IT Priorities in 2021: Modernizing Data Systems, Rebuilding Guest Confidence

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IT Priorities in 2021: Modernizing Data Systems, Rebuilding Guest Confidence

By Michal Christine Escobar - 01/27/2021

During 2020, IT priorities shifted virtually overnight. Large IT projects were either finished quickly or completely abandoned as hotels shut down, guests stayed away, and the pandemic raged on. With the start of the new year, some hotel IT executives might be wondering what they should be focusing on this year. Here, Hospitality Technology speaks with Cognizant’s Vice President of Travel and Hospitality Joseph Rajadurai to find out.

What should hotel IT executives focus on in 2021?

Assuming that the COVID outbreaks slow down by early spring, most analysts expect hotel demand to strengthen throughout 2021. The overall priority should be to capitalize on this rebound and regain a sizeable share of the market. This drives near term technology priorities. So, the focus should be on the following:

  • Providing the right insight from customer data that will enable marketers to build trust with loyal customers,
  • Support targeted promotional messages that will yield higher conversions, and
  • Offer contactless check-in, contact-less food service, employee health tracking etc.

Any technology priority that will rebuild confidence in the brand will be an important priority.

What is one IT challenge hotels should work especially hard to solve in 2021 and why?

Modernizing data systems to cloud-native architectures should be a big priority in 2021. Improving customer engagement requires a better understanding of customer preferences. Unfortunately, customer data is spread across the enterprise and outside data sources.  Making meaning out of this data will require hotels to rethink their data platforms.  Modernization will allow for better integration of data and the sophisticated algorithms on cloud platforms will provide greater insight that will be valuable enough for this to be a priority.

How are hotels using technology to reduce guest density in common areas due to COVID-19 restrictions?

Enabling a contactless guest experience from arrival to checkout is an important lever to support this objective. Hotels should take advantage of technologies that streamline back-end interaction through industry standard interfaces to property and corporate systems. One major hotel and resort chain was able to provide flexibility for its guests by allowing them to choose their room and perform mobile check-in and check-out. It also exposed data from property systems such as: room features, room views, etc., on digital channels to support a new level of self-service in interactions between guests and employees. The hotel even had access to features such as digital validation, digital key generation, room directions, accessing room controls (such as the thermostat, TV, lights, etc.) through either the guest mobile app or via other contactless channels like websites and kiosks.  

How has the pandemic changed your view of Artificial Intelligence?

The pandemic will accelerate adoption of AI in areas like reservations, room service and other service areas of a hotel.  It will also increase the use of process automation in back-end processes. These will allow companies to offer more personalized and superior customer service without a significant investment in new labor to their hotels. The broader trend by consumers to use technology for discovering new experiences, delivery of products and services has been accelerated by the pandemic. Hotels have an opportunity to increase their customer relevance by investing in such technologies.

What was the most over-hyped technology of 2020?

There was a lot of exploration to create systems to track employee health and building cleanliness. These did not see much implementation through 2020.  

How was hotel technology underserved in 2020?

As occupancy numbers plummeted, most hotels cut spending across the board. This impacted technology spend quite a bit. Only the most essential projects that firms needed to keep the lights on got funded. Most firms have resized their operations to their revised outlook, and I expect them to start building out customer experience, data capabilities that will allow for better targeting, and improved revenue conversion.

In 2020, hotels leaned heavily into guest-facing technologies. Will 2021 see an emphasis on BOH tech?

I expect the emphasis to remain on guest facing technologies – The business case for a large scale investment on new BOH technology is not easy when demand and profits are low. But I expect that back-end systems required to support guest-facing technologies will see some emphasis. Data Modernization, modernizing legacy property systems by migrating functionality into an above property services architecture, and improving user experience to ease onboarding of new employees are some of the back-office areas that will likely see some emphasis during 2021.