HB ON THE SCENE: Hoteliers Stress Tech, Customer Experience

NEW YORK—With more than 2,000 hospitality leaders in attendance, the 39th annual NYU International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference began day three with its Leaders’ Forum. Hotel CEOs discussed a variety of topics, including employee appreciation; the use of technology and how it plays a role in hospitality; and, as always, the impact of OTAs in the industry.

Led by Adam F. Weissenberg, global leader of travel hospitality and leisure at Deloitte, the panel consisted of Eric Danziger, CEO of Trump Hotels; David Kong, president and CEO of Best Western Hotels & Resorts; James J. Murren, chairman and CEO of MGM Resorts; James Riley, group chief executive at Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group; and J. Allen Smith, president and CEO of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts.

Besides viewing entertainment as the driving principle behind hospitality, MGM Resorts has several building blocks. The first, customer service, which is all about personal interaction with employees, Murren pointed out. To enhance this, a focus on employee investment is required (training, healthcare, etc.) The second building block is the properties themselves. “People come to our locations for something they haven’t seen before,” he said. The last building block for the company—leading entertainment.

Smith noted the increasing focus on people and culture. He transitioned to how technology plays a role in enabling guest experience and service quality. “The responsibility around information is really critical,” he said.

Expanding on the topic, Riley stressed the need to provide enough staff for any technology deployment, especially when budget is a concern. For him, leading with technology can be a dangerous proposition in this regard.

Best Western hasn’t been focusing on apps. Instead, it’s been examining a larger platform. Technology is the same across the board, Kong acknowledged; however, what’s different is the guest experience. That’s where, in his opinion, the industry should focus its efforts. Rethinking the way guests use smartphones is essential to enhancing the customer journey, he added.

As far as what matters, Danziger pointed out brands get points for excellence. “Whatever we create needs to be executed flawlessly,” he said.

Of course, OTAs and the short-term rental giant nobody wants to talk about, Airbnb, made its way into the conversation. Kong summed up the discussion with a single quote: “Whether you like it or not, the OTAs are here to stay.”