Hotelypia preview: Digital essentials

28 March 2014
Hotelypia preview: Digital essentials

With the industry increasingly focused on digital marketing and online booking, technology will play a significant part at Hotelympia 2014. HOSPA chief executive Carl Weldon tells James Stagg what visitors can expect

What's the main focus of the HOSPACE Hub at Hotelympia? The hub is made up of three elements: the hub lounge, the technology theatre, and the business clinic featuring experts from Buell Consulting. It will be a club-style facility where HOSPA members and sponsors can meet, greet and network. It also means all visitors can come and understand what we do and learn a little more about our educational facilities.

The purpose of HOSPA is to provide information, education and inspiration. At Hotelympia the business clinic, technology theatre and hub provide all of those too.

How has the technological focus at Hotelympia shifted in recent years?

The other focus is on how it's delivered. These days it's more sensible to have management systems deployed in the cloud. So instead of having a server in a darkened room, with a good property bandwidth you can have access to property management systems and everything else via an internet connection.

How has this shift impacted on hotels? Hotels have had to realise that guests are likely to have better technology at home than is available in hotel rooms. So hotels are challenged to stay up to date.

It's as much about providing Wi-Fi and bandwidth as the room, television or room service. It's not about being high-tech; guests want to bring their own devices and hoteliers should facilitate that.

Near Field Communications mean that check-in is possible via smartphone, and you can use the same phone as your room key. In Germany you'll soon be able to book a room from your BMW satnav and transfer the technology to your phone to use as your room key - and be checked in before you arrive.

Is there now greater recognition of roles like that of the revenue manager? Revenue management is a growing discipline, which hoteliers need to embrace. The larger companies have got to grips with it, and have serious professionals applying high technology to the science and art of it. At the other end of the market, smaller hoteliers might not be applying any revenue management principles at all. In the middle there are those who may be applying it one day a week but don't understand it well enough to get the full benefit.

At HOSPA we provide access to understanding revenue management along with a relevant qualification. It means someone coming from reservations - where revenue managers traditionally come from - can understand and study the art of revenue management.

I believe in four or five years there will be a commercial director in most hotels, who will manage everything from digital marketing to revenue management and even a bit of big data analysis.

What are the key revenue management messages at the show? The Technology Summit at Hotelympia offers a good mix of revenue management, digital and pure technology. There will be sessions to suit revenue managers, technologists, those in finance. There are good sessions on the future of Wi-Fi in the industry, and Tony Oliveira from Hotstats will discuss the role played by sales performance benchmarks, while PwC will also provide its predictions for the industry.

If a visitor can only attend one presentation, what would you suggest? It's a bit like asking what you should include in your hotel. We think there's something for everyone in the schedule so it's worth taking a look at the site to plan your day.
Having said that, on the Wednesday afternoon on the HOSPACE Hub stage there is a session on the connected customer, which will deal with engaging customers through digital channels. If you are a hotelier looking to understand the social aspects of technology I'd recommend it.

You're chairing a session on hotel rooms of the future. What does that entail? I'll be interviewing Whitbread business development director Simon Ewins about what Whitbread will deliver with its Hub by Premier Inn hotels.

Sometimes what you need in the industry is a serious player to step up to the plate, look at what's going on and invest in the future. Hub by Premier Inn is already a four year-story, with millions spent on its development. There are 1,700 rooms in the pipeline, with the first opening in St Martin's Lane in London in November.

Right now we're at the stage where a number of big players, including Citizen M, Bloc Hotels and Q Hotels, are challenging the industry in terms of technology.

What are the greatest challenges for hoteliers in terms of keeping up with technology? It's easier to include the infrastructure on new builds, but the hotelier still has to have the gumption to do it. It's interesting that even some hoteliers who offer free Wi-Fi have issues. It's not just about switching it on. Does it work throughout the hotel? The structure of the building, particularly in older hotels with thick walls, can mean that Wi-Fi still struggles.

There are two challenges. One is the vision and investment; the other is to do it properly. The technology on show at Hotelympia should inspire operators to take those steps.

How has HOSPA changed in the past five years? We changed the name in 2011 and since then have completely changed the brand and the way in which we present ourselves to our members. We've made ourselves more accessible and broken down into three communities of IT, revenue management and finance. Our fourth community is a combination of all three, which we'll call commercial.

Our event, HOSPAce, has grown dramatically in the last three years. In addition our new formal revenue management qualification is now available to the industry. As we received some funding for it from the Savoy Educational Trust an element has to be publicly available. So now the highest ranking page on our website is the one where you can download a free revenue management booklet about standard practice in the industry.

The HOSPAce Hub and the Technology Presentation Theatre is part of Hotelympia, which takes place at ExCeL London on 
28 April to 1 May.www.hotelympia.com

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