Choice Hotels sits at the nexus of technology and hospitality. As a hotel management company managing approximately 6,379 properties worldwide representing 505,278 rooms, the company has been at the forefront of many industry firsts, starting with being the nation’s first hotel chain. A few technology-related firsts include: the first hotel app for IOS, the first Connected Car app, and the first cloud-based property management system. This innovation leadership led to the launch of SkyTouch Technology, the division developed to market Choice’s cloud-based software to other hotels.
In February of 2018, Brian Kirkland was promoted to the role of chief technology officer after serving as vice president of engineering. Since taking on his new position, Kirkland has been focusing on how to use technology to drive the business forward and how Choice – in its unique position at the intersection of hotel management and technology – can help drive value for franchisees.
“Getting franchisees on the ChoiceEDGE platform is part of what allows us to grow and provides the core capability to move faster and better tomorrow,” Kirkland says.
Data: Building Block to Experience
According to HT’s 2018 Lodging Technology Study, top goals for hotel technology in 2018 are improving digital customer engagement and use of analytics. Kirkland admits that these are two areas that are a top focus for Choice.
“It’s interesting to me, the chatter around innovating for guest experience and data analytics,” he says. “They are two different things, but so intertwined, you don’t have one without the other effectively.”
Kirkland notes that good data analytics will enable Choice to make improvements in areas from distribution to personalization and gain customers’ trust to drive repeat bookings. What the company has built with the EDGE platform Kirkland says is designed to unleash capabilities for tomorrow.
“We’re starting to do research with partners like Amazon – to see how we can use machine learning and predictive analytics to help make data tangible and make experiences more personal, while translating that to franchisees,” Kirkland says. “A focus will be getting the building blocks for that in place to make us stronger tomorrow.”
Choice Hotels already boasts a robust loyalty program, Choice Privileges Rewards, which was named a Top Readers’ Choice by USA Today and welcomed five million more members in 2017. Pairing the data from loyalty members with that gathered through visits, helps the company understand patterns on site and pair that with other guest analytics to cater to what each individual guest is looking for and build upon that.
“For us direct booking is important,” Kirkland says. “It helps to drive the best value for our franchises. That source of business – the booking history – it’s all about being able to customize experiences for the guest and drive them to return.”
Kirkland says key to helping guests feel the advantages that can come from booking direct will come through mobile apps and mobile sites.
An Industry Challenged by Lack of IT Investment
Kirkland bemoans the fact that the hotel industry as a whole lags other verticals when it comes to leveraging new technology. Technology stacks for the most part, he says, are comprised of systems built a decade ago that won’t meet industry needs in 10 years. This was one of the drivers for Choice’s investment in its technology infrastructure.
He also noted the increasing struggle to use data effectively, and notes that it’s hard to take advantage of the capabilities of even robust technology stacks, if data isn’t also being leveraged as a company asset.
“I’m excited about the capabilities of cloud and our investment there,” he says. “We built Choice Advantage and Edge in the cloud and those platforms have helped us achieve so much more than we could have before. It’s given us the ability to scale technology to the demand of our customers on demand, and we’ve already seen returns on how fast we can roll out features.”
In his new role Kirkland says he is excited to have the opportunity to directly influence how technology is used to drive business value.
“I will look to take advantage of being at the intersection of technology, hospitality and franchises,” he says. To do so, we’ll leverage data and our tech teams to innovate. I feel like we have a head start on the competition, so I’m excited to get to the next phase.”