Technology enables service. That’s the idea, anyway. In the hotel industry, thousands of companies worldwide provide hundreds of software applications to help hotels and hotel companies manage operations to provide better guest service.
But which technology or use of technology really provides strategic value for a hotel or hotel company?
The answer depends on many factors, but a group of hospitality associations has identified three key technology issues that are having, and will continue to have, a direct strategic impact on the hospitality industry:
- PCI (payment card industry) compliance
- Unique identification numbers for hotels
- Support for guests with disabilities
The HTSIC (Hospitality Technology Strategic Initiatives Council) is an informal affiliation of associations and other entities whose combined memberships represents every aspect of the hospitality industry – not only hospitality professionals, and hotels and hotel companies, but also most companies that provide technology and technology services to the global hospitality industry.
Because of this, the organizations on the council have a full and broad view into the technology issues facing the industry.
1. PCI Compliance
One of a hotel CIO’s biggest nightmares is getting a phone call that one of their systems has been hacked by credit-card thieves. The fragmented nature and location of hotel systems means a guest’s credit card number could exist in multiple systems in formats of varying security in locations of varying security.
PCI compliance across all levels of a hospitality company has become critically important for the financial stability and market credibility of the hospitality industry.
Members of the HTSIC have addressed this issue in a coordinated approach:
2. Unique Global Identification Numbers
- HTNG has set up a workgroup that will a framework that will enable hotels to concentrate the storage of sensitive card data in a single system, managed securely by a vendor or the hotel company. The objective is to get every other hotel system out of the scope of PCI by shielding it from real credit card numbers. The initial goal of this workgroup, which is limited to hoteliers for the initial phase, is to document the framework so that all hotels can present it to their preferred vendors and partners as their vision of the path forward.
- HFTP has set up a taskforce aimed at educating hoteliers about the implications of PCI compliance on property-based operations and systems, including building a knowledge base, an ongoing series of articles, and a series of educational boot camps and conference sessions.
- Other council member organization initiatives include a white paper authored by AH&LA, a payment technologies committee established by HEDNA, and the support by OpenTravel of needed XML specification changes as required by the industry.
The idea of a single global unique identifier for a hotel has been around for a long time, one of those ‘holy grail’ items like single-image inventory or the mythical super-PNR.
Originally, it was seen as a benefit for distribution channels that aggregate information and inventory from hundreds or thousands of properties, and for payment processors to more efficiently collect commissions from hotels.
The prevailing argument for the initiative’s slow progress has been the lack of a compelling commercial reason for a hotel to care about this kind of identifier.
HTSIC believes the changing nature of the travel business has provided those compelling reasons. Search is one (I wrote about this more in depth recently); it has become critical for hotels to appear correctly and accurately in search results, as search engine sites have essentially become the gateway to travel research and inspiration.
Search engine optimization is a great thing, but not when the property’s address is incorrect in Google, or the property is still listed under its previous flag in Bing.
Interestingly enough, PCI compliance is emerging as another driver for the global identifier initiative, as hotels work with their trading partners through the lifecycle of the transaction to ensure compliance.
Here’s a likely scenario as an example - when a distributor creates a guaranteed reservation for a hotel, they will need to contact the hotel’s designated token issuer for a token to replace the credit card. This requires being able to unambiguously identify the hotel so the hotel is able to charge the card and receive funds.
HEDNA, HTNG, HFTP, HSMAI and OpenTravel are all directly supporting this initiative and holding conversations with interested companies, with the objective to identify possible partners and governance structure and organization.
3. Support for guests with disabilities
In both Europe and the US, regulations are being released and revised to provide support to guests with disabilities. These are requiring hotels and hotel companies to review most aspects of their operations, from distribution to construction, to ensure compliance.
With the increase in electronic distribution of hotel information and transactions, hotels are working to provide better information and service to guests with disabilities.
Initiatives specific to distribution include the creation of standard room definitions and descriptions, guaranteeing accessible guest rooms and removing the accessible guest room from inventory when booked. HEDNA has worked on creating this vocabulary, and OpenTravel has revised its hotel schema, annotations and code list to reflect these changes.
As regulations evolve in 2012, HTSIC expects the hospitality industry to have to address more technological change to ensure compliance and provide service to this market segment.
Why HTSIC is a good thing
I can hear some of you now – what good can possibly come from creating an ‘association of associations’? Aren’t we just creating more overhead, more cost and more bureaucracy? In a word, no.
We are an informal group with no charter or legal standing, and our one requirement is that members of the group have decision-making authority. And our biggest strength is our commitment to work together, to eliminate redundant work or conflicting positions, to be transparent and open in our dealings with each other, and to address the most important technological needs of the hospitality industry.
From my own perspective, as CEO of OpenTravel, participation in HTSIC has allowed me to coordinate our work with that of other organizations so we don’t waste OpenTravel’s time or our members’ time – I hate wasting our scarce resources, and worse, wasting the resources of our members who volunteer their time to work for us.
Could this model work for other travel segments? Oh yes indeed. Will other segments adopt this model? Stay tuned...
NB: Here is the full list of HTSIC members: