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Executive Q&A: The Importance of Security and a Rock-Solid Network

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Courtney Radke, Field CISO – Retail & Hospitality, Fortinet

HT’s survey data suggests that lodging tech budgets are growing, including the allocation of more resources to research and development. What spending priorities should be top of mind for hotel tech leaders?

First and foremost, training and education for the workforce should be top of mind and funding should be allocated accordingly to ensure employees are aware of today’s growing threat landscape. Doing so allows employees to become a strong first line of defense, instead of the proverbial weakest link, in the effort to protect themselves, the brand, and their customers.

A top trend we hear is “How can I make the guest experience smarter, faster, and more personalized?” Essentially, how do you keep your guests coming back vs. going to the competition. In a word; Technology. More specifically, how and where it is utilized is the key.

Smart “connected” hotel rooms are becoming more common as guest expectations necessitate change from the traditional. From the moment you walk in the room, IoT (internet of things) sensors can do things like turn on lighting, adjust the temperature, or even trigger events like room shades to be activated or music to play. Those examples may be reserved for the more high-end chains for now but will soon find their way into mainstream.

Two things that are absolutely necessary to drive these connected guest experiences: good data and a rock-solid network backbone. One is high-profile and gets a lot of attention (for good and bad reasons) while the latter is often overlooked, over-subscribed, and usually takes the blame when things aren’t working as they should. The businesses that are differentiating themselves from the competition are investing heavily in these areas.

 We see high adoption rates for self-service tech such as mobile reservations, check-in/out, and digital room key. How can the move to mobility and self-service help drive revenue and operational efficiency?

The guest journey begins well before they ever walk into the hotel. In fact, the level of investment made in the crucial pre-arrival stage is more important than ever. From initial brand awareness, to the booking, the web and mobile app experience, and the check-in process itself – investments here often set the tone for the overall guest experience and may even exclude the brand from future consideration if not done correctly.

Mobile service is already a proven commodity and will continue to evolve to better fit customer needs. The ability to open the door and interact with the technology in the room, chat with the front desk, utilize contactless payments – all of these things create less friction for the guest while also opening up avenues for the brand to interact with their guests before, during, and after their stay. This boosts customer loyalty which directly impacts the hotel brands’ financial health.

Looking at it from the lens of operational efficiency, there are less wasted cycles and more acute awareness of where to focus employee attention. Technology points out problem areas and low stock items before the guests even notice, making these previously reactive activities more proactive and even predictive.

We also see strong support for redefining technology ROI, which has historically been challenging to calculate. How should hotel leaders redefine tech ROI?

Creating a ROI statement for technology investment has been traditionally Boolean. “Does the technology I am investing in directly impact the bottom line? True or False” However, we know the answer is not that simple. While there are certainly investments that bring immediate financial value such as revenue management systems, enhancements such as smart in-room thermostats and connected water sensors can have arguably greater impact with the significant cost savings they bring.

Digging a bit deeper, businesses must think about the investments that enable all of the new guest experiences. In-room Wi-Fi to connect the myriad of devices guests now travel with isn’t free, but you’ll have a hard time finding guests who tolerate slow speeds or low devices limits. Likewise, all of the IoT devices powering the smart hotel rooms of today add cost and complexity, but when you experience a truly connected hotel stay, that is executed well, you never want to go back to the old way.

“You mean I can’t open the door with my phone…or worse, I have to physically insert my keycard? What do you mean I can’t stream my favorite show from the comfort of my bed?”

Businesses need to start thinking about the experiences they can’t deliver or gain loyalty from because they did not make the right technology investments. Customer expectations continue to change and raise the bar for what is acceptable vs. what they will keep coming back for.

Security is always top of mind. How can hotels ensure privacy and data security in an evolving landscape?

In the hospitality industry, cyber attackers are overwhelmingly looking for a financial gain, and data = money. In the right hands, this data, and the systems/sensor/technology used to collect it, become an essential driver of the business. In the wrong hands, we see data ransomed as part of attacks perpetrated against the hotel chains, causing long-term brand reputational harm.

It happens every year. Especially as hotel brands go through continued M&A activities, essentially inheriting risk and vulnerabilities as part of the process. As we discuss all the benefits that technology brings to the guest experiences, for hotel efficiency, and for brand awareness, we cannot turn a blind eye to the security challenges technology brings.

So what do hotel chains do to eliminate all of their risk? Trick question, they cannot. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t do all they can to reduce their risk posture and move themselves ever closer to true cyber maturity. The best practices in this area include:

• Maintaining a comprehensive training program for employees

• Enhancing visibility of, and understanding the vulnerabilities that exist within, the organizations’ entire attacks surface

• Investing in cyber-security platforms that solve for multiple use-cases vs. point-products that solve singular problems alone

• Isolating risk and limiting attack sprawl by adopting a Zero-Trust methodology within the organization

How does the voice of the customer (VoC), including your clients and your clients’ customers, help inform your R&D?

When we develop our solutions to support the industry, we gather insights and feedback using a tried-and-true method: we ask the people that live it daily. Whether through industry events, affiliations and workgroups, or our own customer advisory board, the conversations we have with those in the hospitality industry truly shape our product and service portfolio. While we understand the risks and challenges faced by the industry from an outside-in view, we rely on those in the hospitality space to tie it all together and provide the “why” behind the “what”.

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