The hospitality boom
Does a boom in the hospitality industry signal unlocked budgets for IT departments within the sector?
The Middle East continues to move from an oil-based economy to a services-based one, and tourism is one of the major focuses of this transition. Because of this, the hospitality sector is booming, with large hotel groups expanding in the region, and newer, smaller players also making gains. Major events planned in the region – such as Expo 2020 in Dubai, and the upcoming FIFA World Cup in Qatar — are only adding fuel to the fire. Recent research suggests that Dubai is the world’s biggest growing market outside of China in terms of new hotel openings.
Behind the scenes, though, these hospitality organisations are competing not only on the quality of their rooms, but on the quality of the IT services offered to customers, which is why we’re starting to see some of the most innovative technology deployments appear in the hospitality industry first.
“With guest experiences more important than ever in determining brand loyalty, technology is playing an ever more vital role, with the sector increasingly focusing on solutions that enhance that guest experience. How your front desk and contact centre staff manage guest communications can make the difference between loyal customers and missed opportunities,” explains Frederick Sabty, worldwide vice president of hospitality solutions at Avaya.
“Consider innovation at Dubai World Trade Centre, one of the world’s largest convention centres located in the Middle East, as an example of adoption of IT in the region. It would sometimes take days to reconfigure the network between major tradeshows. As exhibitors showed up, technicians would invariably spend the day manually provisioning services, making changes to the network and troubleshooting errors. With Avaya SDN Fx, provisioning time at Dubai World Trade Centre is 50% to 60% faster, and technicians have been able to effectively eliminate manual provisioning.”
Indeed, when it comes to the hospitality industry — which ranges from hotels and restaurants to theme parks and business conferences – the Middle East is pushing ahead in terms of technology innovation. According to Rohan Tejura, assistant vice president at Focus Softnet, while the region still has a way to go in terms of catching up with more advanced geographies, its hospitality industry isn’t lagging that far behind.
“The hospitality industry of the region has a high reliability on the IT capabilities available today. With increasing competition, refined customer palates, and advances in IT, it is imperative that the industry embrace these new capabilities to remain at the cutting edge and keep clientele enticed,” he says.
That said, the industry still faces IT challenges, and those challenges change depending on which business in the hospitality sector you’re talking to. For example, hotels may still struggle with providing seamless, fast Wi-Fi for guests, as well as top-notch digital services, according to Xavier Mongin, Middle East director for travel, hospitality and leisure at Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise.
“One of the main challenges faced by the hospitality industry is the capacity to connect hundreds of guests to the hotel IP network for free, without jeopardizing speed and ease of access. Guests expect quality service whilst staying at a hotel, this includes digital services. Essentially, demands for a ‘full working environment’ means more bandwidth for emails, business applications, downloads and streaming. Additional challenges includes the demand for high-speed internet access, wireless LAN and the option for guests to use their own mobile device to access hotel guest services,” he says.
Sticking with hotels, Wolfgang Emperger, vice president at Infor Hospitality EMEA, adds that the cost of providing the type of connectivity that guests desire is a huge challenge for firms in the hospitality industry. On top of that, he explains that guests’ expectations are also creating IT challenges.
“Networking costs in the region are a unique challenge. One of the big issues here is the fast evolvement of the customer expectation - we want the same entertainment and experience we have at home when we travel. Actually, the expectations may even be more as we pay a premium for the room and for a 24-hours internet package, which is usually as much as we pay at home for a month!” he says.
“Compounding matters is the rapid rate of technological advancement which poses challenges that our industry never has seen before. We need to upgrade cables every few year, the one-way TV is changing ta a two-way interaction system. So instead of pre-configured entertainment systems, hotel entertainment systems will turn in to content management systems.”
Connectivity is one thing, but according to Alexander Foroozandé, MEA channel manager at Infoblox, one of the biggest challenges facing the hospitality industry in the Middle East is the lack of collaboration between stakeholders such as consultants, operators, owners, project managers and system integrators. He says that this results in relatively new technologies that do not necessarily work efficiently together to provide the seamless experience guests yearn for. What’s more, he adds that this has led to a confusing field for hospitality CIOs to navigate, meaning that it can be difficult for them to come up with appropriate strategies.