BLLA conference tackles hotel operations

Industry executives attending the BLLA’s Boutique Hotel Investment Conference in Los Angeles discussed how the pandemic’s effect on the hotel industry is permanent and how it will continue to impact all market sectors. This undisputed truth was the subject of many conversations and invited attendees to share their survival strategies. Throughout the conference, leaders discussed what these changes entail and how different businesses are shifting operation strategies and incorporating new technologies into their designs to adapt to a complex market.

“As hoteliers reopened, they were forced to become more efficient and questioned what they were doing pre-pandemic and try new things,” said Matthew Livian, managing director, Prospect Ridge, in a panel titled “Equity.” One of the lasting impacts is that our business is going to come out of this a more efficient business operationally.”

Without any other options, those management models were forced to get creative, striving to become highly adaptive to unprecedented circumstances, especially when it came to raising capital and reframing operating strategies. The speakers all offered the different techniques they found the most helpful during the past two years.

For some, this presented a new realm of opportunity to engage a new community. Davonne Reaves, president, The Vonne Group, invited new voices to participate in the conversation. “Some of the ways we did this was a lot of crowdfunding,” she said. “Essentially, what I’ve done is I’ve created a community of folks who aspire to become hotel owners and investors. I’m tapped into a market that a lot of people don’t tap into, which is diversity, as far as getting into different cultures and teaching strategies on how to raise capital. Crowdfunding and bringing pools of different people together has helped.” By inviting voices to contribute and learn from this experience, Reaves empowered a passionate and potential group of fresh perspectives to engage in problem-solving techniques.

Others turned to technology to solve everyday problems facing their operating structures. Examples of the products discussed on the market include contactless check-ins, automated ticket processing and designing strategies for housekeeping to cover more space effectively. These systems provide the necessary support to hoteliers, directly address challenges with labor shortages and “have a direct trickle when making hotels more profitable through product evolution triggered by COVID,” explained Rani Gharbie, SVP, acquisitions, head of urban growth, Life House.

Though many “solutions” are popping up on the market, navigating the correct options for individual projects and businesses can be overwhelming. During the Hospitality Innovation Roundtable, Sara Masterson, president, Olympia Hotel Management, said, “I find that the environment is pretty confusing right now in the technology space. It’s very dense. There are a lot of products out there, and those products tend to be very fragmented,” referring to the plethora of tech products on the market.

Luca Zambello, CEO/cofounder, Jurny, agreed with Masterson’s sentiment, adding, “Technology is a must in today’s world.” However, finding the correct tools to leverage business operations is an additional step in a saturated market. Attendees agreed on the vitality of incorporating modern solutions into a functional design for hoteliers looking to succeed this year; however, opinions on how to choose and implement these products differed.

Michael Heflin, chief revenue officer, Stayntouch, offered his advice, “If you build an operating strategy and then define what technology supports that, you’re primarily looking for flexibility,” he said. “I have to change operations as market demands change, and we’ve all learned over the past two-and-a-half years that markets change sometimes, and the more responsive we can be to that, the better.”

Heflin’s ideas support the point that the more flexible a hotel design can be, the more likely it is to succeed in a future of limitless possibilities and encourages starting with a strong operations plan before incorporating helpful tools.

So, what are the most critical areas where hotels should leverage new technology?

“A remote way of being able to check in is going to be a must for most properties,” Zambello said. He also highlighted the value of diversifying platform outreach: “On the distribution side, the more channels through which you can distribute your properties, the more exposure you’re going to be getting. Whether or not you’re driving your bookings through, it is going to be a big component. And, lastly, cleaning, repair and maintenance operations management.”

Heflin also shared his two cents, “The concept of actually being able to evaluate the unique hotel space itself is going to be a critical technology in the future.” He believes consumers can no longer rely on historical definitions of room categories and need to be able to see “what the physical space will look like.”

“That and flexible productization,” he added. “The idea that the top floor of your hotel can be 12 individual rooms, or one party room, or three sets of three bedrooms, or three sets of four bedrooms rooms, etc. The ability to really customize the space to meet the needs and demands of hoteliers is going to happen.”

Heflin believes these two concepts represent significant operational changes “that will be enabled by good technology.”

Although COVID-19 continues to have a significant impact on hoteliers worldwide, these challenges also create opportunities for innovative redesign. What’s clear: the industry is not slowing down. Approaching each new challenge with unique perspectives and creative solutions underscores this community’s relentless determination to provide the highest quality service to a changing market.

Pictured above left to right: Equity panel with Rani Gharbie (Life House), Davonne Reaves (The Vonne Group) and Matthew Livian (Prospect Ridge)