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09/21/2021

Charlestowne Hotels Explains the Benefits of Investing in Tech During a Pandemic

To succeed during the pandemic and in whatever business conditions emerged post-pandemic, Charlestowne Hotels believed investing in technology would be a core pillar for success.
Michal Christine Escobar
Senior Editor (Hotels)
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a fireplace in a living room filled with furniture and a fire place
HarbourView Inn, a Charlestowne-managed property.

Recently, Charlestowne Hotels announced that the company invested in some major technology initiatives. The company said it specifically invested in technology solutions that support streamlined operations and enhance the guest experience. Not only do these tech investments provide the infrastructure necessary to manage all 50+ hotels from one central hub but also strengthen the framework for a number of the company’s core disciplines, including marketing services, revenue management, strategic operations and F&B management. To find out more about these technology investments and why the brand was willing to spend money on technology during a pandemic when hotel stays were at historic lows, we spoke with Max Spangler, Corporate Technology & Systems Manager.

Why does Charlestowne Hotels feel that it is important to invest in technology?

Simply, it creates an environment that allows us to grow in ways we can define and control.  Investing in technology keeps us relevant as the business conditions continue to evolve constantly, which, as it’s a priority for Charlestowne Hotels, creates space between our competitors and allows us to move more quickly than other hotel management companies in our space, to capitalize on consumer-technology trends, to capture opportunities in the development space and to ingest and analyze disparate data sources efficiently.  

We feel our investments in technology are the result of investing in our people, who ultimately create the scope, manage the tools/platforms, and define benchmarks and success. So, these investments in people allow us to proactively find new technologies and take advantage of them quickly and move the business forward.

Why was Charlestowne willing to invest in technology during a pandemic?

We understood that the commitment to innovation, globally, would decrease as companies worked through the pandemic and focused on short-term issues. In many areas, we also had to prioritize short term issues, as our team only has a certain amount of bandwidth available.  Focusing on communication, sanitation and cleanliness policies, staffing, cash flow, and owner relations was critical during the pandemic. 

Conversely, having been in business for 40 years, we also knew that no single part of our business could remain in stasis, and we also knew that to succeed both in the pandemic and to quickly adapt to whatever businesses conditions were to emerge post-pandemic, technology, broadly speaking, would be a core pillar for our success.

Investing in technology is a key tenant to our company and we knew we had to make it even more of a priority to ensure that the company coming out of the pandemic was prepared to thrive in a very different world. 

 

a man wearing a suit and tie
Max Spangler, Corporate Technology & Systems Manager

How will these tech investments support the guest experience?

The principle of knowing our guests has always been at the core of everything we do at Charlestowne Hotels.  It allows us to deliver exceptional experiences efficiently and at scale across our portfolio of more than 50 hotels. Today, the concept and practice of having a deep knowledge of guests is being realized in new and different ways through technology.  

As a result, our guest experience strategy, facilitated in part through our technology investments and system deployments, are focused on delivering the high-touch hospitality guests are accustomed to, while also delivering on the on-demand style service they receive from other industries to delight and surprise.

We recognize that to maintain our edge and retain guests in the post-pandemic environment, our technology investments must be focused on how to be more thoughtful about how guests and technology, powered by data-driven insights, combine to deliver authentic hospitality.

How will these tech investments streamline operations?

Our focus is to always create a frictionless environment for our teams to operate within. The goal is to eliminate as many obstacles as possible, distractions, legacy systems, information silos and manual processes to free their bandwidth to focus on hotel operations and our guests.

We always must strike a balance between delivering that frictionless environment and ensuring our teams operate securely, as more of our teams are working remotely.  Although finding the right balance can be challenging, we have created an environment and workflows that allow our Operations team to work efficiently, securely, and collaboratively both at the property level and more broadly across our entire portfolio.

What role did your in-house tech team play in determining the viability and role of these investments?

Charlestowne Hotels’ in-house technical team vets every company, system, reviews deployment schedule, user management, security features, etc.  Our property teams are focused on operating the business, providing a best-in-class guest experience, delivering on financial goals and others.  The technical team within Charlestowne is completely focused on technology software, hardware, costs, procurement, security, and innovation -- both now and what that looks like next year, three years from now and in the future. 

Why was Charlestowne focused on technologies that had excellent integration capabilities?

Our focus on technologies with integration capabilities completely depends on the nature of the system and its end goals.  It’s not always necessary or needed to have a connected system. However, where it makes sense, we are focused on integrations that eliminate the need to input the same information into multiple systems. This makes the flow of information within the organization very inefficient. Information is often backed up, awaiting rekeying on a scheduled basis. One of the main benefits of system integration is after automatically integrating systems, critical information is more quickly available throughout the organizations. This facilitates more nimble decision-making without sacrificing quality or standards. 

Data fidelity and consistency is also key, as in addition to saving money on rekeying the same data repeatedly, the automated exchange of information means that information is consistent between disparate systems. Without system connectivity, it’s common for data to become inconsistent between systems. For example, one system may be updated with a guest’s new address, but another system may not get the update. Integrating these systems eliminates the confusion that inconsistent data creates.

Integrated systems allow us to leverage our investment in them. Consequently, instead of replacing several systems with a single, monolithic, expensive new system, we can integrate these systems at a lower cost and not go through the sometimes-painful process of implementing a new system.

Lastly, a focus for Charlestowne Hotels this year has been building and deploying a business intelligence (BI) system. The goal is for the BI system to aggregate data from various systems to give an overall view of our business.  Our team needed a system that allowed us to make the connections between the BI Data Warehouse and the PMS, POS, Payroll, Events, Finance and other systems that we will onboard and deploy in the future.  The end goal being able to derive insights that may have been potentially missed, thus continuing to drive our innovation in hotel management. 

What advice would you give to hoteliers who are also looking to make new tech investments?

Build the right internal team first that can understand, audit and evaluate technology. They’ll need executive support and trust to navigate the business, but it’s critical to ensure uniform buy in and implementation.