Increasingly, technology underpins many of the processes in the hospitality industry. So what will be the main trends in 2008, and what are the technologies to watch over the next 12 months? Ross Bentley asks the experts
Development director, Laterooms.com
User-generated content, advances in WiMax, and the sophistication of websites will all make a difference in the next 12 months.
Last year saw an explosion of user-generated content, with review sites adding a new dimension to the hotel industry. This will continue into 2008, so hoteliers will have nowhere to hide as more and more customers post hotel reviews, photos and videos online.
But this isn't a bad thing. It could even broaden hotels' client bases by widening their reach. Hotels must ensure, however, that processes are in place to moderate what is being posted.
Proprietors will also have to take a more strategic approach to the increasingly important online world. The internet is one of the first places customers go to look for a hotel, and websites must be usable, attractive and offer a true picture of what consumers will experience. Otherwise, hoteliers will find themselves in a difficult position come 2009.
Deputy managing director, Micros
The ongoing technology skills gap in the industry will drive more companies to outsource many aspects of their technology operations. This could take the form of complete service and support for all IT systems, or just management of menu item and stock item changes and associated reporting.
Rising labour costs and the hikes in interest rates over the past 12 months are also affecting operators' margins, and this will lead to companies looking for ways to streamline their business operation and functions.
Another challenge is the availability of sales and operational data 24/7, which is being met by more internet-based applications.
In 2008, I expect to see further implementation of cashless systems, particularly in sporting venues and stadia, and an increase in the number of kiosk-style self-ordering terminals in quick-service restaurants.
Sales director, Fretwell-Downing Hospitality
We expect to see increasing take-up of web-based technology, particularly in the contract catering and hospitality sectors, as they strive to increase efficiency by improving the quality and timeliness of management information.
Online systems help make information transfer much more immediate, with live data capture now possible between sites that are geographically separate. This will make it easier for firms to make informed decisions based on the here and now.
There will also be expansion in applications for hand-held devices, such as those used in auditing procedures like health and safety, or asset management.
In 2008 the technologies to watch will be:
- Web hosting - enabling businesses to rent software packages that are stored on a remote server by a host and accessed through a secure website.
- Real-time data - from sources such as electronic point of sale terminals, vending machines, cash loaders, orders and processed invoices using a digital dashboard.
- Internet spreadsheets - giving the ability to each operating site to access live spreadsheets for capturing data. These have all the advantages of standard spreadsheets but with the addition of real-time validation and consolidation of data, and automatic calculation on the master spreadsheet.
General manager, Sugarvine.com
Just as today consumers install a desktop media player, they will start to install desktop website applications. These new applications will move websites beyond the limitations of web pages, such as loading times and file sizes, as well as creating a direct link between the user and their hospitality venue.
Diversions, such as online adverts, will no longer be an issue, and we will begin to see greater opportunities for rich media and immersive shopping experiences - because, as an application serves Flash-based content on what is already stored on a customer's desktop, content can be provided much faster than by using an internet connection.
Managing director, Hospitality and Leisure Manpower
I see professional and social networks becoming increasingly important for accessing not only new customers but potential employees.
Job boards access only those who are actively looking for a job, but Web 2.0 technology enables employers to perform internet searches and find more people than traditional job boards. Not only can employers check out a potential candidate's personal profile, but they can see who their friends are and what they do at weekends.
With growing consumer demand for traceability of food supplies "from farm to fork", tracing technologies could well become popular in 2008. Touch-screen records linked to GPS satellite location systems will allow all those in the supply chain to place orders, check details of where the food item originated and determine its current location - a boon to all those seeking a sustainability accreditation.
Managing director, Restaurantdiary.com
In many ways, the adoption of new technology in catering, particularly online systems, is in its infancy but we are now reaching a tipping point.
For starters, it's no longer enough just to have a website it now has to earn its keep by offering services that enhance the restaurant's relationship with the customer - from recipes and videos to blogs and online booking.
More restaurants also need to wake up to issues such as search engine optimisation, and think about how customers find them online - for example, by using restaurant marketing portals such as Toptable and Square Meal.
Restaurants and hotels are also going to have to be cleverer about how they market themselves if they really want to succeed, and will need to embrace integrated CRM (customer relationship management) and marketing systems to improve the way they gather and use data to drive repeat business. Getting the blueprint right for your first outlet can make expansion much easier.
I also expect to see the emergence of GDS (global distribution systems) in the restaurant industry, as has happened in the airline and hotel industries.
Managing director Europe, Open Table
We are seeing the growth of online restaurant bookings, mirroring the early days of booking airline tickets or cinema tickets online. And although, in the UK, currently only around 5% of tables are booked over the internet, this number will grow in 2008 and beyond.
If you look to the USA, where online restaurant booking is more established and the consumer internet penetration is more mature, 10% of tables are now booked online. In a number of progressive cities, such as New York and San Francisco, some restaurants now report this number to be as high as 25 to 30%.
Consumers realise that searching for a restaurant online is more convenient than ringing around, and we expect internet bookings to gain on phone bookings, with a growing number of diners reserving their table out of restaurant hours.
Director, Star Logic
Fast internet connections are now available in the most remote areas of the country, and this has helped the internet mature as a serious platform for delivering viable business solutions.
This, in turn, has seen many providers of IT systems redevelop, or plan to redevelop, their solutions to take advantage of emerging web technologies. I see this trend continuing throughout 2008 and beyond.
The increase in the number of web-based solutions will coincide with an increased demand to link previously disparate solutions from different vendors.
For example, we have recently integrated our recipe management solution with EPoS systems, invoice and order management products and cashless payment card systems.
Hostec ticket details A ticket to attend the Hostec Conference, which runs on 18-21 February at the ExCel centre in London, costs £95 for the full-day conference. There is the option of attending a Hostec networking party in the evening, complete with a hot buffet and entertainment, for £45. Alternatively, a ticket for both events can be had for £130.
The Hostec seminar programme itself is free.
HosTec seminars at a glance
Here is the programme of seminars confirmed as Caterer went to press:
Monday 18 February Noon
Digital convergence Graeme Powell, managing director, iBAHN
Revenue management and distribution Carl Oldsberg, director of revenue management, Choice Hotels
The intelligent hotel and the needs of Yotel Mark Elford, Probooker
Technology and customer service Rufus Harper, Agellus Hotels
Tuesday 19 February 11am
Contactless technology Susan Hicks, Contactless Intelligence
Zen and the art of PCI compliance Richard Hollis, chief executive officer, Orthus
Green technology: a tool for reducing the ecological and carbon footprint of hotels Motti Essakow, natural capitalist
Wednesday 20 February 11am
Maximising customer benefit in hotels Eoin O'Connell, City Inn
The benefits of converged technologies for the hotel industry Gary Francis, VDA
Pay as you go! Chris Persson, the Livebookings Network, and Michael Caines, Abode Hotels
Ten steps to choosing a property management system Guy Clinch, managing director, Best Western Berkeley hotel, Worthing