In every area of hotel operations, from food and beverage and guest relations to marketing and reservations, the way we do business and serve our customers is increasingly shaped by the world of technology.
One of the main engines driving this change is the Internet. Whether or not you believe the hype, there can be no doubt that it will transform the jobs of everyone involved in the business of travel, tourism and hospitality.
An International Hotel & Restaurant Association (IH&RA) gathering earlier this year set out to identify which aspects of the hi-tech revolution will reshape hospitality, and to anticipate their likely impact. Its findings confirmed my own thoughts on the importance of understanding the challenges and changes brought about by technology.
We all know that change is constant, and inevitable. A company's success depends on its ability to anticipate changes, and adapt its strategy accordingly. In my experience, businesses have three typical responses to change:
So how is technology revolutionising the hospitality industry? Well, consider the implications for marketing. Concepts such as "data warehousing" and "data mining" are gaining credence as solutions to the problem of information overload.
These new technologies allow for the collection and analysis of vast amounts of data on guest behaviour, spending habits and preferences. They also help us determine "lifetime value" - how much the guest is worth over a lifetime, which reinforces the importance of guest retention schemes.
The right tools
Finding the right tools for handling this data becomes a key challenge. If selected properly, they will provide information to answer every marketing person's fundamental unknowns about the customer.
The think-tank also drew attention to the potential for new technologies to provide the ultimate in personalised guest services - to cater for what has now become the "segment of one".
Traditional competitive advantages such as price, location and amenities become less important once we have access to a database of customer information and buying patterns that help us provide higher levels of personalised service and value.
From the customer's perspective, the Internet allows consumers to make direct comparisons between a huge range of products and services.
The result is a more demanding customer looking for the best in quality, price and speed of delivery. Coming up with the goods requires a flexible, lean organisation, informed staff and smart, easy-to-use information systems.
The Internet is also rapidly becoming the most sought-after amenity in hotel rooms. The guest room used to be a place to sleep for the traveller. In recent years, it has also had to become an entertainment centre, a communications hub and an office for the "road warrior".
Lastly, the think-tank determined that the industry needs better ways to assess the value of technology. Not surprisingly, it failed to reach consensus on how this may be achieved.
But it was agreed that companies with good business plans, and a technology strategy to support and complement them, are in a far better position to exploit the future than are those without.
EURHOTEC, the pan-European hospitality technology exhibition and conference, will take place in Nice, France, from 25-27 February 1998.
EURHOTEC aims to provide expert and practical information on technology products and trends.
For information, contact IH&RA on: 00 33 1 44 89 94 00, fax: 00 33 1 40 36 73 30, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.