computer set up on a workspace

What’s frustrating about hotel tech as a hotel operator

“Some technology providers will sell you like crazy and then they’re out of the picture once you sign the contract. That’s not how you succeed in the hotel industry.” 

Alain Derderian got his start in hospitality as a hotel bellman, then managing the front desk. Driven to provide the best experience possible for his guests, he would make the business case for technologies he needed with increasing responsibility, leading marketing then revenue then operations for New York’s Sohotel. After 12 years at that property, he moved to Freehand Hotels as a hotel manager before becoming General Manager of the Pod Hotel at Times Square – overseeing 150 employees, 665 rooms, and 45 condo apartments.

Technology can unlock a lot of opportunities for hotels today, but it can also slow you down and cause frustration, he told me. Alain shared some of the ways this happens, giving hoteliers guidance on how to avoid wasting time and money – and giving technology providers insights on how to better serve the industry. 

Inspiration you can’t act on 

Alain always wanted to make sure he was on the cutting edge of technology to provide his guests with the very best service. “I was eager to learn and invest. I wanted to make an impact on the business.” 

Every day, he would open his inbox and read industry news. “I’d read articles that said things like ‘The future of hospitality is contactless check-in’ or ‘The 7 steps every hotel must take to shift business from OTAs’,” he recalled. “They’re so vague. They tell me about a trend or tell me I need to change, but don’t tell me how to change in detail.”   

It feels like clickbait. There’s a promise of a better way of operating, but not a path to getting there. “Too often I feel like they’re just selling me a product. They’re not bringing real, actionable ideas to the table.” 

Alain would like to see more hotel technology companies investing in sharing case studies and how-to guides that empower people on property doing the work. 

Signing – then skipping 

More than once, an eager salesperson for a technology company would be highly engaged early in the process. But once the contract was signed, they and their team were out of the picture too quickly.

“I would spend a lot of time selling the change internally and getting my staff excited about it. Then the rep would visit for the kickoff meeting and leave the next day without understanding any of the scenarios that could hinder staff and hold them back from using the product to its full potential.” 

The result? Staff that didn’t know the product well, resulting in lower than expected performance from that technology investment. 

Alain is aware that having someone from technology companies stay for days to observe and learn isn’t practical for them – or him. But they need to develop and offer capabilities for learning and supporting through the entire onboarding, launch process, and beyond. 

“I know that we’re going to have a list of issues within the first few months. And having them come back, analyze the use, and improve their product and process is more meaningful than the actual training.”

Lack of empathy

The common thread here is not understanding what it’s like to run a hotel. 

“I’ve implemented PMSs, RMSs, CRMs, kiosks – pretty much everything you can think of. I rarely see the companies are actually thinking about their customers’ operations – they’re just thinking about how they can sign more deals and grow faster.” 

Technology providers need to understand their product will likely be used in an understaffed environment with overworked people. “No one wants to buy software and then create a new role to manage that software within their organization. We’re hoping that the people already on our teams can divvy up the work and use the product.” 

Further, there are significant operational differences between types of hotels, and without knowing that, technology companies can be pushing solutions that aren’t a good fit on the wrong properties. 

“Every property has a different DNA. And if you’re a solution provider and don’t realize that, it’s already a deal-breaker. Improving guest experience is behind all we do, and that looks very different for a 50-room property than an 800-room property.”

The way forward

Alain remains a champion of technology and advises technology companies to consider the points above to grow faster by providing solutions that meet real needs. 

Part of this is empathy. Part of this is listening. Part of this is circling back after onboarding to understand usage and what’s holding people back from using the solution. And part of this could be hiring more former hoteliers that understand the world of hotel operations. 

“Technology companies need to fill their teams with people who have real-world hotel experience. If they just have engineers and marketers and salespeople but don’t know what a morning standup looks like or what a night audit looks like, hoteliers are going to pick up on that very quickly.”

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