The future is now – Digital transformation in hospitality and the need for technologists

Digital transformation is well underway in hospitality, driven by guest expectations and market forces, and expedited greatly by a global pandemic. In a recent interview, we caught up with Hospitality Tech Consultant & Strategist, and Visiting Professor on the Master’s in Hospitality Strategy and Digital Transformation, Max Starkov, to explore what digital transformation in hospitality looks like today, and why tomorrow’s leaders need to understand both customer needs and how technology can support them.

As Max puts it, Digital Transformation is a term that’s been “used and abused”, often without a full understanding of what it actually means. So, what is Digital Transformation in hospitality, and how is it impacting day-to-day operations and experiences?Right now in our industry, Digital Transformation means accelerated adoption of not some futuristic technologies, but existing technology applications”, says Max, “…including automation, Artificial Intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), robotics and blockchain, as well as introducing new business processes and formats.

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“Take mobile check-in as an example. You check in on your phone 24 hours before arrival, you choose your room from digital floor plans, you select the housekeeping services you’ll need, and you receive a mobile key. All of which means when you get to the hotel you simply go straight to your room and don’t have to interact with anyone, if you don’t want to.”

Synergy, not succession

As well as customer-facing technology, like mobile check-in, robotic bars, and the facilitation of online events, Max can see a world of opportunities for traditionally tech-averse hoteliers to embrace the benefits of Digital Transformation.

Behind the scenes, technology can save our industry from repetitive and even dangerous jobs. For example, is it humane to clean a toilet? Is it humane to carry big loads of dirty linen? Machines can do both of these jobs. In this sense, technology can relieve humans of jobs that they are simply not supposed to do.”

“…I see there being a human facade that will interact with the guests, and behind the curtains you’d have robots…”

While implementing technology may help employers support staff and overcome labor shortages, Max believes AI and robots cannot replicate the all-important human touch. “Technology will not replace managers anytime soon, especially in four and five-star hotels and boutique properties where the human element is highly valued. In these settings I see there being a human facade that will interact with the guests, and behind the curtains, you’d have robots taking care of the more mundane duties.”

The need for a new skill set

Despite technology adoption reaching a tipping point in hospitality, Max believes the industry as a whole is still unprepared for Digital Transformation. And rather than a lack of investment, Max sees the main issue as a lack of expertise.

“To turn hospitality from a technology-averse industry into a technologically advanced industry, we have to start by rectifying the unsatisfactory level of knowledge. That’s why educational institutions like Les Roches have taken on the task of educating tomorrow’s tech leaders. Through on-campus facilities, industry connections, and programs such as the Masters in Hospitality Strategy and Digital Transformation, we’re educating students to become experts on the business applications of technology.”

“…we look at all five phases of the customer digital marketing journey…”

“These technologists understand both customers needs and how technology can support them. For example, on the Master’s we look at all five phases of the customer digital marketing journey, from the dreaming phase with branding and content marketing to the planning phase with more concrete marketing formats, on to the acquisition phase, then upselling and cross-selling guests once they arrive. Finally, once a customer leaves, we look at using CRM technology and marketing automation to try and bring them back, it’s a cycle.”

Max’s top 3 tech trends for 2022

When you have one of the world’s most pre-eminent hospitality and travel tech consultants in the room, you have to ask what they’re most excited about. Graciously, Max shared his top three trends to be thinking about right now:

1. Handheld hospitality – “Utilizing guests’ smartphones for everything they want to do at a hotel to achieve a truly contactless experience is set to increase. From mobile check-in and check-out to ordering food at the restaurant, payments, and room service; mobility and ‘do-it-yourself’ tech is an upward trend.”

2. Cobots – “There will be more use of robots that work hand-in-hand with humans to perform dangerous, unpleasant, and repetitive jobs.”

3. Smart rooms – “Marriott and Hilton are already experimenting with this, where the room uses IOT, mobility, and automation to transform itself to your liking based on your preferences as a loyalty member. Those settings are then automatically uploaded to every hotel room you stay in around the world for a truly personalized brand experience.”

A new generation to lead the way

Digital transformation is already having a profound effect on hospitality, in terms of customer experience possibilities, operations, and the bottom line. And as we leave the point of no return behind us, it’s clear we need a new generation of professionals equipped to lead the way. “We have been forced by the marketplace and our guests to rethink the whole concept of hospitality. Organizations now need to invest in technology and invest in people who understand its business application.

“That’s why the Les Roches Masters in Hospitality Strategy and Digital transformation serves a very important purpose. We are creating tomorrow’s Digital Transformation leaders by exposing students to current and next-gen technology, and equipping them with the expertise and ability to challenge existing business practices, find better ones and never settle for the status quo.”

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