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Technology shines a light at HOSPACE

This year’s HOSPACE illustrated that the sector was starting to appreciate the value of technology in delivering the customer journey, with the market’s leaders drawn to the opportunity it represented.

There was also a focus on ESG, which was becoming a mainstream concern for operations and the issue of staffing, which continued to dog the sector.

Kate Nicholls, CEO, UKHospitality told delegates that hoteliers were no longer scared of technology and could see how it can improve the guest experience rather than damage it, working in concert with team members. “A vending machine can give you a service but only a person can give you an experience”. Kate added that it could “automate the mundane and free up your staff to focus on the guest experience”, with the potential to ease what has been described as the ‘people pandemic’.

Mark Edwards, partner, BDO, cautioned against leaping without looking, telling attendees: "Technology is vital but I can't help thinking that technology has always been about data. People have been collecting data for a long time. There are lakes or maybe even oceans of data out there. In a lake, you can drown and in an ocean, you can get lost at sea - there is a greater need for professionals to take data, analyse it and put it to better use.”

Profitroom’s Samantha Williams, director of business development, added: “We are encouraging hotels to segment their data as ‘people’ so you don’t price previous guests out of the market so it’s important to tailor your marketing.”

Chris Stock, managing director, Percipient, said that technology could help with the “increased visibility” which was “of utmost importance to respond quickly and effectively to changing demands and staffing challenges. As such, business agility is now a non-negotiable, with hospitality businesses striving to establish robust yet flexible processes to create a truly responsive business.

“To achieve this requires comprehensive visibility across the organisation, bringing together all areas of the business to facilitate the seamless flow of information and insight to enable faster, more accurate decisions to be made to optimise not only staffing levels, but overall performance too.

“It’s possible to unite seemingly disparate processes within an Enterprise Resource Planning solution, including HR, furnishing decision-makers with the right information and insight to make fast, effective decisions for the good of the business.”

The technology panel discussed how the use of technology in the sector had fallen victim to concerns over costs and the difficulty of implementation, with many early adopters burned and putting others off experimenting. The use of the cloud and the rise of systems which have been honed so that they are now more intuitive means that hotels need no longer be afraid.

Addressing sustainability, the message was very similar: that hotels need not be intimidated and should start taking steps, no matter how small. Sue Williams, GM at Whatley Manor, said: “Sustainability can be like trying to eat an elephant - one small chunk at a time. You have to establish the right team to go forward together as this is a fast-moving area and technology is changing all the time.

“The sustainability journey is 100% about measurement, transparency and governance. There is a tension between the impacts of Covid, a desire to regain profits and the consistent issue of climate change. There’s so much you can do to be sustainable that can actually save you money.”

Sarah Duncan, ethical marketing consultant, trainer & author of The Ethical Business Book, added: “This is not about perfection, starting your sustainability journey is about accepting your imperfections and addressing those.”

She said: “Sustainability is a wonderful topic to drive a young team by and everyone can own it and be proud of the decarbonising journey. It can also help attract people into the industry - especially younger people.”

The issue of attracting people to the sector was mentioned throughout the event. In his opening remarks, Harry Murray MBE, HOSPA president, said: “We should also be focussing on staff retention and creating a strong sense of family. We must also convince our young people that hospitality is a great career option and you can get to the top of our industry with hard work and a good attitude.”

Nicholls added: “The single biggest challenge getting in the way of recovery is the people challenge. Hospitality labour shortages are currently running at 10% and London hoteliers are now reporting they are turning away room bookings as they don’t have the staff to meet the demand.

“Fundamentally, we need to fund a large scale recruitment campaign that highlights the benefits of a career in hospitality. We need to remove the preconception of it being a dead-end job. No industry gives you responsibility and authority at such a young age and if you’re bright and able, you can go up into management quickly - which is very unique and should be sold to young people. I believe hospitality offers the best first job and we should make a virtue of that! The transferable skills are essential in young people and will stay with them for life.”

Veryan Palmer, director, Headland Hotel, Cornwall, illustrated how her hotel was leading the way, giving students at local schools the chance to work in the property and try out the sector. She said that, even though the students worked for a limited number of shifts, she had been inspired by their enthusiasm and their schools had commented on their increased confidence.

Hope for the next phase of hospitality indeed.


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