a hotspot outbreak it will devastate the entire industry. Guests are going to expect some parameters are taken to ensure their safety from check-in to check-out. The coming weeks will be crucial for hotels to brand themselves as "contactless" and earn the trust of guests. I turned to an industry powerhouse for some light and guidance on the current climate.

Mr. Michael Schubach, CHTP+, CHAE+, and current CTO of Millennium Technology Group in Florida, is a hospitality automation expert with forty years of executive and C-Level experience in hotel operations and information systems. He holds his undergraduate degree from the University of California at Santa Barbara and his MBA from Methodist University. In recognition of his industry contributions, he was inducted into HFTP's International Hospitality Hall of Fame in 2015. Mr. Schubach is the perfect interviewee not only for his accolades, but he has also labored through multiple disasters that have reaped havoc on the hospitality industry such as 9/11 and the 2007-2009 Great Recession.

Now, let's dive right in.

Q: Florida implemented a shelter-in-place starting April 2nd. What has been the effect on business and occupancy in Central Florida?

A: 'Hard-hitting' would be an understatement. It's impossible to believe that April 2nd was less than four weeks ago. I live in the most visited destination in the United States and I haven't ventured beyond the limits of my driveway in days.

Q: How has COVID-19 affected your operations? Did your company retain employees, or did you experience furloughs and layoffs?

A: Some of both. Like every other business, we're doing our best to thread the needle. We need to retain as much experience and expertise as we can so that when the market returns, we'll be ready and able to meet its needs.

A new economic reality is in play that called for decisive action; implementing new budget guidelines and restraints was mandatory. The first rule of business is that you must survive to be in the game.

Q: Once governors and mayors lift shelter-in-place mandates, do you think guests will be hesitant to immediately book and travel? Or do you think the state lockdowns will make people want to travel more?

A: I don't think the deciding factors will be wanderlust or cabin fever. I think each person is going to make decisions based on his or her own perception of the risk-reward proposition.

People generally live their lives much the same way they manage their money. There are extreme risk-takers who will do anything they can and lots they shouldn't. They roll the dice and rely on their good luck and moxie to carry them through.

Their polar opposites are averse to risk of any sort. They follow the rules, leave nothing to chance and depend on slow steady progress to win the day. In the classic tortoise vs. hare match-up, they are definitely on Team Tortoise.

All the rest of us fall somewhere on the spectrum in between these two extremes, so expect both early and eager adopters and skeptics who will lag way behind.

Q: Will local hotels take social distancing into play when it comes to the guest experience?

A: The hospitality industry will have no choice but to implement measures that reduce risk and reestablish guest confidence in travel. While we recover, safety and sanitation will outrank comfort and convenience.

Restaurants must expand and refine their offerings: reasonable group comradery for the risk takers, and haute cuisine to go so the risk averse can retreat to the privacy of their room. By the way, In-Room Dining should convert from a "delivery only" basis to include a touchless guest pick-up station to keep competitive delivery traffic out and giving guests the convenience of staying in.

Q: During your next personal or business trip, are you expecting a contactless experience?

A: I'm expecting a different experience, but not necessarily a contactless one. Not every hotel can change that fast. There's a learning curve involved, technology to be acquired or adapted, and personal attitudes to be adjusted. Hotel stays in the future will be a cleaner experience but probably more distanced one. Outcomes will vary by establishment, purpose of travel and implementation budget and timeline.

Q: Part 1: What benefits do contactless technologies offer? Part 2: Are contactless technologies more about innovation or safety?

Part 2 first: History tells us that hotels actively avoid new technology investments during economic recessions, so what's going on now is not an embrace of technical innovation but instead a mandatory change to the way we do business in a plague year. Reinventing the mechanics of the guest journey is all about guest safety and buyer confidence; any innovations that result are the serendipitous side-effects of a global calamity.

Now, Part 1: The benefits of contactless technology accrue to the self-sufficient. Life is cleaner and easier for those who manage their own travel affairs online or from afar - think 'road warrior' and/or 'millennial explorer.' But hoteliers must remember that technology must provide options for everyone who visits, even those who need special attention and assistance.

Q: In general, the hospitality industry has been slow to adopt new technologies; how will the current pandemic affect new hotel technologies? Will there be a massive spike in hotel technology evolution?

A: I don't foresee major evolutionary leaps immediately at hand but the ground rules for accommodation are being reset and expectations are changing rapidly. A new baseline is being established, and that in turn will spur new ideas and variations. Technology and innovation will rise to meet them, just as it always has.

Q: Most hotels have a minimum of 5 different software to operate (e.g., POS, PMS, PBX, Room Controls, Valet, Concierge, etc.), what are your thoughts on system integrations being an essential player to minimize staff exposure between departments?

A: In my mind there are three basic models for system integration: "enterprise," where one vendor addresses multiple disciplines, perhaps superficially, but always as fully integrated with normalized data. Second was "best-of-breed," multiple vendors, each addressing a single, specialized discipline, completely isolated with its own non-normalized database that requires interfaced integration. Now you can add a third model, which I think of as "shared platform apps": multiple vendors addressing their specialized area but doing so in standardized development frameworks that anticipate data exchange and sharing. We now think in terms of smartphone apps that follow common input and display standards and that use API data sharing.

This is the best way forward, not only from the user perspective but also from the IT perspective of managing a complex environment. This path promotes specialized functionality that can both leverage and augment existing information. Best of all, it distributes the development burden across multiple vendors, including on-staff resources, and lessens a hotel's reliance on a single vendor's availability or willingness to respond.

This approach encourages data normalization and sharing, as enterprise apps were originally designed to do, but at the same time effectively challenges their monopoly on information.

Q: Do you believe in-room technology such as tablets, phones with built-in android tablets, and AI Voice systems (Alexa and Google), address sanitation and contactless initiatives?

A: In-room electronics - especially touchless ones - improve guestroom sanitation efforts as the industry moves toward disposing of in-room disposables. But remember, converting to electronic-only information access is enabling to some guests, while it alienates others. Be prepared for a spectrum of reactions, especially to devices that "listen" to guests while they occupy a hotel room.

Q: There have been multiple reports and investigations that found hotel phones, remotes, compendiums, tent cards, and printed TV Channel guides are the dirtiest items in the room. Will those items be removed from the guest rooms, or will housekeeping make it a point to clean or swap out those items upon turnover?

A: The short answer is yes to everything. It's only in times like these that we realize how unsanitary common area fixtures, guest room surfaces and in-room collateral really are.

The forward choice is to dispose of most disposables and electronically deliver in-room content. A new minimalist makeover is in the future for both guest rooms and hotel public spaces. Taking those steps are key to resetting the risk-reward proposition. Public accommodations will be one of two things: much more sanitary or much less used.

Q: Do you have any words you want to share with industry compatriots that have been laid-off or furloughed?

A: These are scary and tough times that threaten us all from health, economic and cultural perspectives - the worst perfect storm imaginable. We work in an industry built on the concepts of mobility and social interaction - the two primary drivers of infection in a pandemic. Those circumstances are forcing us to reinvent the business as we rethink personal safety - and lives depend on us. This might be the toughest battle in a century but there's never been a century better equipped to take it on. Keep the faith and take heart in a human observation willed to us by a previous millennium: "this, too, shall pass."

This interview is a reassurance that the hospitality industry will survive in the coming months. Our industry is no stranger to trying times; hotels will learn to adapt and offer a contactless option for guests that need a little more security. The critical factor in implementing new technologies is to make sure it assists all generations and nationalities - a one-size-fits-all technology will not work.

Although we are in trying times, I, for one, am excited to see how the hospitality and travel industries evolve into new guest experiences.

Kal MacDonald

    More from Kal MacDonald

    ABOUT PERCIPIA

    Headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, USA, Percipia's mission is to continue to be a respected leader in hospitality technology by delivering telephony and mobility solutions, software, and services in the most innovative and cost-effective way. Parallax application (formerly PTCE) was introduced 20 years ago, which enabled them to interface existing telephony systems with nearly all property management systems and third-party applications. Since then, Percipia has evolved its product offering to include a full-featured hospitality telephone system and custom mobile applications which enhances the guest experience and streamlines operations.

    At Percipia, they pride themselves on their ability to provide reliable and exceptional service to their global partners, clients, and guests. The Percipia team works diligently to build next-generation innovative solutions based on hands-on knowledge of the industry. As a result, they have become a trusted and respected organization that always leads with hospitality.

    For additional information about Percipia, call 800-806-0408 or visit www.percipia.com.

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