In an investigation stretching over two months last fall, Marriott Corporation discovered that the reservation system for its Starwood division had been breached, and some 38.3 million guest records compromised, including 18.5 million passport numbers and 9.1 million payment card numbers.1 This incident, offers a revealing glimpse into the digital framework of today’s hotel industry. Like healthcare, finance, and other complex modern fields, hotels are dependent on a network of very large, interactive, and potentially vulnerable databases.
The internet has fundamentally changed the way the hotel industry operates. Online travel agencies and other indirect booking services enable travelers to find and book rooms from anywhere, at any hour of the day or night. These indirect booking services often share only a minimum of the data they collect. To facilitate their own marketing efforts, the hotels in turn have implemented customer relations management (CRM) solutions offering inducements (upgrades, faster check-in, discounts, gifts) for travelers to share their contact and other personal data. These CRM systems are integrated with indirect booking services as well as with the hotel’s own website, front desk, registration, mobile apps, and social media marketing campaigns.2
This crowded data environment is further complicated by the fact that the hotel industry is both intensely competitive and rapidly growing. As of 2018 there were five million hotel rooms in the U.S.; at the current 66.2% occupancy rate, that translates to 3.1 million room nights per day.3 Together these factors create a heavily burdened IT infrastructure, only part of which is under the control of the various individual hotel companies.
Given the cost and vulnerability of on-premise IT systems, the industry is increasingly moving to cloud-based accounting and guest record systems from third-party providers.4 Meanwhile, each individual hotel’s PCs need to work well with this dispersed and diverse network of servers and applications. Like the majority of servers in the in-cloud systems with which they interact, the vast bulk of these PCs are Windows-based.5 As such, they are subject to Windows-particular I/O performance issues which, if not corrected, can seriously impair system throughput.
Performing a database function—adding a traveler’s name to the reservation list for a certain night at a certain hotel, for example—requires the system to identify and access that particular list (read) and then alter it (write). The speed at which the system can do this is dependent on its input-output capacity, i.e. how much data it can access and alter in a single operation. Over time, these reads and writes tend to become smaller, more fractured and more random, requiring the computer to perform more operations (and thus take more time) to process a given amount of data. This is particularly true of the Windows environment, where an MS-SQL database application—Oracle, ERP EHR, CRM, business intelligence apps, etc.—might be operating at as little as 50% of its optimum I/O speed.
I/O performance degradation is purely a software issue. Adding hardware can temporarily mask the problem, but cannot solve it. Targeted performance enhancement software solutions, at minimal cost and running in background, can improve total system throughput by 30% to 50% or more with no additional investment in hardware. They should be part of the IT toolkit for any manger of any link in the hotel-industry data processing chain.
The cost and vulnerability of IT systems, the amount of data needing to be accessed from other servers and databases for excellent and immediate customer service—as well as security—is something even the best hotel chains are grappling with. The amount of data needing to be accessed for the hospitality industry is going to be exponentially more in months, years to come—this being just the tip of the iceberg.
Data is the new threat—hotel industry IT budgets are not going to be able to keep up without confronting these [performance] issues—it’s a real concern—and is keeping their System Admins up at night.
- Cimpanu, Catalin, “Marriott CEO shares post-mortem on last year’s hack,” ZDnet, March 8, 2019.
- “How To Capture More Hotel Guest Data,” OpenKey, February 8, 2018.
- Sickel, Julie, “U.S. Hotel Supply Breaks 5 Million-Room Mark,”Business Travel News, August 13, 2015.
- Watson, Scott, “3 ways to protect your financial systems before hurricane season,” Hotel Management, March 7, 2019.
- Griswold, Jeff, “PC Reliability in the Hotel Environment,”Hospitality Upgrade, March 1, 2017.