Hotels must strike a systems balance

Hospitality IT expert tells conference rooms are “not a test laboratory”

THE role technology plays in hotels was explored by an IT expert from the prestigious hotel school in Lausanne, Switzerland, at a conference in Glasgow last month.

Professor Ian Millar helped establish the CyberHotel at Ecole hoteliere de Lausanne, where students can learn about the latest hospitality IT solutions.
Speaking at the HIT Emerging Talent Conference at the Glasgow Science centre, Millar looked at how the use of technology in hotels has changed, the impact made by different innovations, and the extent to which the consumer experience can be enhanced – and hindered – by technology.
“Hotels are totally reliant on IT systems and need to invest in equipment and staff to operate it,” he told the audience of young hospitality staff and students. “Banks spend 10% of their budget annually on IT – in hospitality, it’s less than 1%.
“We’re not big investors in technology but are heavily reliant on it.”
The level of technology people have at their fingertips, from iPhones to tablet computers, means “hotels can no longer exceed customers’ expectations”, Millar argued, recalling that at one stage people booked into hotels just to watch television in colour.
Yet it appears that some hotels confuse customers with too much tech.
“A guest room is not a test laboratory – it must pass the grandmother test,” he said. “45 Park Lane [in London] has been criticised because it’s gone too heavy on IT. There’s a Sofitel in London where I couldn’t even work out how to turn the light on. The room was too complex – very embarassing given it was hosting an IT conference.”
Conversely, Millar said Dutch operator Citizen M showed what can be achieved when IT is harnessed appropriately. “Technology has to be simple,” he said. “At Citizen M, everything is 100% IT-based – check-in takes about 15 seconds, check-out two seconds and the staff are great, as are rooms. Kiosks are used instead of a reception and bills are emailed.”
Looking ahead, Millar said the march of technology in hotel operations would continue, highlighting iPads, Net TV and voice recognition software – “no more need for switches” – as areas of likely development.