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With summer winding down, hoteliers are beginning to analyse and evaluate their performance and strategies from the busy season. Emerging technologies are driving hotel managers and marketers to focus their attention on the customer experience, the impact of reviews, and consequently their reputation.
We sat down with Ian Millar, Senior Lecturer and manager of the Institute of Business Creativity (IBC) at Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL). His expertise in hospitality and information technology sets him at the forefront of new developments in the international hospitality industry.
Ian, what have been the biggest changes in hospitality innovation over the past year or two that you have welcomed?
We are waking up to the power of data. I’m not going to throw around “Big Data” as a buzzword, but as an industry, we are continuously discussing how data can help us not only be better but improve the customer experience and bottom line.
We still have a long way to go and there are many barriers to us as an industry, mostly that many hoteliers are still using fragmented IT systems. Moreover, there’s also a lack of data standards. We need to work on these issues before we can start talking about “Big Data”.
What trends are you seeing for 2020 and beyond that you are excited about?
5G! I’m really excited about the latest 5G updates, but not just the faster download speeds. Some telecommunication companies are discussing Gigabit speeds, but there’s not a major advantage. What is interesting and where there is a lot of potential in 5G is the latency. With latency so low (around one millisecond) the IOT starts to become a reality. This will bring about the “tactile Internet” (an internet network that combines ultra low latency with extremely high availability, reliability and security). In turn, this will then allow us to capture and create a lot more data points. The birth of “smart hotels” will start to become a reality and Proptech (real estate technology) will flourish.
How are AI-technology and big data impacting hotels? Both for Hotel Groups/Chains & Individual Boutique properties/B&Bs?
AI-driven technology will not only improve physical properties but hotel operations. Giving tailored recommendations and insights on how to better serve guests will be the greatest advantage. Assessing and responding to guest reviews and comments is invaluable, but AI companies, like Travel Appeal, are taking things a step further. Lots of studies are being done to analyze POS data to see if there are any similarities with what guests are posing online.
How is reputation management software vital in understanding customers’ mindsets and exceeding their needs?
It allows hotels to have a centralised place where they can understand when people are “talking” about their hotel and what exactly they are saying. With so many platforms being used, it’s vital to have a centralised place where all data is collected. This is especially important for social media.
We need to be aware of NLP (Natural Language Processing). People can use different words and phrases to mean the same thing and it’s too difficult and long a process for a human to interpret all this information. This is where reputation management solutions come in.
One interesting note is the varying cultural and language norms. In English, one might post a comment “very good service”, which would have a positive sentiment. A French speaker might write, “c'est pas mal” meaning it’s not bad, a positive expression used on a regular basis in the French language. Technology able to interpret this data and these language differences is invaluable for hoteliers and provides them with valuable insights into guests thoughts, no matter the language.
What are the benefits of integrating AI and big data technology into hotel operations?
AI and big data are extremely beneficial for hoteliers to gain insights about what’s happening, in real time. They also make it possible to centralise data, optimising hotel operations.
What should hoteliers keep in mind while selecting a review and reputation management tool?
First and foremost, tools should be delivered as SAAS (Software As a Service) so there’s nothing to install and payment can be made on a monthly or annual basis. Training should be minimal and hoteliers should have ongoing support. Ideally, solutions should be outlined in an SLA (Service Level Agreement). Hoteliers should also ask about which data sources are included inside the platform and which future sources will be included.
Cutting-edge hospitality technology is now a reality. Don’t just learn about the future, be a part of it!