2016 Industry Outlook

At the start of each New Year, Hospitality Technology checks in with its advisory board to find out what is, and what may be. We asked these hotel and technology executives to share details about their IT priorities for 2016, and we’ve solicited predictions for emerging technologies five years into the future. In the restaurant segment, delivery is having a moment. From disruptive services (think Uber bringing you lunch) to unexpected players (is that Dunkin’ at my door?), restaurant executives are bullish about the impact that food delivery can have on sales. Also high on their priority list: knowing the customer better than ever before, and using mobile solutions to engage them. Looking ahead, they’re excited about LiFi, digital disruption, and a host of next-gen solutions straight from the 2016 CES exhibit floor.

In hotels, IT leaders are looking for new service providers and bundled offerings to disrupt the status quo. Everything from PMS, to PBX, to subscription pricing is due for a change. “The next few years are going to see a large dynamic shift,” predicts Mike Dickersbach, CTO of Highgate Hotels (www.highgatecareers.com). “It’s exciting to see our core hotel management system evolve from a bunch of clunky servers to a true web-based interface, with all the features we would come to expect of a next-generation property management system.” Starwood Hotels & Resorts’ (www.starwoodhotels.com) Ted Hopcroft sees PBX finally coming into its own with bundled offerings that include dial tone, WiFi, bandwidth and equipment. “This is very much like the approach used in the residential market and might finally add the financial incentive that we have all been looking for.”

What technology projects are on your company’s priority list for 2016?
sbrooksCS0316.jpgBROOKS: At Tumbleweed (www.tumbleweedrestaurants.com) our top project for 2016 is automation. Within that, we plan to automate payroll, training and hiring forms with an onboarding process. Our objective is to streamline paperwork. Secondly, we would like to expand our limited online ordering and delivery to cover all of our stores, plus add catering online ordering. We hope to grow sales with these new avenues for sales and delivery. We also plan to review tabletop payment options, with an eye to games and the ability for guests to page their server and place orders.

GaracusoCS0316.jpgGARAVUSO: A few of the priority projects for Diamond Resorts (www.diamondresorts.com) will focus on redesigning and enhancing our member website, streamlining our sales contracting systems, new analytical systems for yield management, and continued mobilization of sales and support systems. We will use feedback gathered from our members to continue to enhance the usability of the members’ area of our website. We will completely overhaul availability searches in order to give members many options for refining their reservations requests to maximize the use of their ownership points. We’ll focus on design and user interface for the most frequently used screens. Another focus for 2016 is digitizing our sales contracts process to make it fully automated from sales proposal through to contract signing. This will also fully digitize the contract storage and retrieval process. This will be facilitated by the continued deployment of mobile devices for enhancing the sales process. Lastly, by better integrating our core technology systems with our business intelligence platform, we will deliver superior yield management and analytical tools.

GENGLER: The business technology team at Papa Murphy’s (www.papamurphys.com) is completely focused on increasing convenience for our customers, partners, and franchise owners in 2016. At the top of our list is building a new custom eCommerce website to connect our NCR (www.ncr.com/hospitality) point-of-sale platform with our menu. Although we’ve had online ordering in various tests for the past few years, this is our first step in building our customer database in a long-term, sustainable fashion that works with our local store needs and sets us up for precision marketing in 2017 and beyond. We are also enhancing and extending our use of Salesforce (www.salesforce.com), adding TaskRay as a project management tool for all store lifecycle events, and implementing Pardot to increase the effectiveness of our marketing and campaigns towards potential franchise owners.

HASSEL: The One Group (www.togrp.com) is going to revisit its technology platforms and partners in 2016. We have done such a great job of gathering data that we don’t have time to analyze it in a fashion that allows us to act on it quickly.  We are going to take a step back and challenge our technology partners to deliver more than just the same old canned spaghetti. We would like some sauce specially crafted for us.

HOPCROFT: One of the key priorities for the team at Starwood Hotels (www.starwoodhotels.com) is the deployment of EMV-capable credit card terminals that enable end-to-end encryption and tokenization of credit card data at both the front desk and food and beverage outlets. Removing as much credit card data from our environment has been a priority for us for several years but only within the last 12 months have the key partners come to the table with the appropriate integration and equipment that makes the segmenting of credit card processing operationally acceptable.

LEHN: Noodles and Company (www.noodles.com) will make significant investments in the technology within our restaurants in 2016.  This will include a material upgrade to bandwidth in order to better support our large portfolio of cloud-based services from key technology solution providers, as well as centrally hosted internal services. We are also planning to complete year-two of an ongoing three-year workstation refresh cycle to ensure our operations teams have modern, reliable devices to support their sales and business activity. Lastly, we are eyeing up an upgrade of our payment infrastructure in order to support modern tender technology (NFC, EMV) and strengthen our existing security methods.

LUCIA: At Fireman Hospitality Group (www.thefiremangroup.com) there are two main objectives. First is to move all our applications to a cloud environment whether it be SaaS, or in a hosted environment using Amazon Web Services. There will be no on-premises data center and the only in-house server will be a file server. The days of the big data center, in my opinion, are over. My second main objective is to become one-hundred percent PCI compliant. Many companies claim to be PCI compliant because they have passing scans, but I want to tackle every rule that’s not followed to the letter.

RAMA: There are several projects in the works at JHM Hotels (www.jhmhotels.com). We are exploring free-to-guest television services with a set-top box that would allow customers to use the in-room television as an extension of their own device and content viewing screens. We are also exploring opportunities to retrofit or install new locks that are mobile friendly; and are looking into energy saving devices. We are also looking to upgrade our point of sale and property management systems, and will explore the conversion of incandescent lighting to LED. Rebates offered by utility providers have put this last project within reach. Finally, converting to EMV and chip and pin or signature is knocking on our doors.

STARMER: Technology projects on tap for Dunkin Brands (www.dunkinbrands.com) in 2016 are focused on driving franchisee profitability and strengthening relationships with our guests. Dunkin’ Donuts plans to roll out mobile ordering in 2016 and is interested in exploring delivery. We will deploy new point of sale and back office solutions for both Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin-Robbins. This is the outcome of extensive work with our franchisee leadership in 2015 to come to an objective, shared determination of the best of those solutions for each of our brands.

WASDIN: Church’s Chicken (www.churchs.com) is a 60-year-old brand with 1,700 locations worldwide. As we continue to rollout new technology initiatives, infrastructure standardization is key. We need common platforms as a basis. To that end, we will be publishing our first ever “Technology Standards Guide” for the franchisee community this year. While one goal of this guide is to move in a common direction, it is also a mechanism for us to protect our franchisees and partners with solutions we’ve tested and proven. We are also working through a number of digital initiatives to engage our guests. While we have more than a thousand locations in the United States, we don’t have the power of national media advertising, and there are markets in which we operate that are not exposed to traditional media. We are using digital platforms (social, mobile app, website, SEO) to reach those people. We’ll also continue to work to ensure our systems are secure — security remains an ongoing initiative.

WISE: Scotty’s Brewhouse (www.scottysbrewhouse.com) will be launching a new mobile app in February that will allow us to implement a mobile payment system integrated into our point of sale. The app will also prompt guests to leave feedback after paying and allow social sharing about their dining experience. Overall, it will enable faster table turns, higher tip averages, and will allow us to gain greater insight into guests’ feelings regarding their visit. The back-end of the social integration will help in our marketing efforts. We will also be able to integrate our current loyalty program into the mobile app. Guests will now be able to see where they stand on all our different award levels. They will be able to redeem these rewards right through the app, applying them to the check during their visit.  

How will your brand use technology to create more consumer engagement in 2016?
BROOKS: At Tumbleweed we are committing most of our marketing dollars to guest engagement with social media, e-blasts and text marketing. If we post a deal on social media, consumers must “share” it to get the offer. This boosts our promotion exponentially. Testimonial social media has been so much more effective than an outside marketing agency writing posts. Now that our posts are internal and shared by our fans, participation has increased faster than in any year. Ultimately we know it works when sales and guest counts increase. In turn it costs less and is more profitable.

GENGLER: Although our latest priorities make ordering easier through our mobile app and new eCommerce website, these tools also allow other benefits, such as multiple saved orders. Once we expand our customer database with these new accounts and transaction-level order data, we’ll know what customers like, and will be able to incentivize more frequent or additional visits, welcome lapsed guests back with a targeted aggressive offer, or introduce new flavor profiles and limited-time offers that align with previous purchases. Essentially, we’ll know customers better, and be able to make their fresh pizza experience more personalized.

LEHN: In 2016 we will give serious consideration to rolling out a formal customer engagement program to better identify and communicate more personally with our guests. We want to appropriately incent our guests along a continuum — the casually interested through enthusiastic advocates — and do so by communicating through the channels, and at a frequency, of their choosing.  We are interested in platforms that make strong use of mobile technology.  Lastly, we see an OmniChannel-like approach as critical, wherein we capture and record all of the interactions and touch points a guest may have with our brand, be they across social media channels, completing surveys, providing feedback or ordering ahead via our online system.

RAMA: Hotel brands will continue to work on capturing customers back from third-party sellers and OTAs by offering them better benefits, and better terms and conditions for direct bookings. Rogue websites will have to be barred from selling rooms that are not authorized by owners or brands, and legislation will have to stop such deceiving practices via consumer protection regulations.

STARMER: Mobile-first is no longer aspirational for many businesses. This approach enables organizations, especially those confined primarily to brick-and-mortar experiences, to allow customers to begin to dictate the how and when of engagement.  It grows the four walls. The question used to be, “Should I engage with guests in the mobile space?”  Now, the better question is, “Now that I’m there, how do I continually do it better?” Companies that accelerate their mobile strategy to create, and then continually refine their mobile capabilities, achieve the strongest customer engagement.  It’s not just functionality anymore.  Customers expect it to be beautiful and perform perfectly.

WASDIN: We have amazing interactions with our guests via our mobile app. We’ve defined four categories of guests: activated (those who download and sign into the app); sharers (those who provide feedback about their experience); offer lovers (people who redeem our offers); and engaged (people who give feedback and use offers).  Through the mobile app we can see how often people come to us, what they like and the amazing things they say about our brand.  We can also see if we disappoint them and it provides us a better/faster way to correct any issues.

WISE: We’ll be focusing on gathering guest feedback immediately following their visits, and as a part of that we’ve implemented a new feedback system called Customer Voice. Guests who are loyalty members receive a brief survey via email shortly after their visit. Their feedback goes directly to the location they dined as well as to our corporate team. We then engage with guests — whether the response is positive or negative — and can prompt guests to share their experience on social media.

What emerging solutions are interesting to you?
DICKERSBACH: If you ask anyone in and around our industry, I think the biggest pain point you can consistently get feedback on is the PMS.  Most property management systems — or let’s say the largest — are far behind the times in terms of features, functionality and structure. The smaller, more nimble companies out there have taken notice. There are players that have found the right formula — they saw that they needed a solid back-end cloud architecture such as Azure or Amazon Web Services. They have features that are going to shape the way hotels function in the future. Others will have no choice but to follow. The next few years are going to see a large dynamic shift. We will see new, viable PMS systems with the ability to integrate seamlessly into social media platforms and business applications, giving both the guest and the manager the power to do more. It’s exciting to see our core hotel management system evolve from a bunch of clunky servers to a true web-based interface, with all the features we would come to expect of a next-generation property management system.

GARAVUSO: When it comes to emerging technologies, we’re focused on those that can enhance our ability to better recognize and provide unique services to our members and guests. We are very interested in cognitive systems and data. We want to explore deeper customer insights through their declared, observed, and inferred data points and interactions. We believe we can enhance service with actionable 1:1 personalization through improvements to our CRM.
HASSEL: I think Li-Fi (Light Fidelity), although still very new, is a technology that has some great potential in the industry. Especially in back-of-house environments when one can control access to light sources and devices. It is all about building the better mouse trap. [Editor’s note: Li-Fi is wireless optical networking technology that uses LEDs to transmit data at very high speeds. LiFi bulbs are outfitted with a chip that modulates the light to transmit data to photoreceptors. Potential applications range from smart lighting, to short-range mobile connectivity, to aviation and underwater communications.]

HOPCROFT: It appears that hosted PBX is starting to come into its own. Historically, players come into this market with interesting solutions that simply add another layer of management and support. There finally appears to be a shift in the marketplace where vendors are bundling several services that include dial tone, WiFi, bandwidth and equipment. This is very much like the approach used in the residential market and might finally add the financial incentive that we have all been looking for. However, the number of service providers has expanded quickly and one should question who will be left standing at the end of the year. Many of the new players might vanish just as quickly as they appeared.

LEHN: We are very keen on third-party delivery service providers (DSP). We view them as a great way to increase guest frequency due to convenience, and as a way to reach new guests who may see our menu in the app or website of their local delivery service. Additionally, many of the DSPs are willing to fund deals that incent customers to try their service while also promoting our restaurants.  We can do all of this without making the large, upfront investments that are necessary to build and manage a private fleet of delivery drivers, and instead agree to a financially viable pay-as-use-it model.  We are actively working with several national DSPs, as well as our key technology partners, to streamline the electronic flow of an order from the guest, through the DSP, and directly into our restaurant POS system.

LUCIA: There are several: digital distribution, where operators purchase supplies online from places like eBay and NetGrocer to save a ton of money; the application of Big Data for everything from the customer experience to inventory to social media interactions; and tech-driven delivery service.  UberEATS and Amazon Prime are making their way into the delivery arena. UberEATS races to your door in Uber vehicles and handles ordering, delivery and payments.

RAMA: Traffic sensing strips, placed under the carpets and tiles, are one emerging technology I’ve evaluated. The ability to determine guest location could reduce energy costs and also offers promise in emergencies. Pressure applied when guests walk on carpets or tiles could send a signal to control devices which thereby adjust the use of energy based on traffic. Shower pressure could be adjusted based on a guest’s physical location — for example if they’ve stepped away — saving lot of water.

TenzarCS0316.jpgTENCZAR: (Sonny’s BBQ; www.sonnysbbq.com) I make it a point to walk the CES show floor every year to understand what might be in our guests’ hands or houses in the next few years and beyond. I look for technologies not specific to hospitality to see how they might affect the industry. Autonomous cars, for example, are a truly disruptive technology. There will be an inherent link between service destinations like restaurants and hotels, and the car. You should be able to simply tell your car that you are hungry and have it deliver you to a local restaurant that is best suited to your profile. A few less-disruptive technologies could also prove interesting, for example:
  • Projectors with visual sensors that screw into normal light sockets; this could allow you to deliver content directly to an ordinary tabletop for guest  interaction;
  • An automated laundry folding machine; the closed-box system uses sensors and robotics arms to sort and fold, returning the clothes to drawers at the bottom. The company says this could be ready for institutional use in 2018 — how might that be used in hotels?
  • A small UV-sensing device that could be offered to hotel guests by the pool; it tells them the UV danger in the specific spot they are sitting and when to re-apply sunscreen. Imagine this built right into the chairs.
  • Advancements in facial recognition; imagine having to simply look at your hotel room door and blink to have it unlock for you.
  • Robotic bartenders and individualized wine dispensing; these are for personal use now, but imagine having it create thousands of drink options without training or overtime.

WISE: The use of beacons and geo-fencing will change how we interact with our customers. We will be able to make a connection with a customer the moment they walk into our store or even as they drive by. We will be working this year to integrate some of this functionality into our app as well as using geo-fencing to reach potential customers who do not have our app installed.

Looking five years out, what predictions do you have for the application of technology in hospitality?

DICKERSBACH: I see an evolution in subscription-based pricing in our favor. Right now, our industry faces increasing OpEx due to cloud models and the never-ending subscription platform.  This takes a toll on all the various systems that have converted to this model. As the years go by and efficiencies
really come into play, subscription pricing will come down as the cost of back-end services continue to decline. We will see, and have already begun to see, zero footprint hotels — fully cloud based software, including the PMS, PBX and everything in between.

LUCIA: I think virtually everything will be cloud-based and accessible via mobile apps. Operators will know what consumers want in order to keep them engaged and coming back and mobile commerce will be commonplace. We are headed to the post-pc world! I also think the legacy POS will become obsolete. Restaurants in the future will have “smart” interactive tables, charging stations, and data tracking beacons. Plus, the move towards higher minimum wage will push operators towards technology to mitigate rising labor costs. With Apple Pay and Android Pay and cryptocurrencies, cash and credit cards will continue
to decline.

PEARSON: I predict increasing use of augmented reality for better engagement. There will also be greater cross-utilization of platforms due to emerging API trends — specifically everyone making their platforms talk — which will enable choices for retailers. Augmented reality and better frameworks for development, such as Cordova and React Native, will become more common.

TENZCAR: I believe credit cards will broadly not exist as we know them today. There are too many mandates pushed by card brands and security remains an issue, regardless of EMV and P2PE. It is a technology that has run its course.  MasterCard probably knows this and has recently released some pretty cool stuff, like NFC moving-token chips that can be put into rings, key fobs, or sunglasses. They also have some interesting online payment technology that utilizes facial recognition.
I also predict that restaurants will have to subscribe to a ubiquitous delivery service in order to compete.  Think Amazon one-day-delivery service for all restaurants in your area.  Maybe even by drones; but that may be further into the future.
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