Rapid Pace of Change in Tech, Privacy & Personalization Are Top of Mind

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of stories from Hotel Business featuring coverage of this year’s HITEC. 

NATIONAL REPORT—In advance of this year’s HITEC in Minneapolis from June 17-19 at the Minneapolis Convention Center, Hotel Business spoke with the three brand leaders in the “Technology Talk in the C-Suite: 2020 and Beyond” session for their thoughts on the issues facing hospitality technology.

The session, taking place on Tuesday, June 18, 2019, from 8:30-10 a.m., will be moderated by Chip Rogers, president/CEO, AHLA, with Ken Greene, president, Americas, Radisson Hotel Group; Greg Mount, president/CEO, RLH Corporation; and Peter Strebel, president, Omni Hotels & Resorts, serving as panelists.

With the rapid pace of technology change—and guest expectations in relation to it—hospitality companies are making staying on top of the latest happenings a priority. “At RLH Corp., technology innovation is part of the culture we’ve established,” said Mount. “Technology is viewed as a business change enabler, and the technology team partners with each team to find ways to leverage new technology that can give our hotels an advantage.”

But, the rapid pace of technology change makes it important to figure out what is a trend and what is just a flash in the pan. “All industries have trends and fads and, many times, there’s not a difficulty noticing the trend after the fact,” said Mount. “The real challenge is making the decision to stop a project or change directions once you realize it’s not working. At RLH Corp., we promote the idea of ‘failing fast’ and not fearing failure. We try a lot of different technologies and solutions; while some work, some clearly don’t, but we promote everyone’s ability to have great ideas.”

Keeping up with the latest technology is essential for Strebel. “Omni focuses on the guest experience and uses technology as a way to enhance that experience,” he said. “It is important for us to stay updated on new tech innovations and understand how people are using them on a daily basis. With this information, we can determine how we might be able to integrate this new technology during their stay.”

The issue of cybersecurity and guest privacy remains a concern that brands take seriously, especially given recent reports of data breaches across many industries. “At RLH Corp., we really strive to create authentic experiences for our guests,” said Mount. “Part of that experience includes providing guests with a level of trust that when they provide us their information, we are going to do our best to protect it from being exposed to criminals.”

Mount said that the company has worked on two projects in the area of protecting guest information.

The first project was removing credit card data by tokenizing all credit cards during the reservation process at the CRS. “RLH Corp. was one of the first brands to leverage tokenization at the hotel PMS, but as we’ve grown so rapidly through acquisitions, this brought new and unique challenges,” he said. “The path forward required us to move tokenization away from the hotel and to the CRS.  By tokenizing credit cards at the CRS during the reservation creation process we remove all credit card data throughout our system of hotels.”

The second project for RLH was moving its loyalty system authentication to identity management company Okta. “Again, this created significant challenges with finding new integrations to our CRM, marketing systems, reporting systems and others, but in the same way we felt tokenization was important to all RLH Corp. guests, we felt taking extra steps to secure our loyalty guests’ information was obviously the right path forward,” said Mount. “The Okta solution allows us secure loyalty system authentication and provide RLH Corp. a platform to continue to build more secure guest identity solutions for the future.”

For Omni, cybersecurity is extremely important. “Operating in a secure environment is table stakes these days, said Strebel. “We work hard to educate our associates on protecting data, and we take the utmost care with our guest data. We have a number of industry partners that we work with to routinely evaluate our privacy posture.” 

Greene said that his company invests heavily in technology to deliver memorable experiences for guests and customers—and that includes keeping that technology safeguarded. “These technology capabilities require high maturity in data security and privacy,” he said. “We require IT systems to meet and maintain compliance with our information security framework, which aligns to established best practices, industry standards, legal/regulatory requirements and corporate mandates.”

The hotels also have to balance being respectful of guest privacy with the desire to provide them with a personal experience. “Our privacy program is based on consent, transparency and trust,” said Greene. “The personal experience is enabled by consent. Once that consent has been captured, we strive to create those memorable experiences, maintaining trust through strong commitments to transparency and security.”

Mount echoed Greene’s sentiment. “Securing guest data is important to RLHC but, at the same time, allowing hotels to leverage guest data to provide the best possible service experience is really why we all run hotels,” he said. “Reporting on guest data while securing the data is still possible, but it requires the technology teams and business teams to work in unison toward the same end goal. Allowing both teams to understand all the goals up front, the business can help IT solve challenges implementing the security solutions, while IT can help the business solve challenges finding new guest reporting and management solutions.”