Hospitality is not as far developed in terms of innovation or technology as other industries.
That is according to Dr Jan Fleck, senior innovation strategist at trend research and innovation consultancy company Future Candy, speaking on a panel at the International Hotel Investment Forum (IHIF) in Berlin this week. However, he added that this is not necessarily a bad thing, as the business of hospitality does not naturally link with technology.
Osama Hirzalla, vice-president of brand marketing and eCommerce Europe at Marriott International, and Pieter van Tilburg, founder of CityHub, a hotel "for digital natives" in Amsterdam, shared their experiences of technology and innovation with an audience of hotel investors, owners and operators.
Van Tilburg described one of the hotel's key features, a ‘CityHost' concierge app where guests could share a map of where they are to allow a digital concierge to offer them suggestions for, say, a local café near to them. He said big hotel companies need to learn to be as agile as small ones in terms of innovation, and that technology had changed the fundamentals of how his hotel functions.
"Technology has changed the way we hire people and the qualifications we look for," he said, and went on to quote an outgoing, sociable personality who is aligned with the hotel's target guests as being a preferable employee as someone with organisational skills.
Hirzalla gave three examples of ways in which Marriott is investing in innovative technology. Last year, the company launched Marriott TestBed, a programme to accelerate tech start-ups to enhance the travel and hospitality experience, enabling businesses to pitch to Marriott, receive advice and guidance, and potentially partner with the company.
He encouraged investors to "open the door" to innovative solutions that start-ups are offering. "They struggle to find the executives, they don't know how to reach out to them," he said, adding that it was a two-way process. "Change how you operate to become relevant because, if you don't, you will die. You can't depend on the old practices to win the new generation of customers."
Another technological innovation is the Marriott Jobs app, which Hirzalla said allows Marriott to "get closer to that talent and become a preferred employer for that new line of talent" by offering information on Marriott career paths, video stories from employees and access to job searches.
And while Fleck suggested voice-activated technology such as Alexa and 'smart rooms' as potentially the next thing in hospitality, he also acknowledged that the better automation gets in hospitality, the more jobs will be lost - developments that could prove problematic for the hotel industry.
Videos from The Caterer archives