So what do Indian hoteliers make of changes put on the roles of the technology and marketing teams as social media, mobile and analytics become important disciplines?
An event organized by HATT (a forum for travel professionals in the country) tried to tackle these and other questions at an event in Goa last week.
Key takeaways are captured and presented below in four parts:
Topic: What would you do if you had unlimited money to spend on your travel business?
- Even if I have unlimited money, I will be spending it purely based on ROI. In the last three years, a total of 550 million people visited India, in that about 400 million are from domestic market, so India is definitely a focus market for us. I see India and china as emerging markets. We need to understand the demand of Gen-Y and tech-savvy travellers. During their stay in hotel, they want to keep in touch with their family back home, and they want to do it in telepresence-based rooms or in a video-based system in the room.
- I would recommend developing more mobile-based applications. We at Lemon Tree provide tablets to customers that have apps and customer service enabled in it.
- But, when a family is on a trip, won't they feel unhappy to see various tech gadgets in their hotel rooms? Is it prison in a luxury hotel?
- We had to provide gadgets for generating revenue, at the end of the day we want to earn revenue.
- You can also provide a seamless experience to your guests via various gadgets. For example, a guest while at beach can still access the hotel's wifi. On a different note, what data points would generate more revenue for hotels?
- We started our hotel in 2002. We have enormous amounts of data to take informed business decision. We have started investing in business intelligence solutions. When it comes to selecting a BI solution, it depends on the number of data sources a hotel has, number of dashboards and reports needed.
- Before a gust arrives at our hotel, we scan the social media profile of guests to understand their likes and dislikes. We also do a lot of data analytics to bring guests back to our hotel.
One of the audience, Shekhar Sharma
, head of IT at Hotel Imperial
, highlighted an interesting point on the relevance of data-based technology in hotels.
"Guests don't want to see technology in hotels, but technology is there everywhere in the hotel, just that its not visible/exposed to guests. We have a guest in our hotel where his half brain doesn't work. Its because of investment in data-based technology, our entire team (including the chef, room service, front desk personnels) in the hotel knows how to handle the customer."
Vishal Gupta, founder and CEO of Seclore Technology, spoke about security, privacy and compliance in the new hospitality value chain.
Excerpts from his speech below:
Why should we bother about security, privacy, compliance in a hotel? The reasons for this question were vague few years ago, but today, this question is invalid, all of these are a must and it is understood.
In the past we have had many instances of data/security breach at hotels, few examples:
- The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed a lawsuit against Wyndham for allegedly storing data in plain text and other security failures that enabled hackers to access more than 600,000 payment card accounts in three data breaches in less than two years.
- Radisson hotels' guest data accessed by hackers for six months.
- A peculiar case of Ernst & Young (audit firm of Hotels.com) losing one of its laptop that exposed 243,000 hotels.com customers data.
In case of E&Y and Hotels.com, there is nothing that Hotels.com could do, because it wasn't the company's fault. It is not only important to secure information within the hotel, but also equally important to secure information that goes out of the hotel/company.
A lack of a (privacy) policy can also get your hotel into trouble, as in the case of Delta's mobile app above.
Nowadays, a lot of hotels are opting for making their services available/manageable on the cloud. This trend is only going to increase, it could be storage on the cloud, computing power on the cloud or anything else.
In all of these scenarios, privacy of data becomes even more important. Case in point is my local travel agent who puts all my passport scan documents, my visa and ticket documents into Dropbox.
All security systems like wifi, antivirus software and firewall make a fundamental assumption regarding their accessibility, perimeter or boundary.
For example, a firewall defines network as the boundary. A wifi service defines its accessible distance as the boundary. The challenge here in the context of data is that there is no boundary, information goes out of devices, to cloud services like dropbox, and sometimes out of country too.
Few challenges that contribute to this "perimeter" definition include - BYOD policies, iPads in boardrooms, networks and locations, employees who work from home, applications, lawyers, auditors, partners, service providers, joint ventures, customers etc.
Now, "information" is the new boundary/perimeter. We need to protect information.
Ultimately, the dream is to make all the travel documents (passport scans, tickets etc) available in a single bucket. An admin should be able to define rules on:
- Who can access this bucket. Example: Customer data is accessible by front desk and auditor
- What each of these people can do. Example: Forward, print, view, edit, delete etc
- How long can they use the information. Example: Wifi passwords known to IT teams to expire in 24 hours
- Where can they use it. Example: Usage of credit card information of a customer is not allowed via mobile app
In a discussion about challenges in offering wifi services in hotels, notable points emerged:
- Network congestion: Download/upload of heavy data (movies) by a guest brings the bandwidth availability down and hence affects other users.
- Unsecured access: If a hotel employee gives the wifi key to their friends, they can in-turn give it to their friends and eventually few people will access wifi internet for free by just walking to the reception area.
- Connectivity hassles: Generating username and passwords, setting an expiry date for them, also the process of re-generating login credentials and letting the guest know about it.
- Irrespective of whether a hotel decides to provide wifi for free or charge for it, its more important to manage that service at the first place.
- Lack of logs that capture the surfing history of guests. Also, we should analyse the logs to understand usage pattern, take informed decisions.
- Legal compliance: For example, to block all government blocked websites.
Topic: Going forward, will wifi be offered for free at hotels?
- We at Park Hyatt are currently offering free internet in-room and public areas, but in conference rooms its chargeable. In future, I think the internet in conference areas might also become free. But, how will the hotel sustain this operational cost to give free internet for guests? Our wifi/internet partners need to help us in this. Until June 2012, we were charging guests for using internet at our hotel, then we had 500 users per month. After making the in-room internet free of charge, the user base shot up to 2,500 users per month.
- I believe there is no free lunch. In India, most of the hotels are charging for internet as its part of their revenue stream. Internet will be free in future when a city becomes entirely wifi-accessible. Internet was offered for free by few hotels to attract guests. Now, we are compelled to give it for free when the RFPs that we receive from our partners mandate that wifi has to be offered for free. But, we can look at tier-based bandwidth for users, for example, offer email access for free and charge for usage of other content based on bandwidth. When we charge users for usage of lights in their rooms, they will switch off at time, where as when its offered free, they keep it on. Similarly, when wifi is free at a hotel, the bandwidth gets choked. There is no single rule on how to offer free wifi. Earlier, there were 3 Bs in a hotel (bed, breakfast, bath), now there is another B added to that list and that is 'Broadband', wifi is a just a different name for that. There are 4 Bs in a hotel now.
At Sahara, we have started to give free internet for guests, but at a low bandwidth speed of 56 Kbps, because in India, 256 Kbps is still considered as broadband speed.
- We offer free wifi in all of our restaurants. When we started that free service, the number of people who came to our restaurants increased. There is definitely a difference in sale after the introduction of free wifi.
- On an another note, will a 100 Mbps internet connection suffice in a hotel?
- It's more than enough for next two years. Having said that, guests will always be bandwidth hungry.
- We cannot assure that as it depends on how better you want to service your guests. Guests are demanding high bandwidth.
- A speed of 100 Mbps is fine, keeping in mind the less number of concurrent users.
One of the audience, Shekhar Sharma
, head of IT at Hotel Imperial
"In our hotel we give 30 minute free internet for guests. There are different types of users with different bandwidth needs. We generated good revenue by selling bandwidth to our guests. IT managers need to think about how they are going to sell their bandwidth. In US and Europe, hotels say that they are offering internet for free, but actually the internet cost is added in the room cost.
"Today's travellers buy internet right after they come out of the airport and use it throughout their stay at a destination.
"Go and check your google analytics, check the number of bookings you receive via mobile devices, that will justify that you need to give free wifi in the hotel."
Ashish Khanna, of Oberoi Hotels in Delhi adds:
"In our hotel, 85% of users are connecting via wifi, we are thinking whether the existing wired internet connections in rooms are needed or not.
"In our new hotels, we are not even planning for wired connection. Actually, wireless is more secured than a wired connection. It is a myth that corporate users cannot use their company laptops on wifi internet as they need VPN connectivity."
NB: India technology map and wifi images via Shutterstock.