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Technology:  getting it right in the hotel industry

​​Hospitality technology and data security are Monday's discussion points at #IHIF, and the Avenue9 team believe that the industry needs to sharpen up its act. 

JLL have recently acquired Avenue9, a specialist team of technology consultants who assist hotel companies by designing, implementing and managing IT strategies and systems.

Business Development Manager Jamie Moore… When it comes to Hotel Techology, Hoteliers have a habit of going for the 'whizz bang wallop' guest technology before investing in better selection and maximisation of the core systems that drive performance and efficiency. There is risk in positioning the business in this way. It's a bit like getting Botox: If you invest heavily just because it looks good and delivers a 'wow' factor, in five years you'll be investing yet again. The more you invest, the more you have to keep investing. Investment should match and enhance the business identity, not be the identity itself.

This is true of both front of house tech, like expensive in-room tablets, which quickly go out of vogue, and back room security systems, which need to constantly evolve in the face of emerging threats. Sales and Marketing Director Philippa Witheat adds that if hospitality companies continue to neglect investing in technology, they risk becoming as obsolete as the systems they use. "If you don't invest you'll get left behind, and the later you leave it, the more serious your need for investment in robust and agile data security systems."

More hoteliers need to realise that IT is an enabler for staff. Modern, up-to-date systems help trained users to do their jobs more efficiently, but Witheat believes that perception is key. Hoteliers must change their attitudes and become aware that IT expenditure is a long-term incremental investment, rather than a one-off cost. In the past, hotels have tended to buy an off-the shelf, ring-fence security system, only upgrading once it has become useless and obsolete. Witheat is scathing about this approach: "As a hotel operator, you wouldn't let your towels become threadbare, so why allow technology to become archaic and dysfunctional? Most hotels budget a small percentage  of annual revenue for upkeep of fixtures and fittings, to keep the property running smoothly. But where is the allocation for tech upgrades, training and support?"

An old-fashioned approach still dominates here. Kevin Edwards, Local Director, is astonished that hotels can spend £20,000 on a Persian rug without blinking, and yet refuse to spend half as much on protecting their vast reams of priceless guest and company data. "Hospitality firms still operate in an environment where system interfaces and cloud storage are talked about as if they were brand new." Hospitality companies need to get up to speed, and quickly, especially when trying to appeal to millennial guests, who demand the latest technology at their fingertips at all times, and expect nothing but the best.

But beware the mismatch; customer-facing technology is like fine tailoring; nobody wants an ill-fitting suit. Moore is adamant that hotel companies need to identify the systems and hardware that best align with their brand and their way of working; "Nineteenth-century country house hotels and iPads are not a natural fit". It would appear that certain new technologies can have an instantly detrimental impact on a hotel's carefully-considered aesthetics.

Technology systems are not just for data protection and in-hotel guest enjoyment, though. Edwards believes that hotels should make better use of existing technology to improve the booking experience and simultaneously drive higher revenues. As he puts it, "OTAs can only book a room; they cannot offer anything auxiliary. Hoteliers need to become smarter and put more of their services online, so that guests can book a room and add a spa session or golf lesson to the booking instantly."