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Smart Services: Travel and hospitality industry turns to ICT

July 26, 2016

Smart Services: Travel and hospitality i...
The Indian travel and hospitality industry is increasingly turning towards information and communication technology (ICT) to improve business processes and meet consumer demands more effectively. A number of them are also exploring new-age technologies such as big data analytics and internet of things (IoT) to provide a personalised experience to their customers. Leading travel and hospitality enterprises discuss the various ICT tools they use, the latest trends in enterprise technologies and their future plans… 

SAMRAT-BOSE-AD-IT-Park-HotelsRajesh-Chopra-Senior-VP-IT-Oberoi-HotelsAjay-Shrivastava-VP-OYO-Rooms

What is your organisation’s IT and telecom blueprint?

Rajesh Chopra

The travel and hospitality industry’s IT and telecom requirements have undergone a sea change in the past two to three years. Hotels that provide internet services to guests have seen a huge spurt in usage and demand. A traveller carries 3.2 devices on average. As such, the internet consumption has gone up drastically.

The travel and hospitality industry works to personalise customer experience. Today, hotels are required to know their guests well in terms of their preferences, lifestyle and experiences from previous stays at our properties as well as other properties. This pre-arrival information is very critical and technology is helping the industry in meeting customer needs efficiently.

We have deployed the latest version of SAP-customer relationship management tools, which help us gather information about our guests. We were among the first hotel chains to introduce a tablet-based system in rooms wherein guests are provided tablets to control the ambient temperature, TV channels, internet, music, and place orders for in-room dining. We have also introduced in-room check-in, which eliminates the need to wait at the counter.

We are also in the process of consolidating our IT set-up. We removed 140 obsolete systems in one go and have brought them under enterprise resource planning. We are also working continuously towards improving our mobility and analytics capabilities.

Ajay Srivastava

There are two parts to our IT strategy – infrastructure and service. All the technologies and solutions used to run our offices come under infrastructure. The service side is what runs our applications. All our services are hosted on cloud platforms provided by Amazon Web Server and Azure.

What are some of the enterprise solutions/ applications that the company is using? How have these helped it enhance its business operations?

Samrat Bose

Property management system (PMS) on Oracle Opera – Whether a property is a small two-star hotel or a multi-site luxury brand, its availability, rates, reservations, guest profiles and in-house services can be managed with this application. Also, hotels can integrate their traditional PMS with a central reservation system (CRS) in a single database. PMS also helps hotels add any package item to any rate plan, allowing guests to dynamically enhance their packages and stay experience. Further, when customers make a reservation or check into a property, the PMS can determine their lifetime value. It also allows a hotel to track guest preferences, simplify reservations and provide guests with personalised and consistent services.

Rate Gain Enterprise Solution (ResGain) – ResGain is a robust hotel channel manager and online rate distribution and management solution that updates the hotel’s room inventory, rates and restrictions across various inline travel agents. It sends real-time updates to multiple online channels backed by its pooled inventory capability, reservation retrieval system, advanced productivity reports and promotion management.

Guest Feedback System – We have deployed Howazit, an end-to-end platform for personalising guest experience. Howazit empowers us to engage better with our guests, understand their needs, improve their overall experience, drive loyalty and ignite our positive online presence.

Ajay Srivastava

Our back-end infrastructure supports 20 applications, including six to seven mobile applications, six to seven online applications, mobile websites, etc. Apart from applications for consumers, we have apps for travel agents (which they can use to book rooms and earn a commission), for property managers (which helps in managing hotel information) and an owner app (for tracking various properties). Further, for our employees spread across 180 cities, we have deployed an application for audit functions. On the financial side, for settling payments between OYO and property owners, we have rolled out a module called Financial Reconciliation, which allows seamless settlement of accounts.

The property manager application helps in real-time inventory syncing across all hotels and properties listed on our site. This ensures that there is no overbooking of rooms. Through these apps, we have been able to overcome the operational challenges that an online travel agent typically faces.

What is the current level of adoption of technologies such as the cloud, IoT and big data analytics among Indian travel and hospitality enterprises?

Samrat Bose

Today, every industry is pursuing new ways to leverage different data and to bring all the constituents together across the customer value chain. Big data analytics can deliver a positive customer experience by using the right information at the right time. Many hotels and travel companies are already making the most of big data to enhance their financial performance and pave the way for a more distinctive and holistic experience for guests. In fact, big names in the industry have gone a step further and are using big data for predictive analytics to drive price optimisation. The key elements are booking trends, market dynamics and customer behaviour. With big data, they are even looking to gather detailed mouse movements of website visitors in real time as they browse web pages. The emergence of big data technology is continuously encouraging travel and hospitality companies to actively utilise various platforms like social media and email marketing among others, to tap potential clients.

Over the past few decades, there have been many attempts to adopt various technologies for tourism development, but very few have become successful. Most of them are limited to pilot projects or uncompleted prototypes. But one key sector in tourism that has been largely receptive to new technology is the hotel industry. It is also the sector that can benefit greatly from cloud computing. According to analysts, the hotel industry’s way of handling information and computer resources will soon be transformed with the migration to the cloud, regardless of the size of the hotel.

A number of hotels have already begun to use cloud technology to improve the overall guest experience. Some of these include improving the time-to-market of new systems through affordable pricing, as well as being able to extend the life of their existing systems in order to gain competitive advantages in the hospitality industry. Some hotels are being more creative in employing a cloud-based guest internet platform, which allows them to maximise revenue while providing a compelling guest experience.

Rajesh Chopra

The travel and hospitality industry is increasingly adopting new technologies such as cloud, big data and IoT. In fact, Oberoi Hotels pioneered the use of IoT in its efforts towards energy conservation. Even before people started talking about it, all our hotels had state-of-the-art energy management systems. With the help of technology we have been able to plug energy leakages in a big way and have been successful in saving close to 20 per cent of the energy on a year-on-year basis.

For our IT applications, we are currently undertaking consolidation. A few of our non-critical applications are already on the cloud while some will be moved to the cloud soon.

The primary target of the travel and hospitality industry is big data, which forms the basis of personalised services. For VIP guests, we collate information from various sources, including social media to understand their preferences, likes and dislikes. A pre-arrival report is sent before the guest reaches the hotel. Therefore, we are a fit case for the use of SMAC (social, mobility, analytics and cloud).

Ajay Srivastava

Technology adoption in this industry is still quite low. At OYO, however, we plan to use some of these upcoming technologies to enhance the user experience. We are looking at how IoT can be leveraged to provide a new-age experience to our customers. For instance, a guest should be able to use his smartphone to manage his check-in and check-out, control the room’s temperature, order tea/coffee, etc. Our aim is to make the consumer’s experience seamless. We are also exploring big data analytics. We will churn the data that is available and draw insights from it to personalise a guest’s experience. Providing personalised recommendations is next on our agenda.

What are the key challenges that enterprises in the travel and hospitality industry face with regard to managing their IT and telecom infrastructure?

Samrat Bose

The hospitality business model is characterised by high fixed costs and variable income. Fluctuations in occupancy and room rate demand tight cost control. At the same time, guests demand excellent service. In this environment, every advantage must be wrung from technology. Some of the ways in which communications technology can play a pivotal role in providing optimised solutions to key industry challenges are as follows:

• Guest profiling: Gathering and using guest preferences and intelligence to enable the delivery of a superior guest experience is a big challenge. IT can enable the business in making this data available for greater customer intimacy and anticipation of returning guest needs.

• Social media: Implementing and integrating new customer engagement channels, notably social media with contact centres for optimum efficiency, has become a key strategy. A hotel’s reputation is created in the digital space by reviewers and guests. Monitoring this and making careful interventions must be a priority for hotels.

• The demanding customer: Every guest touch-point can be a make-or-break experience, an opportunity to win or lose the repeat business that drives bottom line performance. We are exploring how these issues are actually communications based and how technology can be leveraged to deliver the experience that guests demand.

• Lowering costs, increasing revenue: Identifying new revenue streams while deriving savings through operational efficiencies is an important consideration for hospitality enterprises, especially from non-room revenue sources such as banquet facilities rooms, spas, golf, conference rooms and restaurants. Using technology to optimise staffing levels and the tools used by them (including mobile electronic devices required to do their jobs), and streamline shift changes to maximise productivity and savings is another key challenge in the sector.

Rajesh Chopra

The travel and hospitality industry faces challenges on three fronts.

First, the availability of telecom infrastructure in remote locations continues to be a challenge as many of our properties are located in these areas. This also makes moving to the cloud quite tough.

Second, the size of the industry is not very large and as such, not many innovations are being undertaken by IT companies in this domain. The industry is dependent on its own efforts.

Third, the rate of obsolescence in the industry is high. For instance, we get guests who possess the latest devices. Infrastructure-wise, we have to be ready well in advance to deliver the experience that the guest demands. It is an operational issue that needs to be constantly overcome.

Ajay Srivastava

For an enterprise in the travel and hospitality industry, managing the IT infrastructure in-house is a big challenge as it is not its core area of expertise. Therefore, a number of companies are turning to specialised providers for meeting their IT needs. As a policy, we prefer outsourcing our services. In-house hosting and server management are considered only when we do not find partners that suit our requirements.

What are the key technology trends that are likely to be witnessed by the travel and hospitality industry?

Samrat Bose

• Mobile devices and applications will enable personalised guest services.

• Software-as-a-service will be the new norm.

• Dynamic rate marketing in real time will be stronger than ever.

• Social media engagement will drive consumers’ purchasing power.

Rajesh Chopra

The hospitality industry is human-driven. People look for services with a personal touch. Therefore, this industry will not deploy technologies that replace human interaction.

Technology can play a big role in energy management. After manpower, our second biggest expense is energy costs. Any technology that helps the industry in energy conservation and management efforts will see a big market in the time to come.

An emerging area of concern is information security. It is a very important factor for our industry as we have to protect the guest’s data/information that we have gathered in our systems. The hospitality industry caters to some of biggest names of the country and protecting their information is a key priority. We also need a robust security system for our IT infrastructure, especially because our properties are spread across far-flung areas, and have decentralised systems. We are currently working towards improving our system security.

Ajay Srivastava

Technology has shifted away from being a savvy, online phenomenon and is beginning to drive human behaviour. For instance, in a hotel a lot of guests place requests for taxis at the reception during the morning hours. The people handling these requests may not be able to service everyone at the same time. Technology intervention can ease things by responding to requests in the order they were received. Solving human-intensive problems via technology is our goal. Technology may not be able to directly solve all problems, but it will surely drive behaviour that will enable solutions. However, it is difficult to say which technology is likely to dominate as it is constantly evolving.

 
 

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