The inaugural Hospitality Technology Forum is taking place in Q4 providing a platform for IT, security and engineering professionals to discuss and debate the major technological challenges, opportunities and trends facing the hotel industry in 2017 and beyond.
Taking part in a special roundtable event with Hotel News Middle East were Jeroen Wisse, IT director AccorHotels; Ali Tariq, IT manager Media One Hotel; Abdul Bari, senior regional key account manager – MEA and Indian Ocean Interel and Fraidy Pinto, area director IT for Middle East & Turkey Carlson Rezidor.
Some of the topics up for discussion at the forum will include bandwidth, big data and the evolution of guestroom technology, with a line-up of speakers combining a wealth of hospitality technology experience.
There will also be expert discussions on data and payment security, energy efficiency and how hoteliers can best present their proposals to get approval for technology investments.
With that in mind, Hotel News Middle East hosted a roundtable event at Novotel Al Barsha to set the agenda for the forum
What are the trends in hospitality technology right now?
Ali Tariq: The latest trend is personalisation. The guest needs more personalisation like self -check-in and self-check-out systems. More interactive technology for in-room services is needed.
Abdul Bari: It’s important to give the personalised touch to the guest. Quite often the guest is looking to just call, they just want to press a button and know their request has been sent. It’s about providing the information right there in their hand. It’s about understanding how easy it is for them to access their requests. Technology plays a vital role in this.
Fraidy Pinto: The most important thing in hospitality is focusing on your guest’s needs and for us it is about making it simple and giving easy access to the internet. It’s about giving that connectivity on his or her device and that requires significant investment in terms of infrastructure, which needs to be done on a regular basis. I think that’s improving over the years, it used to be a challenge but owners are realising how important it is. It is becoming less of a challenge. It is also driving the investment within the hospitality industry in terms of what a guest needs.
Jeroen Wisse: The trend right now is big data. First you have to be able to cope with it from a volume perspective, then see what data matters, but then you have to do the right thing with it. If you can’t cope with the volume then don’t bother collecting it. Doing the right thing is the ultimate question we face.
Fraidy: The Internet of Things stores can do so much including things like controlling the temperature in a room. We have to decide where to use humans or use the Internet of Things instead.
Jeroen: There’s a fine line between the Internet of Things being helpful and being intrusive. It is about getting the right service for the guest and reducing the time and effort to get it to them. It is not to free up resources to increase profit, but to improve guest experience.
Ali: Internet is a basic amenity, but still in this region hotels are selling internet. That should be in the past, it’s like an amenity for the hotel, just like a bottle of water. Each and every person does not just have one device. Minimum they have three devices: a phone, a tablet and a laptop so imagine if 200 rooms are fully occupied, just how many gadgets are connected.
Jeroen: Look at another hotel with a huge ballroom. With a wedding, in the same hotel at the same time you could have another 200 people there. That means at the same time you could have 800 to 1,000 people requiring one gig of bandwidth.
Fraidy: Put yourself in the shoes of a guest – if he doesn’t have sufficient bandwidth he goes and says that on TripAdvisor.
Jeroen: The challenge with that is they are just going to say the hotel has rubbish internet; that’s the comment it gets. If it’s not user-friendly then yes that’s something we can do something about. If we allocate 1MB per potential device then who is going to pay for that?
What are the issues when it comes to data security?
Jeroen: You have got to make sure devices are isolated on WiFi. It is not as strongly implemented as I would like. Why are so many hotels still using unprotected PCs in a kiosk in the corner? You might need a log-in, but the data is still there with all the cookies and downloads from the last 200 users. It’s a data risk and it’s part of our responsibility to ensure we offer secure systems.
Abdul: We have to make sure as vendors that nobody can access our systems. If someone could hook into the system they could stop the entire room’s automated services. We had to go one step further and install a crypto chip in the controllers to ensure there is end-to-end protection.
Ali: One challenge is with emails containing malware. A lot of people experience their system going down because of emails.
Jeroen: There is an issue that if a hacker gets into the system he could end up broadcasting on all the TVs in the hotel or he could get access to all the invoices. Another point to take on board is that the risk of a breach is much higher in a hotel than it is at home because of the volume of people coming through.
Fraidy: At the end of the day, it’s not our information, it’s our guest’s information and their credit card details and the hotel can be liable if anything goes wrong. We have to take this very seriously.
Ali: Each and every device, including the public’s, should be isolated so nobody else can access your personal device. In this region data security is still an issue. Recently in Dubai a major company was hijacked and their entire data was lost.
When it comes to in-room technology how is the industry meeting guests’ demands?
Jeroen: We have to get away from standardised products. Interactive televisions and videos on demand are things that nobody cares about, so why are we still putting them in? Why do the owners and consultants put something in that’s costing us AED80,000 a year in maintenance contracts that nobody needs? Actually, one of the things we are rolling out is a screen cast to allow people to stream from their phones to the TV. It works on the majority of devices out there. Ten years ago, we were able to give the guests better technology than they could get at home. At home, you can buy a new television every two years. I cannot buy 600 new TVs every two years because the owner will ask if I’m going out of my mind.
Abdul: Products that we provide to clients have to be future proofed for the next five to maybe 10 years. As a company, we have to be able to produce a product that can be upgraded and up to date. The key point is flexibility.
When it comes to mobile integration what are the issues for the hospitality industry in the Middle East?
Fraidy: To get your information from a mobile when you’re working with a large organisation, like ours, you have to centralise the data so it’s accessible to other devices. Once it’s centralised you can engage with the guest or the employee. It gives you the opportunity to provide secure data.
Abdul: Mobile phones are used every day and the guests want to be able to operate everything through them from the TV to the lights and temperature. People want to be able to do everything from one point, for example on an iPod they want to be able to order food and watch television at the same time. Now you can switch off the light with the same technology and even see who is standing outside the door without going outside. There’s a thing now called BYOD (bring your own device) which hotels use and you just download an app to your device.
Jeroen; That’s all well and good but I still want to have a switch beside my bed to turn off the light. I don’t want to have to study a manual for 30 minutes to find out how to switch a light off. Is it really a priority for a guest?
Abdul: This is where the technology is going with Generation Z.
Jeroen: I’m not sure. I have kids that age and I’m sure they’d like it as a gadget but they are much more interested in making sure their internet is fast enough. More and more people have home automation thoug,h and this technology is coming fast. They’ll be able to turn on their air conditioning on the way home.
Abdul: We already have that, if we know a guest is coming we can start heating the room, it’s basically about energy saving.
What are the advantages to hoteliers of having this technology on their phones?
Jeroen: It gives alternative choices to guests but let’s not overcomplicate things. How often have you got all these devices in a hotel room and you want to charge your mobile phone but there’s no socket beside your bed?
Abdul: Customisation is important to any hotel because we have to adapt to the equipment.
Jeroen: We have actually started giving apps to the staff. One aspect is a duty roster schedule for deskless workers – housekeeping, F&B and engineering staff. The department heads can use it to set up the duty roster and the staff will have it on their mobile devices. Now the staff can share information within the team, put in a request for a shift change or ask for a leave date on their phone.
Ali: We also provide services on a mobile device where you can track guest requirements. If the guests raise a request it gets registered in our system.
Jeroen: Even if it is something as simple as ‘do not disturb’ it’s important information because it means staff don’t have to run every half hour to check the door. Mobile and data communication have also allowed us to communicate with guests, not just during and after their stay, but even before they have come. For example, we have online check-in for everything except passport registration. It means the guest doesn’t even have to go to the desk to pay their bill, they can leave their key with any member of staff. The bill has been settled.