Panel discusses staff cuts and contactless technology at HITEC


On the second day of HITEC Dallas at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, several tech-focused leaders gathered for the CIO Industry Panel to discuss the effects of the pandemic on staff, the growing adoption of technology without contact and cybersecurity.

Moderated by John Burns, President, Hospitality Technology Consulting, the panel included Andrew Arthurs, CIO, Aimbridge Hospitality; Carol Beggs, CTO, Chatham Bars Inn; Dan Kornick, CIO, Loews Hotels & Co; Michael Levie, COO, citizenM; Mohammad al Qassim, Managing Partner; Le Manoir by JA; and Scott Strickland, EVP / CIO, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts.

As the pandemic devastated the industry, technology departments were downsized, forcing hospitality businesses to focus.

Strickland noted that two months after the start of the pandemic, its staff was down 40%, and 80% of its supplier staff were downsized in terms of ongoing consulting deals.

“How do you survive in this type of environment? ” He asked. “The first thing we did was redefine our priorities. We reorganized our entire portfolio of projects, made adjustments to whatever we were working on. The second thing we did is we [asked], ‘What should we be working on that we’ve never had on our radar before?’ So we changed and also launched commercial programs.

Kornik stressed that focusing on what was important made his team more efficient, adding: “We were able to go faster than ever before the pandemic and because of that we were able to make decisions faster. and perform a lot of things. faster.”

The pandemic allowed hotels to work on things they had postponed. “Once the shock of the pandemic and the impact started to subside a bit, everyone realized it was an incredible opportunity with nearly empty hotels to finally work on our technology,” Levie said. . “And in this priority, and with all the digital that had to be implemented, we actually increased the staff. “

Like other areas of the hospitality industry, technology has experienced a staffing problem where staff retention has been a top priority. Sometimes, Beggs noted, you have to look to other departments to fill a role.

“We’re trying to recognize the talent, and maybe it’s from another department,” she said. “We regularly steal from each other. One of my best people is from the engineering department who had a talent [for technology]. “

For Aimbridge, the industry’s leading management company, it’s about the employee value proposition, Arthurs said, adding, “For me it’s the intersection between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, which really means , from a pay point of view, that we have to be very competitive. We also need to provide other motivators for our team to enjoy being a part of Aimbridge. In our case, it’s a goal, it’s a feeling of belonging, it’s a feeling of belonging and it’s a feeling of being part of something bigger than yourself.

Another factor is the company’s new headquarters in Plano, Texas. “It’s very carefully designed to bring people together and build a culture and a sense of community and belonging,” said Arthurs. “When we bring candidates into our office for an interview, it has been an interesting differentiator. They can see our culture come to life just by entering a building. “

The discussion has shifted to contactless technology, which has become even more important at a time when guests may want to have the least amount of human interaction due to COVID-19 and its variants.

Kornick believes there must be a choice for guests about how their stay will be contactless. “Each guest likes to communicate or work in a different way,” he said. “Some people like a great contactless experience, while others always want that great front desk experience. So that gives them the choice of how they want to interact with us so that we don’t have to guess. I think people appreciate the flexibility of this contactless check-in. This was effective in giving customers a much shorter and better experience if this is the experience they wanted.

Al Qassim told how his Dubai-based company tried to implement drive-through check-in. “The guests loved it,” he says. “They put their papers and keys in the car. Unfortunately, over 100 degrees in Dubai, the employees didn’t like it that much. “

Another resort in her business has started using Whatsapp to communicate. “As soon as you register, you are added to the Whatsapp group along with housekeeping, F&B, reception, concierge and even the general manager,” al Qassim said. “All the details are sent to you there, and you type whatever you want from whoever. If someone from F&B hasn’t seen [the message], all of his colleagues would alert him to what the room was looking for. If you didn’t get a response, everyone on the team would make sure you got a response.

Levie noted that contactless is the “new normal” and that the hospitality industry lags far behind other industries in adopting this technology.

“For us, truly contactless delivery isn’t just small steps that we think we can automate with an app, but really from start to finish,” he said. “We have to think of a full circle and be able to deploy and execute. We still face huge hurdles and fragmentation in our industry, but we need to get over that faster because when our clients use other verticals they are spoiled.

In Wyndham, Strickland discovered that contactless hadn’t resonated with his guests as he thought.

“We thought we were going to have more customers than we did,” he said. “We were guessing what the customer was going to want, and then once we implemented some of these contactless solutions, we didn’t get the adoption we expected from customers. “

Cyber ​​security has become a major focus for hotels considering all the data breaches that have occurred in industry and other businesses. As Kornik noted, “The hardest part is you have to be right 100% of the time; the attacker must be right once.

Arthurs called cybersecurity a “team sport,” adding, “It’s about educating end users and having partners who have strong security positions and investing in your internal capabilities. For us as an industry and, more broadly, for any user, we must strive to remove the responsibility of the user. They have enough trouble with all the systems they use. We should create an environment where if they leave the front door open nothing happens and that’s a challenge.

Beggs agreed with the assessment of team sport. “If you look at some of the big breaches that have happened over the years, they often come from third parties who support your systems,” she said. “So I would just like to urge everyone to be careful with unattended access, making sure that vendors don’t change settings for you that you didn’t know they were going to change. Because, again, it’s part of the team too: everyone who logs into your system as a support organization is part of your security.


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