Technology Not Addressing Hotel Industry Pain Points


These days everyone purports to be innovating, revolutionizing, and pioneering, while the rest of us seem to be perpetually searching for innovation.

The hoteliers, the media, the investors; we are all looking for the next big thing that will solve the hotel industry’s problems.

Yet a lot of the talk of innovation is empty hype.

Sure, innovation really just means introducing something new, so most companies are not blowing smoke when they use the word.

The challenge is that so many companies want to believe they are changing the world —especially the companies that peddle hotel B2B technology. Yet very few categorically are.

Google changed the world. Electronic banking and virtual payment companies changed the world. Airbnb and Uber are changing the world.

What these companies all have in common is that they are addressing a human need. A need was identified — and the ‘then’ is key here — then a technology was developed to satisfy that need.

Where many hotel B2B tech businesses have veered off course is in their belief that technology in and of itself has value.

To this, I say: Find a real problem, then deliver the solution.

Google operates on this problem-first approach. Susan Wojcicki, SVP of advertising, says:

“When we start work in a new area, it is often because we see an important issue that hasn’t been solved, and we are confident that technology can make a difference… Our mission is one that has the potential to touch many lives” (Think with Google).

Personhood—human needs—are at the core of Google’s problem solving. The hotel B2B tech industry would do well to adopt this approach to innovation.

Consider what are some of the top challenges facing the hotel industry this year. According to Deloitte, they are:

• the guest desire for an outstanding, highly personalized experience;

• data silos that make it difficult to understand the abundance of guest information hotels have on hand;

• recruitment and retention;

• maintaining a competitive advantage in the midst of emerging business models and massive consolidation (Deloitte 2016).

Moreover, while this is a current list, what strikes me is that not very much has changed in in the last several years. Despite being a $550 billion industry, the hotel industry lags behind other industries routinely—and we see the same issues cropping up over and over.

Remember when hotels used to push papers for every little thing, before the days of the PMS?

Where is the enterprise-level innovation that improves staff retention—a constant issue in the hospitality industry?

Where is the technology that integrates the CRM with the PMS and then shuffles it to a tablet for personalization?

What’s more, we cannot have a complete conversation about what a hotel’s technology needs are without understanding guest needs. The Thistle Hotel Group completed a survey of 2000 guests, and top complaints were:

1) Rude or unfriendly hotel staff

2) Rooms not ready at check-in

3) Wifi fees (Digital Journal 2014)

First things first. Hotels need to remedy the obvious guest problems. No amount of technology can repair-unfriendly staff or poor/costly wifi.

That said, technology that helps solve for any of the top guest problems can potentially innovate. For instance, streamlining communication between the front desk and housekeeping to confirm a rooms readiness to be cleaned or availability for check-in should be top-of-mind in terms of solving a human problem with technology.

Technologies that support staff to provide superior guest service may be innovative. Not all of them will be, of course, but we are talking about identifying where to innovate before trying to innovate.

For instance, a technology that enables staff to move about the hotel with freedom and access guest CRM information at the touch of a button to provide on-the-spot personalization (remember, this is issue #1 that hotels struggle with right now) is innovative in the way that it has the potential to change the guest experience.

In-room concierge technology, text messaging, and voice automation are on the forefront of emerging tools.

The point is that, especially in the B2B sector, a human need must be identified in order to change the hotel world.

To solve a problem, you must ascertain a need, and if people do not need it, there’s really no point to designing a product or technology around it. Otherwise put, the front-end is where the real value lies; the technology is secondary.

Scratch what you believe about innovation. As counterintuitive as it may sometimes feel, true technological innovation is personal. Airbnb has not succeeded on technology. They saw a need to connect people with other people for accommodations then built a technology to support it. (The same goes for Uber.)

If a hotel brand rolls out a high priced, company-wide technology—say a new PMS or CRM—but guest service is sub-par, or the hotel itself is not meeting guests’ needs, then the solution is a multi-million dollar loss because they were not resolving the right issues.

The work done at Stanford’s Design Thinking program echoes this. Tackling the wrong problem is common. But there are best practices and tactics for reframing the problem to more effectively achieve one’s ultimate goals.

B2B hotel technology companies must first consider what a hotel’s true top priority problems are before they invest energy in trying to find a solution.

Here’s what they should stop doing: Hiring developers, rolling out code and seeking funding to grow their platforms without doing the due diligence, market research, and testing to identify true pain points.

As noted above, I’m very much optimistic about the potential gains that can be won through tech innovation.

Yet I cannot help but wonder if we stopped trying to innovate with code and began investing our time and energy in solving the actual difficulties of the industry, how quickly we might catch up.

NB: This is a viewpoint by Alan Young, president and co-founder of Puzzle Partner, a Canadian-based boutique tactical and strategic marketing agency that helps travel and hospitality technology companies with brand building, public relations, and content marketing.

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About Author

Founded by two travel and technology professionals with years of experience in Asia, Representasia specialises in sales & marketing representation throughout Southeast Asia for travel/hospitality technology providers and travel-related startups, as well as providing marketing consultancy services for hotels and travel businesses in the region.

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