Like virtually everything in our contemporary lifestyles, the travel and hospitality business has been radically disrupted by digital technology and the Internet.
Just a few decades ago, a trip would generally begin with an in-person visit to the local travel agent, or at least a phone call. Now, more than 80 per cent of people book their entire holiday or business trip online.
As a result, any hospitality or tourism provider with offline booking systems is at a significant disadvantage. In this feature we look at how IT efficiency, particularly via cloud technology, can help the hospitality industry remain competitive.
Access to the necessary data is a key part of this. A hotel booking system that is only available on a couple of machines at reception won't be very flexible, and will need further integration to synchronize with online facilities.
For this reason, cloud technology is looking increasingly favorable for hotels and guest houses. Using remote platforms to host vital software and data storage takes most of the emphasis off the in-house systems, saving on maintenance as well as the need for technical support staff.
Catering to tech-savvy guests
But cloud technology can also help deal with increasingly tech-savvy guests once they are enjoying their stay. In parallel to the Bring Your Own Device trend on corporate networks, the modern visitor is increasingly looking to access hotel services - checking in or out; ordering room service; booking spa or salon appointments - via tablet and smartphone, rather than the concierge or on-site customer services.
They could even be using their own devices whilst staying for social media updates, enjoying their own content rather than the hotel TV or in-room gaming services. While the hotel won't need to supply these services, it will be necessary to ensure they work properly, both in terms of having the necessary bandwidth and being able to traverse the security policies of the hotel's wired and wireless networking.
Catering to business class
Business customers, on the other hand, will increasingly want the ability to work from their rooms, accessing VPNs or other corporate extranet services. So these services will also need sufficient bandwidth and relaxed enough security to allow them to function properly.
However, this also means that the hotel's own systems will need to be adequately robust and protected, since they will be more openly exposed to outside access.
In other words, for today's digitally native leisure and business guests as well as for the establishments themselves, integrating with smart services in order to keep on top of the latest technology is essential.
How the cloud can help
One of the first services to bse potentially delivered via the cloud is the property management system (PMS), including front desk, point of sale, and housekeeping, which can then be made available via a simple and ubiquitous Web browser rather than proprietary software. A familiar browser interface reduces training costs too.
Lower costs. Cloud-based reservation systems are another growth area. One benefit of cloud computing is that you only pay for what you need, reducing upfront costs (the storage and computing power are only increased as required). There is also a reduced cost for hardware, energy and other associated operational provisions. There will be no need to install hardware based on the top level of demand expected, which then remains idle most of the time. The cloud can shrink and grow as needed, significantly reducing deployment times for new services. For example, La Quinta Inns and Suites adopted cloud systems in 2007, reducing operating expenses by 50 per cent and 30-50 per cent in telecommunications for each property. Kempinski is expecting to save 40 per cent by switching to the cloud from a server-based IT infrastructure.
Increase security. Security is potentially greater than on-site equipment, too. An at-location natural disaster or security breach will only temporarily reduce access, rather than completely wipe your data. A cloud provider will take advantage of economies of scale to provide redundancy and resilience above what could be provided independently.
Improved flexibility for guests and staff. The flexibility afforded by cloud technology should not be underestimated. Remote working becomes a possibility, so bookings and other hotel services can be managed from any location. Plus hotel staff will no longer be tied to their office desk: if a guest needs assistance, the ubiquitous availability of information will mean staff can be more responsive, with much less downtime.
Improved service and new and improved offerings. Hotels can also leverage the data they collect on guests in the cloud. This can be used to provide a more personalized service in the form of special offers or loyalty discounts. Alternatively, a chain can update its pricing across all locations simultaneously, rather than having to communicate and implement such changes on an individual basis. Local inconsistencies will be a thing of the past.
Find your presence on social media
On a related note, the new age of guests will increasingly be living part of their lives, and experiencing part of their visits, via social media, so hospitality companies need to be aware of the conversations taking place on these spaces. It's also essential to be proactive about these conversations, as there are benefits to be had, whilst negative comments left untended can fester and snowball.
Of course, since cloud services are hosted outside the building, they do place even more pressure on a location's connection to the Internet. It's even more essential that this is both fast and reliable, because a failure will make not only guest connectivity unavailable, but essential management services as well.
Nevertheless, with a dependable partner offering a solid service level agreement, this needn't be a significant risk. The benefits of offering a greater level of connected hospitality services, primarily revolving around cloud delivery, are immense.
So, when the new age of digitally native guests arrive, you're not only ready, but fully equipped to give them exactly what they want.