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06/13/2016

2016 Hotel Visionary Awards

According to Merriam Webster, a visionary is defined as “having or showing clear ideas about what should happen or be done in the future.”

Every year, Hospitality Technology seeks to honor hotel companies for being just such futurists in innovation for customer-facing and enterprise solutions. This year’s winners prove that there is no limit to what can be done when teams work together to deploy solutions that blend third party resources with proprietary invention.

The Hotel Visionary Awards are presented each year at the
Hotel Technology Forum, and recognize hotel companies that have demonstrated excellence and vision by finding original ways to utilize technology to solve problems, overcome challenges and improve service in operations or the guest experience.

The Hotel Visionary Awards, now celebrating 12 years, are presented in two categories: enterprise innovation and customer-facing innovation. In order to ensure that companies from across the industry are recognized for their efforts, consideration is given to size, resources and individual market segment benchmarks. Winners are chosen for their thought leadership, execution and forward-thinking vision.

The 2016 winners are Grand View Lodge and Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide. Here are their stories:


CUSTOMER-FACING TECHNOLOGY INNOVATOR:
GRAND VIEW LODGE


PROPRIETARY RESERVATIONS PLATFORM YIELDS DYNAMIC RESULTS

In 2015, Grand View Lodge (www.grandviewlodge.com) boasted 17,000+ unique visitors and 3,435 activities booked online. The scope of the property’s events and excursions is vital to living up to the promise of its tagline, which celebrates 100 years of “creating memories” in 2016.

“Our activities are such a huge part of the experience here and we were having endless issues managing them,” Amy Schulz, business systems analyst/programmer, says. With so many options for guests and the popularity of events, having a dynamic way to schedule and maintain activities in real-time was a key concern for the property.

Problems persisted on both the guest-facing and operations sides, which impacted guest satisfaction and created more work for staff. The resort used a paper sign-up process, which meant that guests couldn’t manage and monitor their agendas. Activities often filled to capacity because the resort lacked a method to track real-time registrations, leaving some guests disappointed that they couldn’t participate. Among those that did register, someone was bound to forget that they signed up, resulting in a no-show opening where another guest could have taken a slot. Lacking a clear way to communicate with guests about activity locations, agenda updates, or restrictions on activities (such as requirements), staff members regularly fielded questions, or guests neglected to show up or even register in the first place.

This all led to internal issues for the Grand View Lodge staff. Signing up guests for dining, spa appointments, golf and other activities created extensive time spent on the phone. Meanwhile guest no-shows led to overstaffing and paper sign-ups often resulted in miscommunications. Finally, there was no way for staff to add/remove activities or adjust tee time pricing according to real-time demand or predict staffing and supply needs ahead of time.

“The ‘emergency’ item we wanted to address was managing our activities,” Schulz points out. “We wanted to have something integrated with our current property management system so that guests could see what they signed up for and manage their itinerary.”

In order to devise a solution, Grand View Lodge had to address the variety of software the property used to manage operations including: VisualOne (V1) for PMS, Dining Res for dining reservations, V1 Retail for tee times, and V1 Spa for spa scheduling, all of which are owned by Agilysys (www.agilysys.com). “Whatever we built, the solution needed to be integrated with our existing system in order to be the most efficient,” Schulz notes.

The result was Grand View Lodge Digital Concierge (www.gvlfun.com), which takes on all actions that would have taken the time of a reservationist and created friction for the guest. The web-based application integrates with all of the property’s reservation products for everything from the PMS to dining reservations, scheduling tee times and even spa appointments.

The system is able to draw from other software automatically without having duplicate information. “Not having to maintain data in additional places was the most important piece,” Schulz explains. “We already have to log activities into our PMS to make them available on guests’ itinerary so we didn’t want to have to go somewhere else and also add the activity there increasing the potential for over booking.”

GVLfun.com is cross-platform and accessible by any device with access to the Internet, allowing guests to easily sign up for activities on their own and see available slots and how many people are left to fill a certain activity. This allows management to prepare the proper amount of staff and add additional activities if needed. When guests are done arranging their activities, they can see their itinerary anytime. The night before their activities, they are sent a text reminding them of what they have planned the next day to help reduce no-shows.

The success of the digital concierge required collaboration between marketing and IT. “A company needs both the stability and the mentality of an IT department to be successful,” Frank Soukup, marketing director, says recalling that while the marketing department was looking at third parties to help extract external data, Amy was already working on something for the internal management system and saw a bigger vision. “GVLfun.com could have simply been a back-of-house piece, which would have been great, but travelers want to plan out their stay before they get here, and this system now lets them do that while also enabling them to review and make changes to their itinerary,” explains Soukup. Ten days prior to arrival, guests receive a pre-stay marketing piece that welcomes and ties the guest to the system.

“The system would have been useless if it wasn’t advertised and guests were made aware of it,” Schulz praises.

Already the company has experienced big wins with the golf platform with 1,329 tee times booked since GVLgolf.com was installed in June 2015. Schulz and Soukup also estimate that staff members are each spending two to three hours less per week handling reservations, adding up to incredible labor savings.

Grand View plans to add functionality that will allow guests to manage their stays through service requests. These will include, for example, the ability to request housekeeping items, report maintenance issues, request shuttles or provide feedback. Soukup and Schulz agree that the results of GVLfun.com are ongoing. “I don’t think we’ll ever be done looking for ways to enhance the system’s capabilities,” Schulz admits.

ENTERPRISE INNOVATOR
Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide

GLOBAL PROCURE-TO-PAY SYSTEM STANDARDIZES PROCEDURES TO IMPROVE EFFICIENCY AND ACCURACY 

There is a quote attributed to Henry Ford that says, “If I asked my customer what they wanted they would have said a faster horse.” While the quote’s authenticity is unconfirmed, the sentiment is valid as it encourages businesses to have the vision to give customers something that they don’t know they need.

For Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide (www.starwoodhotels.com) that foresight encompassed leveraging the collective strength of the Starwood system — linking finance, procurement, operations, and business intelligence — to create a global standardized Procure 2 Pay solution.
 
“We had an existing e-procurement platform, but it was only in limited markets and we wanted to see if we could take it global and provide it across all our properties,” Angela Hauert, director supply chain, e-procurement, says.

The undertaking was no small feat with a lofty set of goals including: consistent and efficient spend visibility, strengthened financial controls, accounts payable automation, information technology support, supplier tracking, and overall improved hotel operations. This entailed consolidating information from more than 12 different systems globally into one cloud-based system.

“Being a global company, we had a great opportunity to better leverage our spend, improve financial controls, and protect our assets, but to do this, we had to have a standard,” acknowledges Mike Brown, director, supply chain, “There are differences in cultures as well as maturity in markets from a supply chain perspective that played a part in how we would deploy a system.”

In September of 2013, a summit was held pulling people from across the globe, from finance to operations to IT. “All the different business disciplines and markets were represented to gather input on what would be unique to each due to regulatory or statutory requirements and varying operating procedures,” Hauert explains.

Brown credits this summit with being necessary in order to not only see where Starwood stood at the time and pinpoint gaps in processes but to also look at all possible process configurations. At this point, BirchStreet Systems (www.birchstreet.net) had been identified as the e-procurement AP vendor and was in attendance. “We used this opportunity to further discuss with the vendor the different functionalities we could utilize within the platform and which would address the identified gaps,” Hauert recalls.
 
Starwood also teamed with ReadSoft (now Lexmark; www.lexmark.com) for secure e-signatures and data capture. Brown notes that it was important for vendors to be able and willing to take a phased approach. “Looking at a global rollout, our strategy was finding vendors that could flex with us as we moved from country to country making sure that tweaks and changes work appropriately for specific regions,” Brown explains.

By the end of 2014, Starwood was prepared to deploy the full integrated solution. In February of 2015, Starwood launched the solution at a beta group of about seven hotels. From there the company set up for massive deployment, going live at five to seven hotels every week starting in August of 2015.

With so many variations in regulations from country to country, Hauert and Brown envisioned a modularized program. With the creation of segments, some are designed to be consistent “core interfaces” while other modules hotels can decide whether or not they need them and which to use.  This allows for adjustments to be made based on individual market and property needs, enabling scalability as the solution expands internationally. 
   
“As we moved into a global deployment, we wanted to have the least amount of maintenance for properties to keep the system functional,” Hauert says. “For example, in the invoice interface, we want to make sure we have correct exchange rates for posting into the financial accounting system. So rather than having someone maintain it manually in another system, we thought, why not have an interface that brings it into the e-procurement platform from the financial accounting system with the right exchange rate and currency.”

The partnership with BirchStreet streamlines processes by enabling modules to interact, syncing items such as inventory and costing into the POS. “The new solution starts at the supplier and ends at the customer, and you can see all transactions that happen along the way,” Brown explains.

A supplier can email an invoice through Lexmark’s RSOL technology and it will go through the e-procurement system, automatically create an invoice, auto-match to the PO and Receiving documents and post into the accounting system without a single touch.

Just one year into the anticipated three years it will take for full deployment, the company is already realizing 25 percentage point improvement in financial control processes and 67 percentage point improvement in process automation.  Other results include 100% electronic capture of all invoices and a reduction of IT costs by $1.5 million/year. “The results to date have been outstanding, but the largest expected benefit, which is global visibility enabling above property aggregate spend management, is still in front of us,” Brown says.