A View from the Testbed — All points North, talking to myself and the extras!

It’s been a very full couple of weeks, and I thought I would recall some of the more recent happenings that caught my attention.

Talking to myself

LinkedIn made that sound that you hear when someone sends you a message. Who could it be? David Berger, my friend from Volara. A nice surprise to hear from him. “You are headed to Seattle for the CIO Summit right, Mark?” That, I was. “We’ve put the most recent edition in Hotel Motif in Seattle and it would be great if you would try it out.” How could I refuse?

Alexa and Volara at Hotel Motif, Seattle

A couple of days later I stepped in to my room at Hotel Motif. A very nice room for that matter, and complementing the stunning ID was a little appliance called Alexa. Strategically positioned to catch the eye, I read the card and proceeded to give it a whirl.

Most significantly the recent release of the Volara-Alexa product is the first time that, as one does in the home, you can simply say, “Hey, Alexa!”. A step in the right direction for the guest in terms of familiarity.

I tried a few different things, the most successful of which was the provision of an extra pillow, which I found awaiting me on my bed after returning from an evening out. Although, I was not able to explain the type of pillow I was wanting. I happen to prefer foam/synthetic or in essence, non-feather. That was a little much for this Australian accent to manage to convey to Alexa, but I was assured it was on my shopping list!

Not to be critical, as I believe many of us appreciate that in a commercial environment it is a work in progress. In the hotel environment there are a number of factors that will play into clear communication between the guest and the platform. Of course the more data that is built up around the world as the platform is deployed, the better this will automatically be. Although I did wonder whether this could be an easier experience for offshore destinations where hotels generally gather more specific information about the guest. Nationality or language information being key. It won’t fully overcome the situation particularly if there are multiple nationalities or languages in the room, but it would be a start and the property management system does share this type of information with third party systems.

That said, it’s a good thing and naturally it will be coming to a hotel near you in the next few years as deployment gathers momentum. I really enjoy the enthusiasm David, my good friend Jeffrey JC Clement and the team at Volara has shown in the market place for this shift in technology.

I’m also looking forward to seeing the voice interaction capability being deployed in a staff facing mode. I feel there are potentially greater productivity gains to be made in the hotel operation. After all 80% of the technology in a hotel is used by the staff. It seems to me just a matter of time before we can turn a guest facing device toward the people providing the hospitality experience.

It does feel strange sitting in a room talking to myself! Or at least an inanimate object. Although I’ve read recently that talking to yourself is apparently a very healthy thing to do. More benefits to a hotel stay than just a good nights sleep!

Charlotte Somers, Frank Wolfe, Rich Siegel, Kristin Gassick and the author at the Hospitality Upgrade CIO Summit in Seattle

Summiting in Seattle

There I was in Seattle for the Hospitality Upgrade 2018 CIO Summit. Rich Siegel and the team have been conducting this event for 18 years now, which in itself is great longevity, and this year he had asked me if I would curate the educational content.

Sea-planing to collect lunch ingredients over Puget Sound

If you’ve not been to a Hospitality Upgrade event I hope that you one day have that opportunity. A great deal of energy and thought goes into these events to present a unique and insightful experience. Beyond working with Rich and the team, it also gave me the opportunity to reunite with Charlotte Somers of Somers Communications, whom I came to know through the Hospitality Upgrade Vendor Summit, and worked on creating unique events for me in past roles.

The CIO Summit audience is the technology leadership of North American hospitality. It’s the opportunity for leading technologists to share experiences and challenges with a peer group in an environment where their industry colleagues have a full appreciation of each other’s circumstances. Here they can speak freely and learn from each other. There is no other forum like this in the industry.

This years event was literally non-stop due to a full educational, entertainment and networking program. I was fortunate to be supported in the program delivery by Dr Marianne Broadbent of NGS Global, discussing leadership and the importance of trust for modern technologists as the keynote. Greg Duff of Garvey Schubert & Barer, heading their hospitality division, provided insight into some of the pressing legal challenges facing technologists today. Chris Ahlgrim of the Global Hotel Alliance discussed the challenges of GDPR compliance on a global scale. The FBI gave valuable depth to the nature of cybercrime and the direct impact on hospitality. Andrew Arthurs of Two Roads Hospitality and Christian Cooper of Dream Hotel Group gave life and direct personal experience to the rising phenomena of in room voice assistants. Ian Millar of Ecole Hotelier de Lausanne spoke on the efforts to introduce hospitality students to technology and initiatives at the school to encourage students to become problem solvers through technology, and Ken Shaw and Duane Wehking of Boeing Global Services, enlightened us on the technology that makes Boeing tick. We were anchored by Jeremy Rock of RockIT Group moderating the CIO Round Table and Frank Wolfe of HFTP providing an update of the activities the organisation is undertaking in representation of technology professionals. A full recap of the content will be published in the next edition of Hospitality Upgrade. Keep an eye out for it.

Tom Douglas. Mr Food Seattle getting CIO’s hot and bothered over the stove.

The attendees thoroughly enjoy this experience. I particularly enjoyed seeing the camaraderie of the group, some of whom have been in attendance for more than a decade, as well as the welcoming nature the group has to people either new in their leadership role or new to the industry. True hospitality professionals.

It was an enjoyable experience developing a program based upon my experiences as a CIO in past lives, and discussing the pressing challenges for technologists where technology has finally come into its own across industry.

A Douglas Dakota DC3 and the Dreamlifter at Boeing

Adding on the Extras

Of late, one of the topics that has been on the industry discussion table has been ancillary revenues. What is that? All the other products and services that hotels and resorts offer to the guest beyond a guestroom. In fact the greater the scale of the property, the more ‘ancillary products’ available. Consider for example transport, dinner or a show. Even activities ranging from an in-house spa to a day on the ski slopes.

Hotel Kazgebi’s dining room courtesy of Design Hotels
This has become a topic in my view for a few different reasons. 1. It’s getting far more competitive in hotel world as more and more hotels are built around the world. The challenge for share as well as the impact on room revenues is forcing operators to find the next dollar. 2. The rise of ‘activities’ and activity technology creating an interest in the space. 3. There is a great deal of capital tied up in the provision of ancillary products and services.

My personal view is that ancillary or extra is a misleading term in itself. There is nothing extra about these products. In most hotels these products existed from the time of build. They are a part of the hospitality experience.

So what’s missing?

The industry has become extremely adept at the science of room sales. Today this is an electronic pipeline, whichever channel the flow of business is coming from. Hoteliers who cannot present inventory in this manner are behind the eight ball from a sales perspective. For the most part that’s where it ends.

Beatles LOVE in Las Vegas, courtesy of Cirque du Soleil

The remainder of the inventory of products and services available to the guest can not be presented in a unified manner either electronically to the guest, or even to the staff as a coherent booking experience.

Hydrotherapy Pool at Chewton Glen in Hampshort, UK courtesy of Goodthings magazine

Larger organisations have invested significant funds in attempt to bring about disparate siloes of inventory in a customer facing booking experience for a level of success. Although this is a circumstance that eludes the majority of operators.

What is required is a platform that is capable of housing all product inventory and dynamic pricing for the entire scope of the hospitality operation. In this way staff can present a basket of goods and services in a coherent sales process for the guest, whether that be in direct communication or online. Expecting staff to bounce around multiple applications or transfer the guest from one ‘business’ to another is a fools errand and a poor customer experience.

The fleet at Penisula Tokyo, courtesy of Peninsula Hotels Group

In my view this is a major challenge for the hospitality sector, as well as a great opportunity to bring the discipline of room sales into all parts of the business and increase revenues. Also of pressing importance, lest food & beverage, lifestyle and activities, and meetings business are also to go the way of the OTA’s along with room business.

Vegas Travel & Hospitality Tech Meetup

It’s been five months now since Cheyne Cole and I launched Testbed.Vegas and commenced building a community of like minded people surrounding the technology experience for the traveler in Las Vegas.

Leon Pashnick of Aqua PMS

Most pleasing for us is the breadth of industry that joins us for the various events. Everything from tour operators, to industry students, software vendors to the industry, investors, incubators, CIO’s and industry interested parties. Not only interesting as organisations, but great people too.

We feel like we’ve only just begun and already we’ve seen presentations on topics as diverse as automated vehicles, consumer travel portals and brands and hospitality operational automation platforms. In the coming weeks we present e-sports and Blockchain.

Vegas Travel & Hospitality Tech Meetup

The next phase in the roadmap is creating the physical space that will be Testbed.Vegas as a place for technology company’s to call home in the largest consolidated travel market in the world. More to come!

Happening’s around the Bright Light City

It’s end of year event season as the various industry sectors gather communities during budgeting season. One final opportunity to present ideas and opportunities to operators as they plan for technology investments in the coming financial year.

One of the great things about Las Vegas is that so many of these industry events happen here.

In the next few months we have;

G2E, the global gaming industry expo.

The CIO Roundtable by Jeannie Caruso’s Gaming & Leisure, a fellow Vegas local, gathering the gaming technology leadership in Las Vegas.

Arival, an across travel industry event focused on guest experience.

IMEX, focused on the global meetings and incentives industry.

Eye For Travel, focused on travel distribution and marketing platforms for the industry.

Expedia’s global event is in early December.

Not the least of which will be Vegas Travel & Hospitality Tech as we move toward the end of 2018. Our next meetup is on October 17th with Winding Tree on the topic of Blockchain in travel.

Each forum presents a different aspect of the industry and Testbed.Vegas will be around these events. If you don’t know about the events ask us at the next meetup.

That’s all the news that’s fit to print. Cheyne and I hope to see you soon.