Next Generation Technology: Trendy term or actual practice?

By Drew Rosser VP of Business Development, Whiteboard Labs | May 06, 2012

Next Generation, Next Gen., NG, how ever you say it, it is suppose to convey something state of the art, something new, cutting edge. Really? Or is it more or less the new marketing lingo used to lure clients in? I tend to believe the latter. Every industry does this and the hospitality industry is no exception. How many times do we hear, state of the art, space age technology, construction grade? These are just marketing terms used to sell products. So with that being said just do your due diligence when evaluating a technology decision.

I can't tell you how many HEDNA Conferences or HiTEC Shows I've been to where these terms are being thrown around like beads at Mardi Gras. As always, the proof is in the pudding. Let's step back a bit and start from the beginning. As a hotelier, Management Company, Franchisee...when shopping for technology you need to have a clear understanding of what your current needs are and what they will be in the next few years. Don't buy into something that will only satisfy your short term needs. You need to be looking at what your needs will be in six, twelve, twenty-four and thirty six months. Especially, when looking to make large hardware and or client side software purchases. How will the technology impact your business? Will it improve your business flow, reduce or eliminate costs, give you better analytics, increase revenue, is it scalable?

I for one am not very fond of the use of the term, "Next Generation". I don't know about you but if it takes an entire generation for a firm to enhance their offering I think I would be looking elsewhere. The one industry that I think gives the term merit is United States National Airspace System or NAS and their massive re-engineering of the air traffic control system from a ground based system to a satellite based system. Now I know "generation" especially how it is used with technology denotes a natural progression or advancement in that technology. But Next Generation should define what is coming next, what you are currently developing not what your current offering is. Something by definition cannot be "Next" if it is your current offer. Call it what you want but I'd rather base my decision on what something does, what I need it to do and how it impacts or improves my business flow. Not by the name. The technology sector for our industry needs to be more nimble and able to adapt rather than asking hotels to adapt to us. Our industry's technology needs to be innovative - constantly pursuing new ideas and ways of doing things. Not only does this mean with how the technology performs and feature sets but also the way this industry thinks about standard operating procedures across the various platforms that tie hotels to their client base. In some cases certain technology platforms must adhere to old business protocols that just slow everyone down and cause the true innovators to dummy down their offering due to the slow monolithic standards that are in place. Now there have been huge improvements over the last ten years but work still needs to be done.

Since we have the marketing phrase defined, let's take at look at where we are and what this next generation will look like. Single image inventory is no longer considered next generational technology. It's mandatory. Where improvements have come is in communication across distribution platforms, CRS, CRO, RMS, CRM and PMS integration and interfaces. Web based e-procurement solutions that consolidate purchasing into a single platform. Fewer hotel personnel are doing more than ever before. The speed in which we can access information and the sheer amount of data that is there is overwhelming. Data that in many cases is stored in various silos and not being shared across departments. This is where the rubber meets the road. How to combine data sources, analyze, react and or implement strategies is the key. Cross department utilization of the data is very important. Each area using collected stats from the other to improve communication with consumers so it is relevant and timely.

I certainly do not think that more data is what this industry needs. As I said, what we need is a more efficient way to handle the data. Then be able to put that data to work. This is also true for the consumer. The consumer now more than ever is making-buying decisions based on the information being collected from other consumers. Social networking is here to stay. Our industry is jumping in with both feet but it is still so new that I'm not real sure we really know how to work with it. What I see a lot of is participation but very little utilization. It will mature without a doubt. The cream will rise to the top.

Certainly, we cannot talk about next generation and not mention mobile devices and the potential they hold. Like the Internet ten years ago the use of mobile devices for making purchases is just in it's infancy in the US and Europe. The improvements of the browsing functionality of these devices coupled with faster download speed puts mobile into a place where it could actually move from Next Generation intrigue to actual practical use. We are just now starting to see what lies ahead in this arena.

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Social Media: Getting Personal

There Social media platforms have revolutionized the hotel industry. Popular sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube and Tumblr now account for 2.3 billion active users, and this phenomenon has forever transformed how businesses interact with consumers. Given that social media allows for two-way communication between businesses and consumers, the emphasis of any marketing strategy must be to positively and personally engage the customer, and there are innumerable ways to accomplish that goal. One popular strategy is to encourage hotel guests to create their own personal content - typically videos and photos -which can be shared via their personal social media networks, reaching a sizeable audience. In addition, geo-locational tags and brand hashtags can be embedded in such posts which allow them to be found via metadata searches, substantially enlarging their scope. Influencer marketing is another prevalent social media strategy. Some hotels are paying popular social media stars and bloggers to endorse their brand on social media platforms. These kinds of endorsements generally elicit a strong response because the influencers are perceived as being trustworthy by their followers, and because an influencer's followers are likely to share similar psychographic and demographic traits. Travel review sites have also become vitally important in reputation management. Travelers consistently use social media to express pleasure or frustration about their guest experiences, so it is essential that every review be attended to personally. Assuming the responsibility to address and correct customer service concerns quickly is a way to mitigate complaints and to build brand loyalty. Plus, whether reviews are favorable or unfavorable, they are a vital source of information to managers about a hotel's operational performance.  The February Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to effectively incorporate social media strategies into their businesses.