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  • 6/16/2024

    Hoteliers Embrace AI, but Lagging Tech Holds them Back, says Cloudbeds CEO

    While Artificial Intelligence (AI) is transforming industries, hoteliers are struggling to embrace it, despite rapid industry growth.  In a recent interview by Hospitality Expert and Influencer Paula Carreirao, CEO Adam Harris explored this disconnect, highlighting both the potential and the roadblocks to AI adoption in hospitality.

    Key takeaways from the interview:

    • AI can solve real hotel problems:
      Instead of chasing the latest tech buzzword, hoteliers should focus on what specific problem they want to address; AI can be the answer to hyper-personalized contact with guests, staff automation, data analysis, and faster content creation.
    • The power of personalization:
      AI powered by natural language processing can personalize guest communication even with limited data.  However, the human touch remains irreplaceable.
    • AI, the review responder’s friend:
      Responding promptly to online reviews is crucial to a hotel’s search algorithms.  AI can automate this process, helping craft appropriate responses and improve search rankings.

    Beyond the hype: The need for collaboration

    Harris acknowledged the confusion surrounding AI's complexity, hype, and potential risks – and that this stands in the way of adoption for hotels.  While some advancements are happening in travel planning (think AI-powered itineraries), the hospitality industry itself hasn't seen a breakout moment yet.

    “Hoteliers wonder if it’s as good as people are saying,” Harris said. However, he believes collaboration between hoteliers and platforms like Cloudbeds can bridge the gap. Cloudbeds has been using ML for the past 10 years in areas such as distribution, application scalability and behind-the-scenes technology, and is now taking those learnings and applying them to solutions such as advertising, online positioning, and reputation management.

    AI can empower the art of hospitality

    Despite its size, the hospitality industry lags behind in technology adoption.  This is particularly concerning with the projected surge in hotel stays by 2030, says Harris.

    “Every hotel is an art – the artist is the owner, and they have a style and a concept, so they have to provide a service to match that.  They have to build their systems around this, and AI can help.  The challenge lies in balancing a hotel's unique character with efficient service.  AI can help navigate this balance, but requires a willingness to pass some control to “robots”.  That can be scary.

    “To do AI and data in the right way, everything that happens needs to go into one single source – and that’s where AI can help.  However, the industry must prioritize education around AI before diving into complex AI solutions. The fact that we have, on average, 20 systems powering the hotel landscape creates too much opportunity for data integrity loss. Data sits in too many places to make it actionable.”

    “Consider the digital door lock – we have the capability to control these locks remotely via our phones.  But despite being around for a decade, only 13% of hotels utilize this technology today.  If basic tech adoption is low, widespread AI adoption seems like a distant future.  I think the industry is afraid of change, not AI.  If we are going to get technical with AI, we need to look at the less technical items first, as these will otherwise stand in the way of AI.”

    By focusing on foundational tech adoption before diving into AI, the hospitality industry can position itself for a future powered by intelligent solutions.

    The interview concluded with the importance of working with a technology partner who listens.  “If we’re not listening to our customers, we’re dead in the water,” Harris concluded.  “Every year, our product and research teams spend thousands of hours talking to and listening to our customers, and I believe that differentiates us from our competitors.  You’ll see some fun things come out of our camp in the near future… I won’t say anymore now, but watch this space.”

  • 6/17/2024

    HotelREZ Connects to Apaleo PMS Helping Hoteliers Control Cost of Bookings

    hotelrez apaleo logos

    HotelREZ, a hotel representation company, and Apaleo, the API-first property management platform, have joined forces completing a direct two-way interface for the seamless exchange of data.

    Through the two-way API connection, hoteliers will have the capabilities to support a full 1-2-1 mapping of room types and rate types, this is designed for PMSs that have more sophisticated reporting and in some cases revenue management capabilities. The PMS will have full rate and yield control over information loaded in HotelREZ’s CRS, CentralREZ SynXIS CRS.

    The interface is based on HTNG specification and deploys features that are supported by HotelREZ’s CRS. The integration between Apaleo’s cloud-native hotel Property Management System (PMS) and CentralREZ, HotelREZ’s Central Reservation System (CRS) provides real time updates to manage inventory, rates, availability and bookings for distribution to the Global Distribution Systems (GDS), primarily used by travel agents, as well as to millions of other bookers using websites powered by the GDS worldwide.

    The seamless connectivity between both providers will ensure hoteliers receive real-time reservation delivery and availability updates from these channels, via the PMS, which is available to all existing and new Apaleo customers.

    Mark Lewis, CEO & Founder at HotelREZ, said “Hotels need simplicity in their tech stack to achieve more efficient operations. In the new interface between CentralREZ and Apaleo, hotels can save time and automate more processes - reducing pressure on staff while having access to more market opportunities. Hotels can ensure they effectively manage their GDS inventory while keeping their PMS updated in real-time to avoid errors or overbooking.”

    Ulrich Pillau, CEO & Founder of Apaleo, added: “HotelREZ has a strong presence in the independent hotels market and through our interface hoteliers can better maximise market potential. The GDS, alongside third party distribution channels, offers huge value to hoteliers to improve profitability and grow market share. Our partnership means that hotels now benefit from optimal revenue and yield capabilities.”

    Apaleo customers can also benefit from access to HotelREZ’s own network of preferred travel agencies and consortia partnerships, as well as its global demand programme, which includes corporate and MICE RFP generation. As market specialists, HotelREZ customers typically benefit from a significant growth of channel business via the GDS agency market as a result of strong account management, worldwide demand partners and optimising marketing and sales opportunities.

  • 6/17/2024

    SpotOn Restaurant Operator Survey Highlights the Connection Between Technology and Profitability

    spoton logo
    SpotOn, a software and payments partner for restaurants and small businesses, revealed the details of its Restaurant Operator Intelligence Report, which further solidifies the connection between technology and restaurant profitability. Known for operating on notoriously thin profit margins, the restaurant industry now faces a triple threat of rising costs, increasing regulations, and reduced consumer spending, requiring restaurants to leverage effective industry-specific technology. SpotOn found that 61% of operators say online ordering platforms provide them a way to drive greater customer loyalty and repeat visits. 
     
    In the survey of more than 300 restaurant owners and operators, 63% of respondents said their profitability increased in 2023. When asked about the benefits of technology used in their restaurants, many directly correlated new efficiencies and higher profits with the use of technology. Operators noted faster customer service, better loyalty engagement, increased check averages, and decreased labor costs as major contributors to their bottom line.
     
    “In today’s tight economy, technology can be the key difference between a restaurant barely making ends meet and thriving,” said Kevin Bryla, Chief Marketing Officer at SpotOn. “Restaurants that utilize an integrated tech stack, which includes handheld devices, online ordering, order kiosks, QR codes, and more, will be turning over more tables, pushing through more orders, and making life easier for staff. Restaurant technology that is designed to enhance the experience for both staff and guests has a positive bottom-line impact -- and the results of this survey prove it.” 
     
    Technology That’s Moving The Needle
    Over the past 12–18 months, restaurants have seen significant fluctuations in cost and labor. With reduced consumer spending, operators must focus on repackaging menus, supplementing labor, and streamlining operations to ensure sustainable growth. SpotOn is committed to helping operators find innovative ways to maintain profitability, whether by reducing labor costs or increasing average order value. 
     
    According to the survey, a majority (51%) of independent restaurants reported increased profit margins, with small restaurant chains (79%) seeing the greatest increase in profit margins during the survey period. Survey respondents pointed to the benefits of technology in several key areas, including faster service, greater customer loyalty, higher check averages, and overall higher profits:
     
    • Online Ordering: 61% of operators reported that having an online ordering platform led to greater customer loyalty and repeat visits, and 55% said it also contributed to higher check averages. It was also the top-ranked tech tool for increasing profits among respondents.
    • Handheld devices: 58% of operators said that handheld devices provided faster service, and 48% reported that they led to higher average check sizes. 
    • QR codes: 61% of operators stated that QR codes provided faster customer service, which in turn led to more tables turned, more guests served, and higher profitability
    • Order Kiosks: 70% of operators reported that order kiosks provided faster customer service, which resulted in more customer transactions and higher customer check averages. 57% also said that the technology helped lower labor costs. 
     
    Employee Retention 
    Outside of the operational benefits of technology, respondents indicated that digital systems play an integral role in employee retention, which is a priority considering that:
     
    56% of operators said that employee engagement is moderate or low in their restaurants;
    20% of operators state that staff turnover is one of the biggest challenges in the first half of 2024. 
     
    Respondents indicated that increasing employee earning potential is the key to retention. With increased check sizes and faster table turnover, servers equipped with tech like handheld point-of-sale devices can net larger tips and serve more customers, increasing their take-home pay while making their shifts run smoother. In research among SpotOn clients, restaurant operators found a 4.2% average increase in tables served when using SpotOn handhelds.
     
    Technology Adoption is increasing.
    The use of technology in the restaurant industry is becoming more widespread, and a majority of operators surveyed expect to increase their investment in technology in 2024. Specific priority areas for investment include online ordering capabilities on owned websites and apps. Only 22% of respondents report that they currently use a point-of-sale system that offers delivery integration, but one in four say they plan on investing in owned delivery technology in the next year. These findings point to a shift away from third-party platforms and toward integration with existing systems. 
     
    With most third-party delivery apps taking 30% or more in commissions on online orders as well as critical guest data, technology that allows restaurants to take control of online orders can be crucial to increasing profits. SpotOn’s zero-commission online ordering solution, SpotOn Order, lets guests place online orders directly from the restaurant's website or Google and works seamlessly with SpotOn’s point-of-sale and loyalty program to keep guests coming back each time. SpotOn is committed to providing integrated restaurant systems with flexible, easy-to-use technology at a transparent price. SpotOn users can access 24/7 customer support from real people, saving restaurant operators valuable time, as one-third report communicating with technology partners at least once a week. As restaurants continue to lean on technology to increase profitability and streamline operations, SpotOn will be there to support them in their success.
  • 6/16/2024

    Thanx, Bite Announce Strategic Partnership to Enhance Guest Experience

    api integration man hands on a pc keyboard

    Thanx, a guest engagement and retention platform for restaurants, announced a strategic partnership with Bite, a provider of intelligent kiosk solutions for fast-casual and quick-service restaurants. This collaboration will streamline the ordering process and enhance the guest experience by seamlessly integrating loyalty into the kiosk ordering flow.

    As labor costs continue to rise, many merchants are turning to self-service kiosks to improve operational efficiency, meet evolving consumer preferences, and enhance the guest experience.

    Customers expect personalized experiences across all restaurant touchpoints. The Thanx and Bite partnership enables restaurants to deliver a seamless, tailored experience to loyalty members at the kiosk, mirroring the personalization found in mobile apps and web ordering platforms. This integration ensures that customers' preferences and past interactions are recognized, allowing for relevant recommendations, promotions, and rewards that enhance satisfaction and strengthen brand loyalty.

    "We recognize the growing importance of self-service kiosks in the quick service and fast casual restaurant industry," says Zach Goldstein, CEO of Thanx. "Our partnership with Bite allows us to provide merchants with a solution that not only enhances operational efficiency but also ensures that loyalty programs remain central to the customer experience at every guest touchpoint."

    Integrated Solution

    With Thanx's robust partner APIs and development support, Bite quickly built a connection to Thanx's loyalty platform, enabling customers to access their rewards and benefits directly from the kiosk ordering interface. The integration offers a seamless customer experience: guests approach the kiosk, build their order, input their loyalty account details, and immediately see applicable rewards. Purchases automatically link to the customer's account, earning them points through Thanx's card-linked loyalty technology. This intuitive flow simplifies the ordering process while ensuring customers can easily access and benefit from their loyalty rewards.

    "As more brands adopt omnichannel strategies, having a loyalty program that spans channels is critical to stay relevant and meet customer expectations," says Brandon Barton, CEO of Bite. "By seamlessly integrating Thanx's cutting-edge loyalty capabilities into our industry-leading kiosk solution, we are providing merchants with a powerful tool to enhance customer engagement, drive repeat business, and foster long-term brand loyalty all while increasing the average check. In today's competitive landscape, delivering a personalized and rewarding experience at every touchpoint is paramount, and this collaboration positions our customers at the forefront of this trend."

    With the integration of Thanx's loyalty platform, customers using Bite’s self-service kiosks can easily access their loyalty benefits, ensuring a frictionless experience that encourages repeat visits and strengthens brand loyalty.

    "Through seamless integration with Thanx and Bite, we've revolutionized the user experience for our guests,” says Caprice Kindgren, Director of Marketing at Urbane Cafe. “Addressing their main request of redeeming rewards on kiosks, this integration has made it effortlessly easy for our guests. Now, with all their rewards visible right on the screen, it's not just a win-win, it's a big win for us.”

    For more information about Thanx and Bite’s partnership and integrated solutions, visit Thanx’s website and Bite’s website.

  • 6/16/2024

    Sandbox VR Adds Kitchen, Bar to New Location

    Squid Game Training Room

    Sandbox VR, a full-body virtual reality entertainment experience, plans to add a kitchen and a bar to its newest location in Culver City, Calif. 

    With 48 locations and more than 100k players monthly, Sandbox VR is  growing its global footprint with thriving corporate-owned locations and a robust franchising program.

    "Sandbox VR Culver City's addition of food and drink will make Sandbox VR Culver City a destination for unique and memorable date night experiences, fun-filled family outings, and team-building corporate events," according to a press release.  When contacted by HT, Sandbox VR's PR team was unable to additional details.

    Sandbox VR’s socially immersive gaming experience combines full-body motion capture and high-quality haptics to provide unprecedented realism and complete immersion that’s not possible with home VR systems or other location-based VR venues, taking group Virtual Reality gameplay and active socializing to the next level.

    “Working with strategic partners, like Netflix, to build immersive virtual reality experiences based on beloved existing IP has been integral to our success,” said Steve Zhao, Founder and CEO of Sandbox VR. “With that in mind, we chose Culver City—The Heart of Screenland—for our newest location. The first to boast a kitchen and bar, Sandbox VR Culver City will be the hub for our ongoing collaborations to build new realities based on cherished shows and films.”

    A Virtual Action Movie

    Sandbox VR’s location in Culver City features four private rooms, called “holodecks,” for virtual reality gameplay. Each holodeck enables groups of up to six players to have a truly shared experience, exploring virtual worlds and relying on each other to succeed in games designed to be social experiences. Together with friends, family or co-workers, players are equipped with a haptic vest, motion sensors on their wrists and ankles, and cutting edge VIVE Focus 3 headsets, which combine outstanding visuals with a smarter ergonomic design, superior audio and next level inside-out tracking and controllers. This technology allows players to see and physically interact with one another while feeling like they are in the middle of an action movie, with the heightened emotions that come from not just watching a film, but from actually becoming the stars of the action.

    Guests choose from any of eight exclusive immersive experiences created by Sandbox VR’s in-house team of video game industry veterans:

    ·  Squid Game Virtuals  

    ·  Seekers of the Shard: Dragonfire 

    ·  Deadwood Valley 

    ·  Deadwood Mansion  

    ·  Curse of Davy Jones  

    ·  Amber Sky 2088  

    ·  Star Trek: Discovery 

    ·  UFL: Unbound Fighting League 

     

    After playing, all guests receive personalized highlight videos–similar to movie trailers–which capture all the laughter, screams, intensity, and excitement of their experience.

    caption: Pictured is Squid Game Virtuals,  the newest Sandbox VR experience. Players compete against their crew in several pulse-pounding (yet more approachable, but just as thrilling) mini-games inspired by the  Netflix series. 

  • 6/13/2024

    Radisson Hotel Group, Lemongrass and AWS Partner to Deliver Cloud Transformation and Innovative Customer Experiences

    logo, company name

    Lemongrass, a software-enabled services provider synonymous with SAP on Cloud, announced that Radisson Hotel Group (RHG) has selected Lemongrass to migrate their entire SAP landscape to Amazon Web Services (AWS). The project includes transferring existing systems to AWS and optimizing the hotel group’s SAP landscape to leverage Cloud-native efficiencies, such as automation, data analytics, and cost optimization, to deliver enhanced experiences and drive customer loyalty.

    Radisson Hotel Group sought a comprehensive strategy to integrate multiple operations and build a globally unified and scalable corporate IT infrastructure with an agile and cost-effective hosting solution. RHG selected Lemongrass to be its migration partner for its extensive expertise and flawless track record in migrating, operating and optimizing SAP workloads on the Cloud. Lemongrass has over 8,000 SAP servers and over 750,000 SAP users under its management and provides clients with near-zero downtime migrations and operations for SAP and its related workloads.

    Another pivotal component of the migration was RHG’s demonstrated commitment to sustainability. RHG has opted to migrate and run these systems in AWS’s Stockholm region, known for its carbon-neutral operations, to align with the Group’s sustainability and governance objectives. This strategic decision not only supports RHG’s transparent environmental stewardship but will also enhance Radisson Hotel Group’s appeal to eco-conscious guests and business partners.

    “The transition to AWS is more than just a technological upgrade; it is a transformational shift that empowers Radisson to meet the evolving demands of the hospitality industry,” said Jaime González-Peralta, CIO of Radisson Hotel Group. “This migration will set a new standard in our operational capabilities, enabling us to significantly enhance our operational agility, and enable us to bring innovative solutions to market even more rapidly, which are critical for personalizing guest experiences and optimizing our service delivery.”

    Recognizing the complex requirements of RHG’s expansive SAP systems, Lemongrass will employ its patented Minimum Downtime Operations (MDO™) technology, ensuring that Radisson Hotel Group’s operations, remain fully functional with near-zero downtime thereby preventing any potential revenue losses, whilst ensuring systems are secure, performant and available.

    “Radisson Hotel Group is an innovative leader in the hospitality sector and we are very honored to be selected to assist them with their digital transformation,” said Michael Rosenbloom, CEO of Lemongrass. “We look forward to our continued partnership with RHG and AWS to further modernize and support their SAP and Cloud initiatives.

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