Every year, Hospitality Technology asks hotels and restaurants to rate themselves in terms of innovation against competitors. Only 19% of restaurants surveyed in the HT’s 2019 Restaurant Technology Study felt they qualify as true leaders in innovation, but 37% identify as “close followers” or early adopters. On the hotel side, 47% of respondents in the 2019 Lodging Technology Study claim to be ahead of the competition in overall technology innovation. The bar for innovation, however, is continually being raised as the pace of change doesn’t slow. Today’s innovators can easily be tomorrow’s followers, without a clear strategy, flexibility, forward-thinking and a dash of risk-taking. In this mega-report, HT checks in with some of the industry’s heavy hitters to see what kept them in the leader category in 2019 and how they plan to stay there in 2020.
RLH CORPORATION (RLHC)
Creator of Hospitality’s Future
RLH Corporation recently launched an AI virtual agent for central reservations that can answer traveler questions autonomously, confirm, modify and even cancel reservations or transfer guests to a live agent. It also announced RLabs, a subsidiary that was formed to be a technology powerhouse; it creates and houses unique technologies in software, robotics and AI. The company also implemented a new Apple TV solution that improves the in-room guest experience, making room service, content streaming and staff interactions easier, and redesigned its website to be so mobile friendly that hotel guests can book a room in just three clicks.
“You can’t wait for the future; you need to create it. We anticipate our focus to remain on automation and machine learning,” RLH CEO Greg Mount told HT. RLH will also continue to build out AI capabilities to support reservations, its loyalty program and telephony solutions. RLH will be unveiling a housekeeping robot developed in partnership with Peanut Robotics. “The bot is designed to supplement, not replace, the work of a human, with the ultimate goal of enhancing the guest experience.”
Delivering ROI through Innovative AI Measures
TGI Fridays has hinged its digital and technology transformation on the extended utilization of AI applications to increase guest engagement, improve internal operations and enhance the capabilities of restaurant team members.
“Enabling team members to better serve guests through AI-suggested actions has increased guest satisfaction scores by 15% and reduced team member turnover by more than 20%,” Sherif Mityas, Chief Experience Officer, told HT in an October 2018 cover story.
Mityas confirms that TGI Fridays continues to utilize AI to create personalized engagement with the guest. Looking ahead, Mityas reveals that the brand’s key focus area in 2020 will be fostering TGI Fridays’ ability to create personalized engagement both inside and outside the restaurants. He cautions against ever thinking that a technology is “future-ready” as the pace of change is so radical, organizations must focus on being flexible.
“[Brands] need to adapt quickly to utilize technologies that are 1) right for the guest, 2) can be operationalized within the organization and 3) can deliver a measurable and meaningful ROI,” Mityas advises. “Don’t get so enamored with the latest and greatest technology that you stop asking and looking for the next opportunity to create a unique difference in the marketplace in the eyes of your guests.”
CARNIVAL CRUISE LINES
Making Waves with New Tech
Carnival Corp. introduced OceanMedallion, an IoT wearable device that communicates with thousands of intelligent sensors and devices throughout the ship to improve the guest experience. For instance, guests can use it to pay for products, enter guestrooms, order food and have it delivered to them, wager real money on casino games, intelligently navigate the ship as well as locate services for friends and family, stream content, access their itinerary, and play games.
Additionally, the company debuted MedallionNet, its new Wi-Fi network which offers guests up to 1.5GB/sec of internet data speeds. Carnival also updated its mobile app to include online check-in functionality and pre-cruise purchasing functionality (excursions, spa treatments, dining reservations, etc.).
“To us, innovation and digital transformation have not been the goals — they’ve been tools we’ve used to deliver on the strategy. That means keeping the guest in the center of all of your strategic business decisions,” John Padgett, chief experience and innovation officer for Carnival Corporation, told HT. “Instead of replacing personal connections between passengers and crew, the [Medallion] technology is being used to turbo charge those connections. Our goal is for technology to disappear from the entire equation and empower next level human interactions.”
PANERA BREAD CO.
Serving Innovation from all Angles
When Panera launched its Panera 2.0 initiative in 2014 it was hailed as an innovator. Since that rollout, Panera has expanded its digital capabilities to create an enhanced experience for “to go” and “eat in” customers. In 2019, the company developed and implemented its own custom POS that is tightly integrated with other parts of its technical ecosystem. The brand has also fostered the rapid development and implementation of a platform that integrates DoorDash, GrubHub and UberEats with its iCafe technology creating an overall solution where consumers can order from these sites while Panera provides the delivery service.
According to Mike Prusaczyk, VP, Enterprise Architecture and IT Strategy, in 2020 Panera plans to continue its migration to the cloud, refactoring some platforms to be cloud native with the intention of making apps more resilient while optimizing total costs. The company will also continue to execute on its continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD) strategy by focusing on automating aspects of the integration and deployment of the new POS platform.
“Leveraging the latest technology, we will have superior configuration management capabilities across the 40,000+ devices across all the Panera cafes,” Prusaczyk says. “Innovation will occur from all over so the strategy needs to address the importance of agility enabling businesses to obtain first mover advantages.”
WYNDHAM HOTELS & RESORTS
Global Platforms Power Growth with Scalability
In May 2018, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, then Wyndham Hotel Group, a subsidiary of Wyndham Worldwide Corp., completed its acquisition of La Quinta Holdings’ hotel franchising and hotel management business which meant the addition of 900+ franchised hotels. Behind the scenes, Scott Strickland, CIO, and his team had to migrate 908 hotels onto all new systems including PMS, central reservation system, service platform and loyalty in 24 hours, making it one of the largest same-day systems migrations in the history of the hospitality industry.
Part of this migration entailed working with platform vendors to replicate the attributes that La Quinta was doing well and build out more functionalities. Wyndham was able to minimize a number of integration points, “but is pulling the data from all of these platforms to better analyze and report on them,” Strickland explains. “We won’t have a physical data center anymore in the Wyndham environment; it will be cloud-based which ultimately allows us to focus on the franchisee and the guest experience.”
According to Strickland, the lynchpin of innovation is going to be the consolidation of all the data and then mining it for new ways to better service Wyndham guests and franchisees. Strickland shares that a multi-year data initiative is being launched with a first big “go-live” planned in mid-September. Wyndham is investing in its loyalty and booking app and has made strides to address what Strickland identified as a weak link: Internet at the hotel.
“Through a partnership with Cisco Meraki, we’re providing Hotel Connectivity Service to franchisees so that they don’t have to worry about the internet at their hotels,” Strickland says. “Our goal is that when guests travel to a Wyndham they know they will have a consistently strong Internet experience and we can start to enable cooler things at our hotels.”
Driving Innovation in Delivery
In October, Domino’s Pizza will begin using Nuro’s autonomous delivery vehicles in Houston to deliver online orders. Customers will be able to track the unmanned vehicle from the Domino’s app and will be provided a unique pin code to retrieve their pizza.
CEO Ritch Allison, in an earnings call, said he’s excited about the rollout of GPS tracking technology, which will “put fantastic technology in the hands of our customers to get better transparency into their pizza order, and will give restaurant operators additional information as they manage the efficiency around delivery operations.”
INTERCONTINENTAL HOTELS GROUP (IHG)
A Pioneering, Ambitious Innovator
IHG recently partnered with tech company Winnow to implement AI technology to help its hotels automatically track, measure and reduce food waste — by up to 30% — for more sustainable and efficient restaurant and bar operations. A partnership with Baidu let IHG launch AI smart guestrooms in some of its hotels in China. To improve the guest experience, it partnered with Healthe by Lighting Science to install circadian lighting to help guests sleep better while traveling. On the backend, IHG recently debuted IHG Concerto — a technology platform, developed with Amadeus, that incorporates a new guest reservation system, revenue management system, as well as other technologies to improve both the guest and the staff experience.
“To be pioneering and ambitious over many decades requires an ability to capture trends, thoughts and opinions, and to realize ways to bring them to life,” George Turner, chief commercial officer, told HT. According to Turner, IHG will continue to innovate in the coming year by piloting IHG Studio, a seamless direct casting of entertainment from guests’ personal devices to TVs in each room; accepting WeChat pay at hotels in China; and continuing to leverage AI across the enterprise to better assist guests during their travel journey. “Personalization is key to the success of the hotel industry and leveraging tech, digital innovation and information will play an essential role in our future as a cutting-edge business,” Turner added.