HONOLULU—Ben Rafter, CEO of hotel management company Springboard Hospitality (formerly OLS Hotels & Resorts), knows a lot about technology. After beginning his career in the distribution department at Westin Hotels & Resorts, he spent 15 years leading successful technology startups and co-founded an online auction hosting site that was acquired by Amazon. At Springboard, he is leading the implementation of the Hospitality Intelligence (H.I.) platform, which provides customizable technology solutions optimized for each property. Hotel Business connected with Rafter at his office here to talk about the technology platform.
Why did your company decide to implement the Hospitality Intelligence platform for its hotels? Hotels today are complicated: they are driven by multiple, disparate systems that often don’t communicate well with each other. During most steps in the process, “memory” is being lost, creating disconnects with guests and team members. This is especially true of independent hotels which tend to underutilize technology while trying to offer more localized and personalized experiences.
Meanwhile, the need for technology is growing in relation to the expectation and needs of our guests. We have a vision that the entire guest journey—from pre-booking to post-stay—can be a seamless experience that allows hotels to interact with guests in more localized and innovative ways, serving customized content and offering the amenities that guests want. Springboard can now bring a cost-effective “best-in-class” suite of tools compared to other management companies.
While some great products exist today that meet this idea of modern tech, they often are siloed, meeting just one component of our needs. Complicating the matter, the hospitality technology stack is blending newer and older tech. We have positioned Springboard to solve these challenges.
As hotels look for ways to reduce expenses in an environment featuring growing, often mandated wages, scarcity of talent, regulations that require increased costs to implement and escalating fees in distribution from third-party channels, Springboard knew that the only way to meet this head-on was to create more and more efficiency via technology
While we have no plans to develop proprietary software, our mission continues to be to fully understand how to drive efficiency in hotels and then to scour the world for partners with best-in-class programs, collaborate with them directly to ensure they can integrate with other best-in-class solutions and then influence them so that they can continue innovating to our needs. Having both a CEO and several team members that come from high tech and systems integration backgrounds helps ensure execution.
What are the different technologies used in the platform? Is there any technology the company is looking to implement in the near future? We’re upgrading our guest communication platform with VenueLytics, which provides options for guest messaging to the hotel, mobile check-in/checkout and contactless entry. Most of the major brands have already done this, but we’re expanding it by allowing guests to communicate with us using existing native platforms already on their phones with no requirements to download apps. During the process, especially at time of booking, we’ll ask short, optional questions, allowing us later to send curated content unique to each specific visit. Each question and suggestion will be written by us and not sourced from a third party. We also analyzed how guests ask friends and family questions. Ultimately, we want to re-create those interactions instead of rendering forms or having static pages. For technology to work, it has to be simple. For instance, send us a text and we’ll provide a response in the same way.
On the content side, we are taking the very non-tech approach of bringing in our own neighborhood experts to create content. We’ll be able to communicate about well-known tourist attractions or trendy off the path hideouts based on how guests profile. If we discover they’re outdoor adventurists, we’ll let them know about the best hiking trails with rewarding views from the top (perhaps with a house-made cocktail if they also happen to love F&B). If they identify as a fashionista and art enthusiast, the hotel can give them information on the newest boutique gallery opening that’s also promoting a fashion show during their stay. In some markets, each hotel will have a unique collection of more than 1000 different content combinations we can render based on guest profiles. Better experiences, in turn, generate future revenues as people return or recommend us to friends and colleagues.
On the back end, we’ve synchronized booking and website data, guest preferences, and communication and feedback from review sites into a single platform across our hotels. All authorized team members will be able to see this via one interface instead of the need to logon to separate systems. This integrates into our business intelligence (BI) system, in which we worked with a BI provider called Focal, to build using custom specifications. The BI system functions like most, albeit it has an emphasis on sifting through the massive amount of information and doing the “organizing” for us, something that is important throughout the whole company. All good BI systems are going to, for instance, combine revenue on-the-books, pace, e-commerce conversion rates, website traffic, price points from the competitive set, demand changes by channel, market trends, call center volume and other input factors. We take this one step further by rendering the data in a visual and digestible way that is useful to not just revenue and e-commerce leaders, but also general managers and owners.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way your company looks at technology? It has accelerated our timeline. There are obvious things such as contactless options and mobile technologies that will now be required as we emerge from the pandemic or prepare for other black swan events. Underneath the surface, though, it is even more important for systems to work with each other. Revenue systems, for example, need to incorporate more data points now that short-term trailing data can’t be compared to historical data. Likewise, systems and processes need to know when not to overreact to changes. We are already seeing some guests who want a “normal” hotel experience while others want limited interaction. All of this was important in the past, but it’s critical now. Flexibility will be the new normal.
What do you forecast as the top technology trends looking into the future? As noted above, seamless, integrated mobile options that “just work” with a single click and a response delivered in a matter of seconds. Think about your own interactions with various sites that just anticipate what you need and then deliver a perfect experience. They may include the times you changed a reservation while in a Lyft in 10 seconds or changed an airline reservation while on the way to the airport.
Internally, we also know our workforce team’s expectations are changing. As more positions are filled with younger generations who have grown up with technology, the systems need to be intuitive and visual. We need options to internally communicate electronically instead of using traditional phone-based technologies or runners. We see email as essential but, in some instances, no longer a real-time solution, overused and bogged down from volume, with trends moving to chat platforms. We see opportunities to create our own communities of self-serve solutions that are hotel specific and populated by team members. We also know filling out forms is a thing of the past; questions need to be answered in real time, similar to how we ask friends for directions via text.
Finally, as owners look for ways to counter rising expenses, we need to be making smarter decisions about where and how we spend money while optimizing our cost distribution. We talk about the BI system above and see revenue management as an important discipline in helping us reach those goals. Revenue management needs to think differently about data as vast amounts are now available and focus should be on metrics that matter enough to drive meaningful change. Without help, team members throughout the industry are getting lost in “too much” data. Our platform shifts from what happened yesterday to real-time actionable data intelligence that is emerging real time.