If the current hospitality industry could be summed up in a single word it could be this: evolution. Nearly everything we know about the guest and the industry is evolving.
What has not been evolving at the same pace, however, are the core technology solutions hoteliers rely on to manage their operations, distribution, and property systems. And this is to be expected. After all, we’re in a service-oriented industry, where hoteliers are focused more on the quality of guest interactions than maximizing their current technology stack.
“Hospitality will always value high-touch service. But it’s becoming clearer and clearer that high-tech service is equally important,” says Ahmed Youssef, executive vice president for corporate development and marketing for the Hospitality business unit of Amadeus.
The data management problems of the past were by-products of the technological limitations of the day. And the new capabilities that centralization makes possible are extremely exciting.
Iain Saxton – Amadeus
“Unfortunately, many core hospitality systems today are lagging in that department. You’re talking ten, twenty, sometimes thirty-year-old technology,” he continues.
“As technology providers, we need to challenge the status quo and provide hoteliers with the same level of technology advantage that the OTAs apply so effectively. And that requires something new.”
Amadeus, the global travel giant, is making strides in bridging the technology divide to arm hoteliers with their own disruptive technology. They’ve developed the first-ever integrated core hospitality solution, Amadeus Hospitality Platform, centered around their new Amadeus Central Reservations System (ACRS) and Amadeus Cloud PMS (APMS).
The new platform has quietly entered the market, beginning with the implementation of Amadeus CRS throughout InterContinental Hotel Group’s (IHG) 5,600+ properties in late 2018.
But the road to the new platform was not an easy one. It required overcoming legacy architecture and data management issues, ensuring the platform was scalable and stable for even the largest global brands. It also needed to be as innovative as the landscape around it, with new capabilities and functionality aimed at emerging industry trends, including personalization, centralization, and new shopping capabilities.
“Since we don’t know the exact shape of the future,” explains Youssef, “Our job was to build something highly agile and flexible that can accommodate future needs as they emerge while still pushing the boundaries of the hospitality core to meet the current trends we see as emerging in the industry.”
Youssef points to three main trends Amadeus carefully considered when developing the new platform (these trends can be seen in detail in Amadeus and IHG’s recent whitepaper, “Drivers of Change in Hospitality”).
According to Youssef, hoteliers are beginning to recognize the value that the right tech can bring to their operations. Implementing them into core hospitality solutions, however, re-mains challenging and expensive.
“New technology – augmented reality, AI, Internet of Things – they’re all becoming more commonplace because the advantages are impossible to ignore and guests want more of it,” he says.
“Tech isn’t optional anymore. It’s expected. Unfortunately, hoteliers encounter significant connectivity issues and associated costs when looking to expand their technology footprint.” He says this not only prevents the hotel from taking advantage of each technology’s specific advantages, but also prevents the hotel from compiling and leveraging the aggregate as part of their overall data set.
“Connectivity and associated costs – be it at the enterprise, property, or third-party level – are a major concern, and it was an area we felt could be improved upon.”
Youssef says the second trend they looked at was the growing desire for more personalized, authentic experiences. “As an industry we need to realize the guest experience encapsulates things both inside and outside the walls of the property,” he says.
“There’s enormous possibility in supporting not just the guest experience, but the traveller experience as a whole. And when you can understand the guest at a deep level, you stand a much better chance of positioning and personalizing your property, location, services, and partnerships to give them exactly the experience they crave.
“Combined with small, personal touches from customer service staff who are informed by centralized guest profiles, loyalty can be supported and nurtured from the shopping experience right through to checkout and beyond.”
The third trend Amadeus analyzed was the nature of selling in hospitality. “Distribution has traditionally been this convoluted process.” says Youssef. “You manage inventory, rates, packages in one system to push them into another system, which then pushes to distribution channels.”
He says the growing trend is towards centralized data and distribution processes that eliminate extra steps and guarantee accuracy and real-time availability of rates, inventory, and packages. “The PMS is not designed for distribution, yet it is used in that way. We saw an opportunity to approach the whole process a little differently.”
Youssef also says that attribute-based selling was an emerging trend the company looked at when developing the new platform. “An attribute can be anything that adds incremental value to the guest experience,” says Youssef.
“That could be the bed type, view, room amenities, or non-room products such as breakfast, tours, theatre tickets, parking, refund-ability, etc.” The ability to sell inventory in new ways and provide more choice (and associated revenue potential) to the shopping process has long been considered the next “big thing” in hospitality.
“The complexity of inventory management and control at the enterprise level, however, has made this a challenging capability to develop.
“People shop and buy in a much different way than they did even 5 or 10 years ago,” explains Youssef.
“We need to be able to meet those new expectations for greater choice and variety and unlock this potential in the same way the airlines did with ancillaries. We felt attribute-based selling needed to be part of our platform from day 1.”
In examining the trends and assessing the needs and requirements of large hotel chains, the product development team at Amadeus came to a stark realization. “The legacy approach of data duplication across systems wasn’t going to work,” says Iain Saxton, senior vice president and product strategist CRS & PMS at Amadeus.
“Not only are there scalability and reliability concerns but developing the new capabilities we envisioned would be impossible. We had to start from scratch which, in many ways, has allowed us more freedom to explore next-generation functionality.”
The end-result of that exploration is an integrated platform – the first ever CRS and integrated PMS is the nucleus of the Amadeus Hospitality Platform. In the new platform the CRS acts as the central database for all systems, which solves legacy data duplication and frag-mentation issues. “Centralization was a key capability to unlock,” says Saxton.
“The data management problems of the past were by-products of the technological limitations of the day. And the new capabilities that centralization makes possible are extremely exciting.” The PMS, meanwhile, assumes a secondary role as the management hub for all on-property systems, but inventory, rates, guests and distribution are wholly owned by the CRS according to Saxton.
“To take full advantage of the new functionality, we needed to create a holistic and inclusive ecosystem of data,” comments Saxton. “This then supports everything we are trying to do – support broader adoption and centralization of technology, deliver more personalized experiences at every level of the guest journey, and provide true attribute-based selling capabilities.”
To this end, Amadeus decided that the new platform would rely on open APIs to solve legacy connectivity challenges and reduce associated costs. “Access to data is the functional element that will unlock new capabilities and disrupt the market,” Saxton says. “We need to be inclusive rather than exclusive in its capture, and proactive in our application of it. As we apply more and more technology to the mix, we want that data to be actionable. Only when it’s holistic and made meaningful for hoteliers does it provide real value.”
That same data can then be leveraged to build richly detailed and centralized guest profiles, says Saxton.
“What if every customer service associate at every property in your organization had access to the same up-to-date, accurate information on each guest? Imagine the recommendations, special offers, personalized touches, small gestures, or ‘thank yous’ your staff could provide to enhance the guest’s experience. The possibilities are endless.”
And the potential of attribute-based selling also has Amadeus excited. “We’ll finally be able to overcome the room type or rate type paradigm and restructure inventory on the fly to sell in a new and refreshing manner,” comments Saxton.
“Rooms, amenities, services, activities, 3rd party offers – virtually anything can be an attribute. Allowing guests to build individually customized stays from both room and non-room attributes meets their growing desire for personalization while adding differentiation for the brand. It’s a potential game changer.”
While the promise of the new platform is exciting, Ahmed Youssef cautions that there is still a lot of work to be done.
“There are still several functionality gaps we’re filling in, but the hard work is done. We have a stable, next-generation platform,” he says.
“In partnership with IHG, we’re dotting the Is and crossing the Ts, and looking forward to a big year in 2020. It’s an exciting time to be involved in hospitality technology. We’re exploring new territories and challenging ourselves to do better for the hotelier and the guest. I feel very fortunate to be a part of that.”