NEW YORK—No doubt about it, Steffan Berelowitz knows technology. As the VP of digital platforms for Travel Tripper, a full-service hospitality technology provider based here, he is deeply immersed in the ever-evolving hospitality industry as hoteliers seek to invest and adopt innovative technology to help maximize revenue, widen their offerings, meet guest expectations and enhance the travel experience.
And, there’s something else he knows about technology: All that glitters is not gold. There’s a natural inclination to chase the latest and the greatest and that can be a costly mistake. As advanced digital offerings become more prevalent, Berelowitz believes it is important to weed out the gimmicks with no staying power and pay close attention to what is really worth implementing.
“Just because things are possible doesn’t mean guests will adopt these technologies,” he explained. “There are many trends I can point to. First are trends that are really compelling and useful and there are other trends on the bleeding edge that are unproven where we can see experimentation and learning that needs to happen.”
In a conversation with Hotel Business, Berelowitz shares the next big trends in consumer-facing technology and smart decisions you can make right now:
Major players like Marriott, Shangri-La and Mandalay Bay are betting big on the virtual platform with the ability to transport viewers into a simulated 3-D environment. But will it pay off? Berelowitz is doubtful.
“I think it’s a nice gimmick as an additional way to check out a hotel or room and it’s used by few people, but there’s no substitute for good photography. The notion that your typical guest is going to enter a 3D space and walk through a corridor and check out the view from a window or how the bathroom looks versus scrolling through static images … I’m skeptical. It’s not bad a supplement, but certainly no substitute for using high resolution images that present your property in the best light,” he said. “Good photography sells and I can’t underscore how important that is. I also think virtual reality is for gaming, not for selling.”
Mobile Check-In and Mobile Access
The hospitality industry is starting to give serious attention to the role of mobility in the guest journey as more and more people are using their smartphones as their pocket travel guide to explore a new locale, research and book a hotel, capture the experience in photos and then share it with friends and family on social media.
“Mobile check-in and mobile access will drive app adoption. If you look at how people are booking and finding rooms, it’s via laptop or phones and either desktop web or mobile web and not using apps. People are willing to download an app and that becomes the entry point for opportunities for hotels to use technology in relationship with the guest,” he said.
Effective Use of Data
Now that the guest is using your branded app, what will you do with all the data you’ve received to inform or improve hotel operations? Berelowitz sees opportunity in sifting through the data to take right action, but it won’t be easy.
“Once you have an app installed and used by guests for access control and check-in, you are able to get more information such as where the guest is and what they are doing on the property. The challenge will be how to use data effectively to allocate resources. One of the powerful things that have increased is the use of native apps. We know where guests are located and what resources they are using and the data that will be generated. How they translate the information into operational changes is one of the challenges, but it is very exciting. It’s a gateway to using apps and the data itself,” he said.
According to Berelowitz, there is a big distinction between knowing when a guest is using the pool or went to the bar and making that information operationally useful to the hotel. He urges hoteliers to beware of vaporware in regard to certain technologies.
“The notion we are going to be able to deliver offers—a free drink or things like that—this is where I think there is some riskiness and uncertainty. We know if a guest has an app, we know where they are and what resources they are using such as the pool or gym and we can collect that data. Whether or not the guest will be willing to interact with the information or receive alerts and offers is different because it requires active intervention by the guest,” he said. “The benefit of skipping the reception line and going to the room will drive high satisfaction and app adoption. If a phone vibrates and I do something with that, this is an area of high speculation and vaporware. It’s completely overhyped and won’t become tangible in any meaningful way.”
The carousel of technological advances and offerings available can leave one’s head spinning. To determine which innovations are worth the time and money, Berelowitz urges hoteliers to separate what is speculative from what is concrete.
“The data is concrete, but broad adoption of micro location translating into offers with these technologies is speculative. The opportunity in in-room guest technology is more related to an iPad on a wall to order room service and that doesn’t require you to receive alerts. You can always walk up to a wall and touch an in-room tablet. I would be more confident that in-room technology such as tablets in the space is going to have a broader adoption for driving greater use of room services or hotel resources than betting on people’s willingness to spend time exploring the features of the app.”