In November this year, Oracle announced that hospitality industry veteran, Alex Alt was charged to take the helm as SVP and GM of the Oracle Hospitality Global Business Unit.
Before filling Oracle Hospitality’s top post, Alt served as President and CEO of Stack Sports, a market company specializing in sports registration, payments and performance technology. Prior to Stack Sports, he spent 11 years in hospitality, six years on the operating side with Rosewood Hotels & Resorts, and more recently, five years in technology as President of Sabre Hospitality Solutions. During his tenure as President of Sabre Hospitality, Alt tripled the size of the business and significantly enhanced the technology, business operations and support infrastructure provided to tens of thousands of hotels globally.
With an MBA from Harvard Business School and a BBA from the University of Texas, Alt has established a track record of growing and scaling businesses and delivering innovative technology solutions underpinned by a customer-centric service and support model. He is passionate about hospitality technology and has been a featured presenter at multiple industry and customer conferences. Early in his career, Alt worked for McKinsey and Company advising clients in travel and retail on a broad range of strategic, operational and organizational initiatives.
Here, Hospitality Technology recently caught up with Alt to discuss his new role at Oracle, as well as what he sees for the broader industry [hotels, casinos and cruise lines] when it comes to investing in technology.
Can you talk a little about your background leading up to your current role at Oracle?
I have spent the majority of my career in travel and hospitality. I feel very lucky to have that experience base be a mix of operational and technical. In 2006, I joined a company called Rosewood Hotels & Resorts, which is an ultra-luxurious global operator of hotels and resorts. After six fantastic years, we doubled the size of the portfolio, helped sell the business to an affluent Hong-Kong based family, and after those six years of being on the operator side and understanding the challenges and opportunities as it relates to managing and operating a portfolio of luxury properties, I had a chance to pivot to the vendor side, working for Sabre – running their hospitality software business.
I just took a 2-year break from hospitality, but felt that tug back to hospitality passively looking for ways to step back into hospitality when Oracle came up – it was really a no brainer for me. I firmly believe Oracle is the market leader in hospitality technology: Certainly the market leader in terms of size and scope of products and capabilities, number of customers served and associated economics. When I learned what Oracle hospitality had been up to in terms of new product development – particularly their cloud property management, cloud POS solutions and what they were on the cusp of doing – it was a great catalyst for me to pull the trigger. So now I’ve stepped in and have the privilege of leading an amazing team that’s done a lot of hard work over the last several years and are kind of on the front end of an industry transformation and will lead the hospitality ecosystem into the cloud and that’s a pretty exciting time to step in.
It’s one thing to be a technology vendor and I’ve done that for five-plus years at my preceding role with Sabre, but I find that having spent a long period of time as an operator gives you unique perspective (I like to call it empathy), for what hoteliers are looking to accomplish in not only in how they operate their properties on a day to day basis, but from a brand perspective on their value proposition. Over time the value proposition of the brands has really swung very heavily in the direction of the brand itself as an asset, but really technology distribution and marketing has become the cornerstone of a brand’s value proposition and that’s been fun to see. I feel like when I enter the room, I’m not just talking from the viewpoint of a tech provider, but it gives me perspective on how to better serve our customers.
What are some of your priorities in taking on this role?
#1. Service-orientation. I’d describe that as ensuring that our standard of care for our hospitality customers matches that expectation, and that’s a pretty high-bar in hospitality. That’s not just in handling help-desk calls, but it’s every single interaction we have from our customer.
#2. Innovation. And that’s party around ensuring the ultimate and flawless execution of our cloud solution roll-outs, but innovating around that core property management solution in other areas like how we integrate and really open up our technology to other third-party solution providers. Innovation around customer experience and loyalty – it’s a huge priority for our customers. The broader Oracle enterprise has a tremendous catalogue of technology assets.
#3. Growth. I’ve consulted to sick businesses, healthy businesses, and businesses that were growing … luckily I’ve stepped into Oracle Hospitality at a time when it’s growing and my expectation is that we continue to accelerate that growth. It’s great because it not only gives you the opportunity to further invest in products and services, but also creates opportunities for employees to expand in their professional endeavors because growing businesses inevitably have opportunities for people to step up and take on more responsibility.
So, service-orientation, innovation and growth are really the three pillars of my platform out of the gate. And I assume that’ll evolve and change over time, but right now that’s the message I’m communicating to the customers and my team here at Oracle Hospitality.
What are some of the biggest changes or trends you’ve seen driving the hospitality technology industry recently?
First, on the commercial side, the biggest change over the last decade is consolidation and that is the big getting bigger and how do the smaller, independent groups of hotels compete with those behemoths. The ones being consolidated have challenges around technology rationalization on a single platform. The smaller players are focused on how to use technology to differentiate versus the big players. The big players have a network effect, loyalty programs that tend to drive repeat usage, and the smaller folks have to find ways to compete on brand differentiation, service differentiation and how to use technology to compete. So, on the commercial side, consolidation has really been the single biggest driving trend in the industry.
On the macro-economic front, I would say historically if you look back in a 30-year period, the hospitality industry cycles, where you’ll have 5 to 7 years of bliss and then 3 to 5 years of tougher time (the down cycles seem to be shorter). Certainly, in the U.S., we’re in the 10th year of an upcycle, and it’s the longest cycle in the history of modern hospitality and that growth in the U.S. is slowing. Likely in 2020, we’ll have relative flatness. An overall macro-slowing is going to impact competition, how operators and brands put heads in beds, how they continue to grow in a market that has been expanding like it has over the last 10 years. In many markets, you’ve got the top-line of the properties, or ability to add properties starts to slow, costs are not slowing down in many regions. You have to find ways to better manage costs when you’re in a market that’s not growing. That’s where technology has an opportunity to step in and help companies make their operation more efficient in slower times. We’re likely approaching the end of what’s been a pretty spectacular industry cycle and how operators navigate this next period is going to be interesting.
The global focus on sustainability, particularly in more progressive economies, is something that’s interesting to watch unfold. Some hoteliers are really jumping out and taking the lead and others are following based on what new laws and regulations come into place. For example, in California, by the end of 2020 single use amenities will be illegal, so operators in that region are quickly modifying their brand standards to meet these new regulations around sustainability. Some are implementing more sustainable business practices on a national and global scale. They’re becoming more in touch with what consumers are interested in, even though it can have a short-term negative financial impact. Seeing the different hospitality brands adapt to this sustainability – I wouldn’t call it initiatives, but necessity – I’d like to see how hospitality is stepping up to address these sustainable needs.
Switching to technology, the most relevant is the move to the cloud. There are four main benefits as property management systems move from a premise-based solution to the cloud. The first major benefit is cost and the elimination in the need for substantial upfront outlay for a new property or property looking to upgrade [removes on premise infrastructure needs].
The second major advantage is the pace of innovation. We’re pushing new capabilities and features into our cloud products as frequently as every two weeks. And if you’re using those cloud solutions, you’re able to take advantage of that new capability or functionality on a near-real time basis. I would also say there’s a symbiotic relationship between our cloud solution and other solution providers that are operating and innovating in the cloud. It’s just much easier to connect different solutions in the cloud.
The third is security of the actual physically hardware, but equally (if not more importantly), the security of the confidential information that sits on that hardware. You could imaging the PCI and PII headache that folks have when they’ve got on premise technology that’s not protected either physically or with the kind of technology protocols that our cloud solutions have to ensure that we’re storing data securely, that we’re passing it in a secure fashion. So, when we’re talking to our customers the attractiveness of getting to a much secure operating environment is something that they’re super excited about.
On the more technical side, another benefit is the ability to integrate with other best in class solutions. We’ve developed our next-gen cloud platform with a much more open architecture so we could easily plug in other technologies to our core technology. For example, revenue management, or on the POS side, the ability to integrate on the fast-growing delivery side of the business so folks like Uber Eats can plug directly into our system for ordering purposes.
That move to cloud and open-architecture and ability to more easily integrate to other solutions is the fourth benefit.
What are some other industry trends and technologies to watch in 2020 and beyond?
Personalization and the ability to capture guest preferences, enhance the experience, and build loyalty is nothing new to the industry, but it’s amazing how challenging it is for the industry to capture guest profile data, maintain clean guest profiles, and serve it back up at times when it’s most useful to guests. In many cases, the PMS is really the last piece of tech that sits between the hotel associate and the guest, and there’s so much power embedded in that system and application, to positively impact the guest experience to service, surprise and delight – and I think as the industry continues to seek to personalize the guest experience, we have a tremendous asset to take advantage of on behalf of our customers.
Distribution is an industry I came from, but there’s an evolution in distribution right now. You’ve seen over the last three or four years, the significant push of the major brands to increase direct distribution and many of them have done that with technology.
There’s a new push towards attribute-based pricing, which is where you price based on the attributes of the property or the room, but the attributes of the property or room are present in the PMS, so at the core as we think of our pricing capabilities, we’ve got one of the foundational building blocks to build on trends like attribute-based pricing.
Third, there’s a payment innovation boom especially in Asia. Whether it’s Alipay, or WeChat Pay, the ability to infuse and embed alternative payment technologies in our applications is absolutely mission critical. It allows our customers to pick and choose how and when they want to allow their guests to pay for their property, cruise or casino experiences.
The data and information security is such a critical focus for the hospitality brands given that their value proposition has really pivoted over the last decade-plus towards more of a technology-centric value proposition, the need to protect data. It’s becoming more complex because the data protection laws, rules and regulations really differ at the country level and it is a lot to keep up with. The advantage that Oracle has is its large global footprint.
I’m particularly interested in AI and machine learning and the impact it will have on hospitality. In one breath we’re watching it, in another breath, Oracle is on the cutting-edge of it. I’m following the payments ecosystem closely and the monitoring of crypto-currency. It’s not necessarily mainstream, but it’s an alternative form of payment that I suspect will be part of the evolution of our payments platform.
I also keep an eye on trends like space travel - companies like SpaceX and Tesla - and implications for how people view tourism and at some point I think there’s 80 million dollars-worth of reservations that have already been taking pre-bookings. Things like driverless transportation and what does that mean for the hospitality industry. There’s already plans for Singapore to have a meaningful portion of their city-transit system be driverless by the year 2023. I try to follow as much as possible (even if some of the stuff seems way out there like space travel), because if you want to be innovative you need to follow technology that is way beyond your space.