Harish Chandra, Director, IT, Sarovar Hotels Pvt Ltd

In order to enhance user experience, deliver better output and improve business efficiency, enterprises in the travel and hospitality industry are making concerted efforts to leverage technologies such as internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud. Big data analytics seems to have emerged as the key disruptor in this sector as it helps companies better understand the behaviour and preferences of travellers, and accordingly come up with customised service options. While these technological advancements have provided several benefits, the deployment and management of these ICT solutions is laden with challenges such as heavy capex and opex, maintenance and management of the requisite infrastructure, and the need to stay updated with the rapidly evolving technological space. Industry experts share their views on the evolving ICT needs of the sector and future technology trends…

What role is ICT playing in the travel and hospitality industry?

Our industry has always been about three Bs – bed, bathroom and breakfast. But some­where around 2000, a fourth B, broadband, became important too. The invention of the smartphone in 2007 has put a lot of pressure on hotel companies to provide Wi-Fi. A guest will not stay at a hotel that does not offer free high speed internet access.

Also, earlier guests used call centres to book rooms. Now, with the advent of social media, processes such as internet booking engines, online marketing, and customer engagement have transformed. Today, 80 per cent people go to more than 40 websites and 60 per cent of customers use mo­bile phones to check different websites, while making online bookings. Hotels are trying to leverage the concept of SMAC (social media, analytics and cloud), which is no more a buzzword in the hospitality industry.

What are the key ICT solutions deployed by your organisation? How have they improved your business performance and efficiency?

We host our website, micro-websites, reservation systems, email system and training manuals on the cloud. We are also in the process of implementing a new central customer reservation system. Further, we have revamped our website to make it more responsive. We also use ICT for guest en­gagement such as regular social media posts. We believe in the principle of “keep it simple and sober” to offer home-away-from-home experience, as the average stay of a guest is less than two days and we don’t want technology to become a burden.

“Our industry has always been about three Bs – bed, bathroom and breakfast. But somewhere around 2000, a fourth B, broadband, became important too.” Harish Chandra

How are new-age technologies like AI, cloud, IoT and big data analytics transforming the travel and hospitality industry?

New technologies, particularly AI, have not matured much in the hospitality industry. The machine learning processes are also not accurate. They only help in increasing accuracy from 40-45 per cent to 60-65 per cent, while we are looking at a solution that can take accuracy levels up to 99.9 per cent. IoT can help in winning customer loyalty by customising the stay, but the adoption has been slow so far. Further, hotels are not using robots because manpower is cheap in India and we are in the “people” business and Asia is known for “Atithi Devo Bhava” and warm hospitality.

What are the challenges faced by your organisation in managing the existing IT and telecom infrastructure, and deploying new technologies?

First and foremost, technology becomes obsolete very fast. Solutions developed for other industries are dumped in the hospitality industry. The other key challenges are the risk of cyberattacks and data security breaches. The IT budget is generally about 1 per cent of the total hotel cost. Now, from that 1 per cent we have to allocate almost 20-30 per cent for security technologies to protect our websites, servers and systems from hacking. We need more firewalls and antivirus solutions.

Going forward, what are the key technology trends that will shape the future of the travel and hospitality industry?

Going forward, blockchain, business intelligence, big data, bots, robots and drones will make significant inroads into the sector. Currently, we are paying high commissions to online travel agencies (OTAs) and other third parties. Once blockchain gains adoption, this expense will come down as there will be no middlemen. In the future, all hotels will adopt this technology so that data is decentralised and it remains safe and secure.