In the final part of our series, Finn Schulz, IT director at Radisson SAS in Denmark, talks to Sara Guild about how technology affects the business
Caterer: From your point of view as an IT director, what would you say was the single most beneficial advance in technology for the hospitality industry?
Finn Schulz: I think cross-property recognition of guests is the biggest issue at the moment. We want and need guest profiles in order to recognise the person who has a very good visit at one hotel and pops up at a third or fourth unit and is not being recognised. This is the biggest improvement and the biggest thing you're going to see in the future.
The US market is very keen on this approach, but the European Union directive on data protection may make it difficult for companies to exchange data of this nature. What is your feeling on this?
FS: We would like to use the technology to offer a better service to people. I believe one-to-one marketing has two aspects to it. One of them is the service improvement. If we've done one-to-one marketing correctly, it should be a product tailored to you as a person. The problem comes when there is a hard sell and multiple company databases are being used, or customers are being contacted by telephone or e-mail.
Is IT something that can take the place of humans in certain situations?
FS: No, the human element is very important. The main aim of IT is to serve the customers better. We're not saving labour by putting in computer systems, I don't think anybody can say that. Perhaps a one-star or two-star property can save some labour costs by automating the process, but we can't automate the front desk and have that as the only option. It's an alternative, and may be addressing the people who are already technology-minded, the guest who would like a fast check-in, etc. But if you want the personal service at the desk, and have the time for it, you should be free to go there.
How do you integrate IT people into an industry that is people-oriented?
FS: There has to be a lot more education in the use of IT, not to understand the system, but to be able to use tools for personal computing like Word, Excel, database tools, etc. It is a problem, because you are in an environment of hotel and hospitality people. IT is a single-person job of a very different type. We have to make sure that they communicate with operations, that they fit in with the rest of the hotel and vice versa.
How do you see the Internet impacting the hospitality industry?
FS: It could be a revolution for the distribution systems, like the global distribution systems and the very large centralised systems. The customer's city destination may be the focal point in the beginning and they could look into theatre tickets, restaurants and their menus, and so on - things we would never manage to update live on our current central systems. This may then fit with the one-to-one marketing as well, because the individual could communicate directly with different providers.
What percentage of your business is coming through the Internet?
FS: In the first four to five months we had very few reservations out of it. I think it was below 100. But it is already 10 times more than last year, so you can see that while the numbers are not that big the growth factor is enormous.
Where growth will also occur is on the corporate intranets, which is the same technology as the Internet. We have about six large corporations that want to change their booking process to operate through their intranet rather than the central reservation systems.