Scott Curran grew up in the heart of Silicon Valley, the son of an early employee of Intel. Today, he’s Chief Operating Officer for Reneson Hotels, an owner-operator of branded and independent hotels in California.
“I was constantly around technology, and that’s always given me ideas about what we can do in hospitality.”Scott Curran
Reneson Hotels consistently tops guest satisfaction charts, with their Best Western property #2 of more than 2,000 in the system, and their IHG and Hilton properties all in the top 10% of those brands.
He and I recently sat down to talk about technology, something he has a unique perspective on as both COO of Reneson and co-founder of GuestEQ, a hotel operations technology platform.
In this article, we will cover:
Barriers to technology use in hotels today
I asked Scott why the hospitality industry is always talking about technology, but little seems to happen. What the systemic issues were that could be holding us back from using technology in hotels today?
“Part of it is the confusion of who is doing what and who is buying what. Is it a brand decision or an owner’s decision? This slows hoteliers down.”
And then there is a history of bad experiences with technology that gives people pause.
“Too many hotels have had technology pushed on them that perhaps were not a fit for that hotel’s operations. Then they’re paying for it and maybe spent a few weeks on training, but nobody ever uses it.”
Hotel technology must be easy
Hoteliers aren’t always excited when the topic of technology comes up, Scott has learned.
“I think the biggest problem we had is everybody would hear ‘new software’ and panic because it meant there was going to be a two-week training. The staff was going to be angry because you can’t just shut down a hotel to focus on training. You still have guests you need to take care of and all the daily things that go on that take time.”
“When we built GuestEQ, we wanted to make it so that when you log in, you can figure it out quickly. There are some things in place to guide you on what to click on or take a look at at first, but you’re going to get it quickly because it looks exactly like Facebook in the way that it’s set up. On other platforms, you would have to go to special places to post a maintenance item. We made it dead simple: one big button at the top of every page in our app saying ‘Post anything here.’”
“Every step that we took along the way was to figure out how it wouldn’t take more than 20 minutes for somebody to figure it out.”
Automate operations instead of guest interactions
While automation in hospitality is a hot topic, Scott has found it most effective to focus on automating operations instead of guest communication.
“We’re hearing from lots of the hotels who reach out to us saying that using bots for communication causes a lot of problems for their staff. Guests are asking questions and the staff doesn’t even know what they were talking about because the bot had responded in some way that didn’t make sense. Because of this, we’ve chosen to look at ways to automate operations to free up time for hotel staff instead of using it for guest communication.”
To illustrate this, Scott shared the example of some of his hotels that have 8+ weddings a weekend. As you might imagine, everyone shows up early and wants to check into the room early.
“For early check-in requests, hotels typically say ‘Come back at 3 pm, and we can check you in. But as a traveler – especially one with kids – that’s the worst thing you can hear and not a great way to start your hotel stay. With GuestEQ, we wanted to fix this.”
“We built a workflow with automation so our associates can enter the early check-in request and it automatically texts the guest: ‘We’ve received your request for 11 am, and have started to work on this. You’ll get a text when it’s done.’ That notification then goes directly to the head housekeeper. Whoever is responsible for cleaning the room marks it is done once it’s ready, which triggers a text message to the guest that says, ‘Come back to the front desk, your room is ready.’”
“This allows our front desk agent not to have to run around and try to remember the status of everything. If I’m that person checking in, I’m going to go get a coffee or something to eat because I feel good about the fact that nobody will forget me and I’ll know the instant my room is ready.”
Digitize operations for visibility and accountability
For Scott, digitizing hotel operations provides both visibility and accountability.
“Every morning I get an email that summarizes the key points of everything that’s happened at our hotels. I can see pass-along logs and all maintenance items – and how long they took to process. My managers get the same thing. Reading through this allows me to understand everything going on without making my team feel like I’m micromanaging them. It also provides a sense of accountability to our teams knowing that our operational performance is transparent to everyone, including our company’s president.”
For Scott, this allows meetings with his general managers to be more strategic because they can look at recurring themes from all the aggregated data.
“Lightweight tech” can speed digitization
“Lightweight” technology such as GuestEQ doesn’t need integrations, which speeds deployment and enables use in branded hotels that may have restrictions around integrated technology.
“GuestEQ is designed a sit as a layer above other hotel technology and does not require integrations to be functional. When you think of an area like maintenance, or housekeeping, you don’t really need integrations because you don’t really need to know who the guest is. You just need to make sure the toilet works, the lightbulbs are fixed, or they get their stay-over service. If we sit around and wait for integrations, it’s going to take a long time. We needed something we could roll out quickly and use immediately at our hotels.”
The role of hardware in digitizing operations
One thing I was curious about was the hardware required to run a digitized operation as Scott does. I asked him if he needs to buy new smartphones for everyone.
“There are Samsung phones that are available on Amazon for $100, and so we buy several of those and have them charged in the back just like you would have a walkie-talkie before. We give the staff the option to grab those if they want to use them, but because some people don’t want to carry around a second cell phone, they can also put the GuestEQ app on their own phone and work that way. We give our employees the choice.”
What Scott would like to see from hotel brands as an owner
Integrations for other categories of technology provided by hotel brands tops the list of things Scott would like to see as an owner. “Integrations would make it easier for us to add technology. The problem is every brand has a different property management system, which is the nucleus of running a hotel. With all the reservation data and guest information in there, it’s tough to leverage technology without easy PMS integrations.”
Losing touch with the realities of hotel operations today is another concern Scott has. He shared an example of how they were trying to coordinate guest stayovers with housekeeping, and a high-ranking brand executive told him that just slipping a paper under the door would be sufficient to manage this process. “It seems the upper management of some of these brands are either so far removed from running a hotel to the day-to-day that they have lost motivation for innovation.”
Read more of Scott’s story here: Operating lessons from a top-rated hotel owner