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In my June column, we discussed why the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) matters to the hospitality industry and the technical/organizational steps members should take to comply with the regulation. Practically speaking, any U.S. company desirous of European customers must comply with the GDPR as of May 25, 2018, or risk facing penalties as high as 4 percent of global revenue.

I’m a numbers guy so let’s start with a few from this year’s HITEC. HFTP, who produces HITEC, turns 65 years old this year, HITEC celebrated 45 years in existence by setting an attendance record, and Hospitality Upgrade is celebrating its 25th birthday. And you couldn’t help but feel the buzz in Toronto as Canada prepared to celebrate its sesquicentennial (150 years) the Saturday after HITEC.

Last year was a pivotal one for independent hotels, per STR, an American company that tracks supply and demand data for multiple market sectors, which revealed that these ‘un-branded’ properties had greater overall average daily rate (ADR) and revenue per available room (RevPAR) than their branded hotel brethren. Expedia, Inc. dug deep into its Q1 2017 data to shed light on the continued rise of independents in 2017, and offer tips for independent properties to best leverage this momentum.

Employee engagement has been getting more attention from executives, especially as more practitioners worry about the shift in workforce mentality and what employees expect from their organizations. Jimmy Lin shares three vital building blocks to engage (and retain) employees. 

Hotel template websites while being a cheap and fast way to set up your website are not recommended if you are looking to make the most of your money.

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In my June column, we discussed why the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) matters to the hospitality industry and the technical/organizational steps members should take to comply with the regulation. Practically speaking, any U.S. company desirous of European customers must comply with the GDPR as of May 25, 2018, or risk facing penalties as high as 4 percent of global revenue.

I’m a numbers guy so let’s start with a few from this year’s HITEC. HFTP, who produces HITEC, turns 65 years old this year, HITEC celebrated 45 years in existence by setting an attendance record, and Hospitality Upgrade is celebrating its 25th birthday. And you couldn’t help but feel the buzz in Toronto as Canada prepared to celebrate its sesquicentennial (150 years) the Saturday after HITEC.

Last year was a pivotal one for independent hotels, per STR, an American company that tracks supply and demand data for multiple market sectors, which revealed that these ‘un-branded’ properties had greater overall average daily rate (ADR) and revenue per available room (RevPAR) than their branded hotel brethren. Expedia, Inc. dug deep into its Q1 2017 data to shed light on the continued rise of independents in 2017, and offer tips for independent properties to best leverage this momentum.

Employee engagement has been getting more attention from executives, especially as more practitioners worry about the shift in workforce mentality and what employees expect from their organizations. Jimmy Lin shares three vital building blocks to engage (and retain) employees. 

Hotel template websites while being a cheap and fast way to set up your website are not recommended if you are looking to make the most of your money.

US companies collect, analyze, and leverage consumer data to optimize efficiency, advertise and, hopefully, increase profits. However, with the rise of data breach incidents, varying laws and consumer demand pressure companies to secure networks, scrutinize vendor usage and be transparent with "collection practices." Sam Crochet takes a closer look into the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation.

My work revolves around travel. Every night away from home is spent at a hotel or Airbnb property. I was recently asked about my hotel brand preferences and which loyalty program I use. The answer is that I belong to all of them but never achieve a high status due to the fact that my hotel nights are spread across many independent and brand hotels. If I were to pool all of my annual room nights into one brand, I could easily qualify for top tier status.

The world loves to chat. Today, more than 2.5 billion people have at least one messaging app installed, with predictions that the number will hit 3.6 billion within a couple of years. Brendon Granger talks about the future of chatbots in the hospitality industry and how they will rapidly change our guest experience.

This may seem hard to believe, but most hotels under 150 rooms still track guest requests and hotel maintenance manually. That’s right, old school paper logs are still widely used to maintain millions of dollars in physical assets, and to service another important asset – the guest! Most larger, full-service hotels use software to automate these processes, but the cost and complexity has been too much for many select-service and smaller hotels. Until now. This is all changing rapidly as advancements in technology make this category ripe for adoption in the select-service hotel market.

The Events Industry Council released the top five trends shaping the events industry after discussing the state of the industry at their recent Council meeting. The Events Industry Council members comprise the CEOs of more than 30 of the leading industry associations that represent more than 103,500 individuals and 19,500 firms and properties involved in the meetings, conventions, and exhibitions industry.

Six Hotel Trends to Watch
Posted: 05/24/2017

Understanding the changing preferences, desires and expectations of travelers is crucial for hotels to influence booking behavior. By staying on top of what guests care about, hotels can evolve how they market themselves and tailor their services to match the shifting demands of consumers.

This year the 2017 AAHOA Convention was a huge success; not just for the thousands of hoteliers that attended, but also for the hundreds of venders that participated in the trade show. While conventions such as these are supremely famous for bringing together hoteliers and management companies from around the nation together in one platform, the primary focus of the AAHOA Convention is to educate on the newest hotel trends and offer classes that teach how to get the best out of various marketing tools. One of the biggest questions that came up at the convention from hoteliers this year was about their website and how to get the best out of it as a major marketing tool. Now that hotels have finally made the push to create private non-branded websites, hoteliers are left not knowing how to get the best out of them to drive the online bookings as was expected.

The way hotels communicate with guests has changed radically in the past few years. Not so long ago, phone calls and face-to-face conversations represented the standard form of engagement.

Nine in 10 global cyber security and risk experts believe that cyber risk is systemic and that simultaneous attacks on multiple companies are likely in 2017, according to a study issued by American International Group, Inc. (AIG).

In a world constantly vying for your attention, unexpected content and form factor is king. While large digital displays in High Definition (HD) or Ultra High Definition (UHD) are almost a commodity, new form factors are successfully capturing the attention of potential consumers. Whether it is the digital outdoor roadside signs that change every few seconds, a series of displays with sequenced creative content, or displays that draw attention because of their unusual size or placement, digital signage is being used to capture the attention of a growing population which is fixated looking at mobile phone screens.

In the 2017 Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR) just released, Verizon presents a detailed picture of the nature of cybercrime in the past year. Now in its 10th year, the DBIR provides analytical insight on information from 65 organizations encompassing 42,068 incidents and 1,935 breaches from 84 countries.

In the latest version of the PCI-DSS the Council officially introduced the QIR (qualified integrators and resellers) requirements. Although they have been communicating the requirements and publishing the list of validated companies we haven’t read or heard much more about it… until now!

As North American hoteliers forge ahead in 2017, average daily rates (ADR) are holding strong in both the second and third quarters of 2017 despite declines in committed occupancy*, according to new data from TravelClick’s April 2017 North American Hospitality Review (NAHR).

Best Hotel Rewards Program
Posted: 04/11/2017

Hotel rewards programs are important, both to the travelers who join them and to the chains that run them. Roughly 18 percent of frequent travelers become loyal to a given hotel brand primarily because of its rewards program, according to Deloitte.

To understand what decisions today’s travelers, especially millennials, are making, we need to dissect, appreciate and understand each step of the journey made before making their booking decisions. Understanding the mindset and decision making factors that guests make will help hoteliers and their web designers create content that is not only relevant, but financially sound.

In the not-too-distant past, hotel guests could invariably expect to find their hotel room came with a cumbersome 21 inch TV offering a limited array of channels. Not especially exciting, and certainly not a selling point.

The numbers reported in a recent survey by Oracle Hospitality and Phocuswright are clear:

"64 percent of U.S. hotel guests said it is 'very or extremely important' for hotels to continue investing in technology to enhance the guest experience... 94 percent of business travelers and 80 percent of leisure travelers expressed interest in using smartphones to request service and message hotel staff."

In a recent study from Cornell University on female executives in hospitality, it was reported that while women make up 52.4 percent of the labor force in these companies, they constitute only 15.5 percent of executive officers. And in hospitality technology, the numbers are even lower

Five Steps to More Bookings
Posted: 03/27/2017

Hotels need to be there when customers are looking for them, and they need to turn those searches into bookings. It is no longer enough to attract visitors to your website. Converting most visitors to customers must come not just from direct traffic but also on other platforms.

What just keeps getting bigger, creates electronic envy on an unfathomable scale, and overwhelms your senses 5 seconds after you walk on the floor?

Digital marketing successes can be measured by a variety of metrics, which help to identify your performance against the goals and objectives of your company.

Shopping on the Holodeck
Posted: 03/13/2017

When I was growing up, Sunday nights were always ‘dinners with Disney.’ We would gather around the TV, and if my mother had not created something fabulous for my four brothers and me, it might have been Swanson who laid out dinner on a folding TV table in front of us.

Digital marketing is your best friend. It allows you to interact and engage with your targeted audiences in real time. When executed correctly, it can help your business grow. 

In recent years, the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) has become a major point of intrigue in the travel sector. Right now, travel brands are using AI to power a new generation of chatbots that can communicate with customers and handle requests through text-based conversations.

In my research for my new book, aspire... to shine, I interviewed and collected data from hundreds of highly motivated and not-so-motivated people. There is one overriding commonality for all of us:

User generated content (UGC) is a powerful tool for social media marketers. Videos, blogs, discussion form posts, images, tweets and other forms of media created by consumers, are considered user generated content. It’s proven that people trust other consumers’ experiences on products and services more than direct marketing from brands. UGC campaigns are particularly effective in promoting brand image and community. It allows you to create content with your customers, not just for them.

The IRS, state tax agencies and the tax industry issued an urgent alert to employers that an email scam involving Form W-2 content is spreading. Scammers are attempting to steal employee W-2 information by targeting payroll or human resource departments.

2017 blew in like a long-awaited whisper and will most assuredly go out with a bang. Let’s hope your marketing campaigns will do exactly the same. Complacency is out and being engaged is so definitely in! The hospitality industry has taken a huge hit in 2016, especially in oil field areas like Texas and Oklahoma. It is more important than ever that you double up on your marketing efforts and start off the new year with basic marketing tips that will boost your more expansive advertising campaigns and kick start higher revenues. There is no better time like the present, so let’s get started.

What I find even more ironic is that it does not appear the hotel industry is any better off this year to face the onslaught of data security challenges. In general, hoteliers are ill prepared to deal with such a large threat surface. Network and system hygiene has been ignored and the industry has always viewed data security as someone else’s problem (the brands) to deal with. Few have accepted the harsh reality that franchised or not, branded or independent, compliance is the sole responsibility of whoever holds the merchant account. The time for proactive security measures is here. The question for 2017 is, “Who will be prepared?”

Since the recent growth in fine dining casual dress codes, environments, added value and culinary enhancements are among the ways in which fine dining restaurants have changed to meet their customer's’ needs.

As competition in today’s noisy, technology driven world gives way to constant disruption and disintermediation, brands find themselves vying for hospitality and travel market share. Within this volatile landscape, marketers remain loyal to email. The reasoning is clear —email delivers better ROI than any other channel. According to a Mckinsey study, email is 40 times more effective than Facebook and Twitter combined when it comes to acquiring customers. Heinz Tschabitscher and Lifewire completed a study that showed more than 205 billion emails are sent daily. In an oversaturated digital world, personalization has become a well-recognized and highly discussed term in the hospitality industry. Only the savviest marketers will understand that digital media is no longer static. While personalization is not a new idea in the marketing arena, it is key in order to drive business value and strategically market to the vast and eclectic market of online consumers. This involves a dynamic use of customizable content matched with each customer’s unique preferences. Many marketers shy away from personalization, assuming a complete re-organization of the brand’s database is required. In reality, integrating the following personalization strategies into any brand’s email marketing campaigns will ultimately drive increased customer-satisfaction, interaction, awareness and overall brand loyalty. 

The HSMAI Americas board consists of a wide range of hospitality professionals from all areas of the industry, including representatives of 24 hotels and hotel companies. There were a number of interesting themes that emerged from the discussion. I’m excited to share some of their insights and provide my perspective into the industry trends and changes ahead.

Today, nearly 60 percent of travelers book hotels using a mobile device and 81 percent find user reviews important. With mobile devices serving as a natural extension of travelers, hotels must engage with their guests where they’re talking and listening before, during and after their stay to manage the guest experience from check-in to checkout.

In the 20 years that have passed since I first heard the line, I have believed in the inherent truth of that statement. Now, I am having second thoughts. I don’t disagree with everyone’s high opinion of their own opinion; what I now question is whether everyone’s opinion is their own. The truth is that we may not be in complete control of the conclusions we draw. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but the opinions we hold – the thoughts that define us unique individuals – can be primed by external signals, subliminal suggestions, and any number of subtle cues. We are complete with our unconscious need for acceptance, our social biases and preconceived notions. The human brain is very powerful at manufacturing its own reality.

First, there should be a clear definition of the project. This includes time of completion, exact type of materials used, labor/contractor costs and the overall budget. Hotel operations and construction companies/crews must work closely together to insure a smooth project. If the hotel is open and operating during construction, hours of work may be limited. There should be well defined guest and contractor areas.

From the guest’s point of view an excellent experience is one that is simply frictionless. No one wants a struggle to meet a basic need; today’s population insists on convenience. They want an experience without the friction of having to repeat things that have already been communicated, or spending time trying to solve issues that shouldn’t exist in the first place. Such friction takes away from the overall experience.

Hospitality marketing has made waves in the revenue stream in the last few years and lately we are seeing more and more ad campaigns, banners, articles and webinars on the importance of proactive marketing. It is all very effective and has definitely spread quickly among hospitality professionals trying to fit into today’s trends, but there are many unsung heroes, marketing must haves that seem to get swept under the carpet. The not-so-common marketing tips need to be revisited. Here is a small list of marketing ideas that are geared to bring in online customers that are visiting your site, and are either passing by because there was not enough visual appeal, or because you were not showcasing your property as well as you could be. These marketing tips are designed to give you a more proactive connection with your guests; past, present and future.

A recent string of cybersecurity events affecting a surprising number of well-known hotel chains has been making headlines. First, it was revealed that a point-of-sale (POS) malware breach hit a total of 20 hotels run by HEI Hotels and Resorts, including Hyatt, Marriott, Starwood and Intercontinental properties. The attack was active March 1, 2015 through June 21, 2016, potentially affecting thousands of customers — according to a statement by HEI Hotels and Resorts.

A few short years ago, mobile apps were being heralded as the next big communication tool in the hotel industry. But in a presentation at this year's HITEC, it was argued that the hotel app might be coming to an end.

It’s no secret that the hospitality industry has a serious cybersecurity problem. In the past few months alone, there have been dozens of hotel data breaches reported. Hotels and resorts have long been a hot target for criminals, and that trend shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

Entertainment makes us laugh and cry, gives us fodder for the water cooler, and brings us together, and yet it’s also a highly individual experience. Despite 21 years of marriage and a multitude of common interests, my wife will never share my obsession with Game of Thrones. In fact, everyone in our household has their own favorites – the boys like Dual Survival and YouTube videos of puzzle solvers (respectively – don’t get it wrong!), and my wife looks forward to a few quiet hours watching The Bachelor each week (which frankly I will never understand).

In my last few articles, I have stressed the importance of hotels branching out and creating a custom website that offers guests a brighter picture of their properties and what they offer. But what happens if after your site is up, you are still not able to see the grand results you were expecting? All is not lost!

Today’s guests are accustomed to doing things on the go. They live in a mobile world. They value a simple and frictionless consumer experience for selecting where they will stay, what they will eat and where they will spend their dollars. The manner in which guests assess, select, experience and spend is changing almost as quickly as technology is advancing.

Experts estimate between 38 percent and 47 percent of credit card fraud occurs in the hospitality and food and beverage industries. The high volume of credit card transactions, high staff turnover and data-rich target environment make the hospitality industry attractive to cybercriminals. Despite industry reliance on compliance standards such as PCI DSS, over the past few years, many major brands were breached and lost hundreds of thousands of guest credit card numbers.

The hotel industry is no different today than it was hundreds of years ago. Travelers still want a first-class product at the cheapest price possible, with ultimate customer service. The only thing that has really changed is the means in which we provide it. As advances in technology continue to rack the hospitality industry, owners and general managers are fervently scrambling to keep up with new technological trends. Let’s face it, that “unique and novel” experience doesn’t just happen on its own and today includes a variety of technological trends.

The popularity of Airbnb with millennials has been well documented causing the hotel industry to rethink how it appeals to this travel-loving generation.

When it comes to revenue management, size matters. Historically, it has anyway. The old adage, “it takes money to make money” has held true in the hospitality industry, particularly for larger, high-guest traffic hotels that have run the show by implementing complex revenue management platforms; once unobtainable by smaller properties with less resources at their disposal. With big properties shaping the demand for such solutions, revenue management’s technology landscape has consequently been shaped by hoteliers accustomed to sold out nights and being able to leverage an array of analytical resources. While commonly designed to maximize the best yield, such platforms focus on minimizing room availability for lower paying guests; a highly effective strategy in boosting revenue for larger, busier properties that sell out frequently. Tools catering to this aspect can be complex, designed for large-scale properties who typically employ experts dedicated to understanding the many intricacies of revenue management. To the mid-market hotelier who is short of time and may more realistically sell out one night in 10, this approach simply does not make good business sense.

Another week and another hospitality company is in the headlines after a security incident involving payment information was announced. This week the baton was handed to HEI with the announcement that 20 properties under the Hyatt, Marriott, Starwood and InterContinental brand names, were breached through POS malware. Last week’s headlines followed the detection of malicious code in certain legacy MICROS systems, and before that it was Omni Hotels and Resorts in the news. And the list will continue to grow unless something changes.

Stressed Out?
Posted: 08/16/2016

You don’t shine when you are overly stressed. Stress generally creates negativity. It does not drive innovation nor inspire people to perform at their best. Focus does. Stress puts endless limits on how you think. It triggers fear which makes us small – and small does not serve you or the world.

Data is becoming an integral component of how the hospitality industry approaches marketing. Hoteliers have a wealth of data they can leverage to provide guests with the best possible experience during their stay. Compiling data is now essential to ensuring customer loyalty and satisfaction, and has a direct and powerful impact on revenue growth. To make that data actionable, marketers use audience segmentation to enable content personalization. Rather than sending the same email to their entire database, hotels can communicate to different groups of guests based on common interests and lifestyles. It allows marketers to focus on the quality of their communications instead of the quantity. In other words, it is not about how many guests you reach, but how many guests are engaged with your content. As a result, hoteliers can connect with their guests before, during and after their stay by using a one-on-one marketing strategy.

Last week a new hacking device that threatens many POS and door lock systems circulated like wildfire. We have been fielding a large number of calls from clients and prospects asking questions about the story and the risks to their properties.

Direct is Better!
Posted: 08/04/2016

Many hospitality professionals ponder the questions: Why do I need a private website? Why can’t I rely on the corporate brand site and let bookings come in through OTAs?

What happens when hotels use revenue management approaches that focus only on pricing and exclude other analytical aspects?

The Sea of Mediocrity
Posted: 07/22/2016

At work, an astounding 72 percent of people play at the mediocre level according to research based on Aspire's 10-year study of top performing people and teams. Think of the productivity and profits lost!

Is it Safe to Travel?
Posted: 07/22/2016

One does not have to think back very far to decide if we live in a troubled world. Early last month I started to write a Hospitality Upgrade Watercooler piece on the growing threats to travel and accommodation. Before I could get through a rough draft on the topic, Orlando burst to the forefront. First, Christina Grimme, a contestant on NBC’s talent show, The Voice, was gunned down at a fan meet-and-greet. Then, a scant 48 hours later, before I could get through my revised second draft, Orlando’s Pulse nightclub was attacked and 49 more victims were left dead. Does all that seem like ancient history that you’re already tired of hearing? That was all the way back during the weekend of June 10–12.

Hospitality Upgrade reached out to the team at DANNI Enterprises to provide a summary of experiences from HITEC 2016. Each team member scouted HITEC through the lens of his or her specific area of expertise.

Hospitality Upgrade reached out to the team at DANNI Enterprises to provide a summary of experiences from HITEC 2016. Each team member scouted HITEC through the lens of his or her specific area of expertise.

Hospitality Upgrade reached out to the team at DANNI Enterprises to provide a summary of experiences from HITEC 2016. Each team member scouted HITEC through the lens of his or her specific area of expertise.

Hospitality Upgrade reached out to the team at DANNI Enterprises to provide a summary of experiences from HITEC 2016. Each team member scouted HITEC through the lens of his or her specific area of expertise.

Hospitality Upgrade reached out to the team at DANNI Enterprises to provide a summary of experiences from HITEC 2016. Each team member scouted HITEC through the lens of his or her specific area of expertise.

Hospitality Upgrade reached out to the team at DANNI Enterprises to provide a summary of experiences from HITEC 2016. Each team member scouted HITEC through the lens of his or her specific area of expertise.

I was recently asked if HITEC is different today than it “used to be.” This, of course, is code talking; the question less politely phrased was actually “how was it in the olden days when you first starting coming here?” Admittedly, it has been some years – OK, decades – since I first attended HITEC and the experience is admittedly different. However, that has less to do with the evolution of the HITEC experience and more to do with how I’ve changed over the same span of time.

Revenue management continues to evolve at a very fast pace and compared to a few years ago we need different types of tools, skills and mindsets operating in this critical role.

On March 7, 2016, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued orders to nine companies requiring them to provide the agency with information on how they conduct assessments of companies to measure their compliance with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS).The accompanying Order to File a Special Report compelled these entities to report on their policies, practices, budgets and handling of potential conflicts of interest between the PCI assessments and other services the companies might provide their clients (i.e., auditing and consulting).

Buyers, Beware
Posted: 06/07/2016

Summer is here – one of my favorite times of the year. The weather gets warmer and we have the opportunity to get outdoors. Among the fun things we do in the heat is the gathering of all our friends and colleagues at HITEC. This year’s show promises to be another extravagant display of new technologies and solutions for our industry. With the economy looking up, many will be shopping for some much needed solutions. The advances in technology and the adoption of cloud-based solutions give us some exciting new options to choose from. But beware, we need to proceed with caution.

For the hospitality and travel industry, guest arrival represents a crucial moment that drives overall guest experience and loyalty. It's a necessary and common interaction yet one where the stakes are high because the guest’s impressions from check-in can set the tone for the entire stay.

In order to be more competitive, many organizations have amped up their corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts over the past decade, yet it’s no secret that the hospitality industry is still trying to find its way when it comes to going green. Major corporations now include reports of their sustainability efforts in conjunction with financial reports. As corporations continue to focus on the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit, many find that consumers are choosing their products over the competition in order to support their CSR efforts. The same concept holds true for consumer’s choice in hotels as many consumers are increasingly basing their accommodation decisions according to the hotel’s environmental sustainability initiatives commonly called “eco-friendly.”

Every year Verizon releases its Data Breach Investigations Report, an in-depth analysis of the breaches and incidents it has analyzed. The report is considered the most highly anticipated cybersecurity report of the year and the 2016 edition does not disappoint, shedding new light on the evolving landscape. The information presented, if you have the time to read it (and you really should make the time!) gives you for free, some of the key statistics and lessons learned from over 100,000 security incidents and 2,000 data breaches. This report helps professionals and newbies stay on top of the most useful insights into how it all happens.

Quality Over Quantity
Posted: 05/09/2016

When shopping around for a web design company for your business, it is easy to get caught up with brand name or rely on an extensive resume portfolio when making a buying decision; especially on big ticket items. Many of us are guilty of this, in fashion, restaurants, even in the shoes we wear. My son wears the shoes that all the other kids are wearing and I carry the purse all the women are or want to carry – sometimes, even if I don’t necessarily like it. Sounds crazy, yet we all do it. I have since mended my ways and have learned the very important concept of quality over quantity, especially in the business world; it just makes sense. I would rather work for a small company that I know has potential growth and partners that I know will recognize and nurture their staff as opposed to a huge company or conglomerate that is always just focused on the bottom line, regardless of how they get there. So why should you not think the same way when looking for the perfect web design company to design, maintain and monitor your website that is bringing in business and money for you?

The report surveyed more than 9,000 millennials from around the world and discussed their use of technology in hotels, restaurants, bars and coffee shops – quantifying the impact mobile devices have on the hospitality industry. Millennials are projected to spend an average of $3,900 each on travel this year.

A Beacon in the Dark
Posted: 04/26/2016

As a beacon of light guides a ship to safe waters, beacon technology guides the consumer to something they may need or want. This revolutionizing technology uses Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) signal to communicate with a guest's phone when it is within 230 feet, or 70 meters, from one of the devices. The technology opens up the concept of proximity marketing and target marketing to only individuals that are near or in your facility.

Last week was my inaugural visit to Hospitality Upgrade’s Executive Vendor Summit. I was a little late to this party – this was the 12th year of this annual get-together – but my first time attending. To be fair, I didn’t previously qualify for an invitation; I wasn’t a founder or C-level executive of a hospitality technology or service company (strike one) that advertises in Hospitality Upgrade (strike two) or a consultant (strike three). All that changed this past year when I began practice as an independent industry consultant and – bingo! – I made the list.

It has always surprised me how many small businesses and hotels thrive without a website, especially in this day and age where a technologically advanced website can become the most powerful marketing tool available. Sure there are websites created by franchises according to the brand, but to have an independent website can put thousands of more dollars a month in your bank. An independent website will be feature rich with buttons for social media sites, dropdown menus with links that take you to local restaurants or entertainment sites, or the newest trend of a virtual reality tour of your business using Google Cardboard. Let’s face it. Without marketing, a business cannot succeed!

The Jugaad of Inbox Hero
Posted: 04/12/2016

In the last article, I tried to share some ways to help reduce the emails. Maybe they helped, maybe they didn't or maybe you didn’t even try. That’s okay. We have an innovative fix to give you more time working on your goals and less time spent on managing emails.

Photos from the Executive Vendor Summit 2016

Getting Technical
Posted: 03/28/2016

We continue to increase our dependence on and use of technology for communication to take advantage of the convenience and efficiency. If you only use these tools to deliver your message, you have a 93 percent chance of being misunderstood!

That is a great question a lot of businesses are now asking; what is all the hype about with the new social media craze hitting the marketing platform? Facebook and Instagram still remain the top outlets for showcasing new hairstyles and who’s going where, when and with whom for millions of people. Social media is obviously not just a fad. It’s here, and not going away. So why do I, an owner of a hotel or any leisure business need to be on Facebook or Google+? First and foremost, remember all of the millions of people on Twitter, Instagram and the many other social media sites – at the end of the day, they are our customers! With that many people using social media, it’s only obvious the hospitality industry will be greatly impacted.

A philosophy I've long applied to yield (I tend to use “revenue”) management I lifted from medicine's Hippocratic oath: “First, do no harm.” Done well, revenue management is perhaps the most efficient means of converting a property's supply and demand characteristics into optimal revenue and profitability results. Done poorly, it can cripple monetary success and alienate guests in the process.

Congratulations, you're midway through construction of your hotel, but now what? The word pre-opening is being tossed around more than a basketball in the NBA, but what exactly does it mean? I always thought pre-opening a hotel was between the owner and the franchise marketing group so that they can pre-sell your property before the doors even open. Well yes, it is, and that has come a long way in helping to market your new property but that is just the tip of the iceberg. Now hotels have the capability to open their doors and create a sensation with a huge boom by creating an online buzz. Opening a hotel is obviously a challenge, no matter how many properties you have opened, but it can also be viewed as an opportunity. In today’s market, it is all about your media presence.

Airbnb: What is Next?
Posted: 03/03/2016

Only recently the understanding has emerged that Airbnb – and similar businesses – would be something big. There is now a consensus that, maybe unlike other initiatives coined as the “sharing economy”, the large scale use of residential housing for traveler accommodation will change the way we do business in the hotel industry. And if things were not clear enough, the company last summer raised 1.5 billion U.S.D. private funding for its further plans.

If you’re like me, your inbox has included recent cover stories, emails and blog posts about disruption. Some have spoken about embracing disruption, others have offered ideas on how to minimize it. Regardless how you feel about it, the amount of disruption in our industry is going to increase.

Extended-stay accommodations are long time players in the hospitality industry, with the majority of hotel groups having one or more long-stay brands within their portfolio. Extended-stay accommodation typically refers to extended-stay hotels, aparthotels and serviced apartments – and their popularity over the recent years have been quickly on the rise.

The early-stage evaluations are flying back and forth in the patent lawsuit between Nomadix and Blueprint RF. A second round of motions has been decided in Nomadix’s favor, but unlike the initial industry reaction the final outcome appears far from being determined.

Millennials - also known as Generation Y - are the generation of travelers born between 1980 and 1995. Millennials were the first generation to be born into the digital world; they’ve grown up in an age where technology is an everyday part of life and regular travel is very accessible. This has created a wave of so-called savvy travelers, who look for unique value in their travel destinations at an affordable price.

In 1990, Congress enacted the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). At that time, the public Internet did not exist. But two landmark cases heightened oversight of government and advocacy groups, and set the precedent that public websites that offer a service need to comply with ADA standards.

The Wabi-sabi of Email
Posted: 02/09/2016

Wabi-sabi. I just like saying the word: "Wabi-sabi." What is Wabi-sabi? It is the Japanese ideal of celebrating and embracing the imperfect and the worn.

Speaking of revolution, in 1902 Vladimir Ilyich Lenin published “What Is to Be Done? Burning Questions of Our Movement." It was intended in part to mark the end of one period of political development in Russia and to give practical tips for what was needed next. So not very different from this column…

The Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International (HSMAI) Americas Board of Directors members recently offered their predictions for what to expect in hospitality sales, marketing and revenue optimization in 2016. The HSMAI Americas board consists of a wide range of hospitality professionals from all areas of the industry, including representatives of 24 hotels and hotel companies. I’m excited to share some of their insights and provide my perspective into the industry trends and changes ahead.

"Too much to do and not enough time." If I had a nickel for every time I heard that phrase I could be on a tropical island right now.

For those of us who are fascinated with technology, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is a lot like Christmas. It comes very quickly and is over before you know it.

While the FRHI Hotel & Resort brands have storied histories, in 2014 a strategic focus on internal digital communications and its link to employee engagement was still new to the company. At that time, FRHI had recently reorganized, and the employees across the globe had little-to-no knowledge of the parent company and often felt only a connection to the hotel for which they worked. There was a lack of effective internal communication between the many hotels within the system on a variety of levels – time zones, cultures and languages, as well as a lack of strong community culture.

It's Like Knight and Day
Posted: 01/11/2016

When you think about encouraging your team to fully participate and collaborate, have you supported the effort both symbolically and environmentally? Take King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, for instance. King Arthur did away with the long [conference] table and replaced it with a round one. He knew that to achieve the unity he desired, he could not seat some people in privileged up-table positions where he could hear them and others at the opposite end where they would have to shout to be heard as that only resulted in a divisive court, struggling for status.

When asked to comment on the technology highlights of 2015 I initially drew a blank but then a number of items popped into my head:

Dizzying, perplexing, intimidating and exciting are all appropriate adjectives to describe hotel distribution in 2015. More developments impacted the manner in which hotels offer their accommodation through election sales channels to potential guests in 2015 than in any year in memory.

The numbers are in... this year (2015) the total number of data breaches reached 732, surpassing last year's total of 726 for the same time period, according to the San Diego-based Identity Theft Resource Center. It is reporting more than 176 million records were exposed this year so far. When you think that we still have two weeks to go before 2016, the trend does not augur well.

2015 has been a whirlwind year for the digital marketplace. Here are just a few of the changes that affected hotels and the digital ecosystem in which they operate.

This past year saw a number of developments domestically and internationally in the area of privacy and cybersecurity, many of which have had – and will continue to have – a significant impact on the hospitality industry. From the European Court of Justice’s historic ruling in the Schrems case to the EMV liability shift, the following are four of the most significant legal developments in privacy and cybersecurity law from 2015:

Your conversation rate is simply the percentage of visitors that make a reservation through your website. You need to understand that having a large number of visitors is one thing and convincing them to make a reservation is an entirely different thing. It is not enough to focus on how to increase the number of visitors to your website, but you also need to pay serious attention to things that help convert visitors into customers.

This article concludes our 12-month “Flex Your Data Muscles” analytics challenge. Congratulations! We hope that the monthly tasks associated with the analytics challenge have been worth your while. If you’re just getting to know about the challenge, refer to the Hospitality Upgrade newsletter issued in January 2015 to learn more.

Welcome to Part 10 of our 12-month “Flex Your Data Muscles” analytics challenge. We hope that the monthly tasks associated with the analytics challenge have been worth your while. If you’re just getting to know about the challenge, click here to refer to the Hospitality Upgrade newsletter issued in January 2015 to learn more.

Despite some extensive public hand wringing for the past few days, there’s one certain ray of sunshine amidst the dire speculation racking the hospitality industry: there are now many more hotels that will accept your points if you’re a member of Marriott Rewards or a Starwood Preferred Guest. The bigger question, of course, is if you aren’t a loyalty club member, an employee, a supplier or a shareholder, did anything of any significance actually happen during Marriott’s annexation of Starwood.

Data breach incidents have dominated the news in 2014, and they are only becoming more frequent and damaging. Security industry experts have estimated that 78 percent of all companies and organizations in the United States suffered some sort of data loss or theft within the past two years. The prevailing view among most analysts is that data breaches are unavoidable. It is not a question of if companies will become victims, but when, and how prepared they will be to react when it happens.

I have been preaching for several years now the unrealized potential of analytics as it pertains to digital out-of-home networks. Because I run a 52,000 digital display network on the Las Vegas Strip, which is clearly the largest of its kind, the horsepower I am able to tap into may not translate to a smaller or fragmented system, but this doesn’t mean that you can’t test a tiny installation and gain a wealth of information if you plot your course correctly and track the results. The biggest value to smaller networks is the ability to control the entire process from inception to deployment.

For more than a year a fight has been brewing between Blueprint RF and Nomadix over Internet gateway patents. As the lawsuit begins to find clarity there are two basic functions that remain in dispute, the captive-portal or login page and PMS-billing connection fees to guestrooms.

If you’re at all interested in technology – whether it is for work or just for fun – you’ll know the future that all the big tech companies are working towards is wearable technology. The release of the Apple Watch earlier this year goes to show that users are still looking for the next new and exciting piece of tech to own... and now to wear.

Those who believe that a free market system always corrects itself will be heartened to know that the magic is still happening. The market giants involved: Microsoft, Adobe, Accenture, Kelly Services and General Motors, with more companies poised to follow suit. Their motivation: mollifying millennial workers, the largest, most influential and whiniest labor segment in the American workforce. The issue: traditional performance evaluations. The prognosis: said evaluations are headed for the history books. Some commentary offered to you by a Baby Boomer no longer effected by such changes: it’s about damn time.

Anything sustainable has a process associated with it. Processes allow us to repeat performance, and good processes are formulas for ongoing success. As a leader, one of your main jobs is to grow the productivity of your people. You always hear not to sweat the small stuff, and yet it is the small stuff that eats our time. Every organization has this challenge. There's already too much on our never-ending to-do lists, so we tend to react to what matters next rather than what matters most. In the chaos of every day, we tend to do, not think. This means we end up constantly correcting our course — an expensive approach to business.

There are a slew of facets to building a powerful online presence, and for many it can be incredibly overwhelming. Even a seemingly simple decision on where to begin can become a blind struggle. An ill-informed and misdirected approach can lead to money and time wasted.

On October 6, 2015, the European courts ruled that the 15-year-old Safe Harbor Act is immediately invalid, citing it clearly violates privacy rights. This has a direct impact on how hotels operate overseas or, for readers without hotels in Europe, how they treat information about guests who live in Europe and travel to your hotel. Whether you know about Safe Harbor or not, you should understand why this is so important.

I often hear, “Isn’t vulnerability scanning outdated?” from my clients. After all, with log monitoring and patch updates readily available, they tend to wonder, “What’s the point?”

Social media is much more than just sharing food pics and cat memes. Okay, so maybe 80 percent of it is food and cats. But in all seriousness, there's a game being played on social media and it can be confusing if you're just now showing up to play.

Our 12-month “Flex Your Data Muscles” analytics challenge has been running for seven months, and we hope that we’ve been able to provide you with some useful takeaways that will help improve your existing analytics efforts. If you’re just learning about the challenge, click here to view the Hospitality Upgrade newsletter issued in January 2015 in order to learn more.

C’mon Baby, Light My Fire
Posted: 09/16/2015

If you’ve been keeping up with this series, you know how important it is to have an aligned culture that supports your organization’s vision, mission and values, along with strong strategic planning to see sustainable success. And yet there is a key ingredient that ignites these components and without it, your engine will stall: passion. The more passion an organization has, the more fuel it has.

You are in the hospitality industry, providing lodging to travelers and vacationers and you have a website to maintain. Planning and building your content calendar is important to get the most out of your online prospects. If you think about it, your interaction on the web is 100 percent through content. It only makes sense to adjust your web activity and focus it around what we want to market, right?

Those following the FTC Wyndham case just heard that the federal court rejected Wyndham’s challenge of the FTC’s authority to enforce data security as an unfair trade practice. In its original lawsuit, the FTC accused Wyndham of a long litany of privacy fails, from storing unencrypted credit card information to lacking firewalls to using easily-guessed passwords.

As I spend time with system users throughout the industry, there is a comment that I hear frequently enough to have it register as a recurring theme. It comes in the form of a sometimes wistful, sometimes angry complaint: “our system used to handle that situation just fine but then something happened and it isn’t working anymore.”

As an update to our first article on the lawsuit filed by Nomadix against Blueprint RF, a federal judge ruled allegations of deceiving federal patent examiners could go forward against Nomadix Inc. (an NTT Docomo Company).

We are now past the halfway mark in our 12-month “Flex Your Data Muscles” analytics challenge, and we’ve made significant progress towards achieving our goal. If you’ve undertaken all the challenges posed so far, we hope that you have been inspired to improve your existing analytics efforts. If you’re just getting to know about the challenge, refer to the Hospitality Upgrade newsletter issued in January 2015 by clicking here.

“You don’t know what you don’t know”… until you go to HUG. The Host Users Group (HUG) is a unique conference held annually for the users, by the users of Host, one of PAR Springer-Miller’s property management systems. This year, HUG celebrates their Silver Jubilee at the Sunriver Resort in Oregon, Nov. 8 – 12, 2015. This 25th Anniversary is special as there has been an ocean of memories to reminisce over the years. There’s also a few select people who have been along on the journey willing to revel in the yearly family reunion.

It is estimated that a website is born every eight seconds, which means you will have about 324,000 new websites in front of you in one month. Unfortunately, not all these websites achieve what they want to. Website designing is a tricky art not many have mastered. It's not about using some simple or sometimes not-so-simple codes to display a jumbled up mess of content.

Picture yourself walking down the street on a busy weekday. You look up to see what special treats are on display in your favorite local bakery’s window. As you scan the usual favorites, your eye catches a delectable creation that you’ve never seen before. You grab your smartphone and open the bakery’s mobile app. As you hover your phone’s camera over the bakery’s storefront menu, this tasty-looking treat instantly appears on your phone’s screen and you learn its ingredients. You simultaneously discover the bakery’s current promotional specials along with their second store opening, which happens to be near your parents’ home.

School’s out, and countless families are preparing to visit attractions like amusement parks and resort hotels. We’ve seen plenty of evidence that cybercriminals will attack all types of businesses, and those that process payment data are especially valuable. The recent investigation by popular vacation destination Hershey Park into a pattern of credit card fraud further emphasizes this. Therefore, it’s essential that hospitality companies take the necessary steps to protect customer data and ensure that stronger security measures are in place for their network, payment systems and on-premise Wi-Fi services. Making those areas a priority now will allow them to keep their visitors’ information safe and secure throughout the busy summer travel season.

There is a commodity available in great abundance in the 21 Century: data, which steams toward us in a 24x7x365 relentless torrent. Diamonds used to be forever but data is the new infinity.

With HITEC 2015 as my assigned topic, I have little choice but to start off selfishly: this year’s gathering in Austin was the site of my induction into the HFTP International Hall of Fame. That experience meant a great deal to me – the Hall of Fame is the honor of a lifetime for someone who has spent almost that long working in hospitality technology. That said, there is still the larger issue of what HITEC 2015 meant to me as a rank-and-file attendee. As always, this year’s event aligned rather smartly with what I think is the enduring meaning of HITEC – it’s a touchstone of certainty in an uncertain world. For example:

The more things change, the more they stay the same! That old saying rang true in Austin at HITEC. So many companies that used to exhibit and have the biggest stands are now gone… divested, acquired or broke. And so many new dewy eyed hopeful companies pop up to replace them – yet it seems cyclical – so in a lot of ways nothing has changed. Weird.

Everyone has HITEC stories. Whether they be about the conferences themselves, or the friends they made, or the after-hours high jinx they lived through, everyone that attends a HITEC has a story. My first HITEC was in Baltimore in 1992. If you were there, and commit to being old enough to have attended that show, I was an exhibitor. I was the guy that had a basketball goal and ball in his booth, and dressed as a referee. The more shots you could make the bigger discount I would give you off of a telecom audit. A moment that I am sure Frank Wolfe is proud of. Marketing still isn’t one of my strengths!

The big get bigger! There have been several mergers this last year, and a couple more rumored. That makes for fewer companies for hotels to choose products and services from. While many hotel companies and brands strive for standardization, several of them hope to differentiate themselves. It is important that many new companies, with different ways of doing things, continue to enter our industry.

Wow, what a week. This year marked my 19th consecutive HITEC and it was by far the best. There was electricity in the air, along with a tropical storm. The educational sessions were top notch and the addition of vendor showcases was a great idea. And it was one of the busiest for me in the way of appointments made in advance with nine different vendors. I also had two HITEC first-timers with me this year. Deuce Sapp is our company’s IT director and Brad Good is the controller for the Galt House. I truly enjoy introducing new folks to the few people I have known through these years.

Last month we took a breather to reflect upon the various tasks we’ve undertaken so far in our 12-month “Flex Your Data Muscles” analytics challenge, and also to fine-tune our accomplishments. Hopefully, the challenge has given you a few ideas on how to kick-start your hospitality analytics journey or perhaps inspired you to improve your existing analytics efforts. If you’re just getting to know about the challenge, refer to the Hospitality Upgrade newsletter issued in January 2015 by clicking here.

In recent years, there’s been a major movement toward adopting the cloud across the hospitality industry. In 2013, for instance, nearly half of all hotels were already using the cloud or wanted to make the switch, and the number has only grown since then. This should come as no surprise: As hotel guests themselves use the cloud more and more in their personal lives —booking rooms online, working remotely from their hotels, or collecting loyalty points on mobile devices — they expect the hotels they trust to do the same. It’s all part of delivering excellent customer service. But not only can adopting the cloud industry-wide provide additional convenience for your guests, it can also revolutionize the way you work.

Super Size Me?
Posted: 06/10/2015

In case you didn’t see it, on May 19 Hotel-Online published the press release for Abraj Kudai, the structure that will become, on its scheduled opening in 2017, the largest hotel in the world at 10,000 rooms. AK, if you will, is being constructed in Mecca (here I use the traditional spelling), Saudi Arabia, approximately one mile from the Grand Mosque, the holiest shrine in Islam. By definition, it’s aimed at the religiously observant; non-Muslims are not permitted in Makkah (and here I use the transliteration). Beyond the observant, the hotel is obviously targeting a well-heeled clientele: twelve towers, ten of which will be designed with four-star accommodations and the remaining two will offer five-star rooms and amenities. Oh, and by the way, five floors are reserved exclusively for the Saudi royal family.

Hotels used to be a place where people went to get away from it all. Whether it be a quiet refuge for business people after a day full of meetings, a romantic escape for couples, or a destination away from busy home lives for vacationing families and friends.

Some think it's "fluff" while others think it is "done because it's on a wallet card" possessed by every employee. Yet culture is the tool that leaders use to inspire and align. When your people are aligned, they stay agile and focused, making decisions effectively. It's time to start thinking differently about the power and control your culture has over your business and its future!

What’s My Motivation?
Posted: 05/05/2015

Recently I had reason to find myself in a conference center hotel. (That opening makes me sound a bit like lost luggage, doesn’t it?) My friends, knowing that my background was primarily in destination resorts and upper upscale luxury hotels, issued the usual friendly warnings that I should gird my loins for the unpleasant trip downscale. The trip proved to be interesting and productive and the accommodations, while somewhat Spartan, were… just fine, thank you very much.

Verizon released its 2015 Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR) this month and extended an exclusive preview to Hospitality Upgrade including an interview with one of the authors, Jay Jacobs, the senior analyst and DBIR co-author with Verizon. HU asked Jacobs to cut through the more than 60-page report and share what this year’s investigation means to the hotel industry.

We've reached Part 4 of the “Flex Your Data Muscles” analytics challenge. Have you taken the opportunity to tackle some, if not all, of the challenges presented so far? If you are unfamiliar with this challenge, refer to Part 1 of this series for further details. In summary, each month throughout this calendar year, you will be presented with one analytics-related challenge to tackle. The challenges, each with two levels (basic and advanced), will be presented and discussed via this newsletter and the Hospitality Upgrade magazine.

Not to be confused with the exchange of taunts by athletes, SMAC is a helpful acronym. Each letter represents a direction in workplace learning that, if utilized together, they may combat hospitality’s globally crippling talent shortage. At the very least, they will boost your ability to compete.

Verizon released the Verizon 2015 PCI Compliance Report on March 12. The 84-page report contains an overview of how ‘compliant’ companies are and the findings compare prior years’ results to current.

SEO has now evolved into an amalgamation of tried-and-tested SEO techniques, social media optimization and content marketing, but it doesn't mean the basics are no longer important. Keyword research is still very much the life and blood of your SEO campaign and is critical to your online presence. More than 61 percent of online users start the buying process with the help of Google – and the first thing they do is enter a keyword in the search bar.

Proving the Negative
Posted: 03/09/2015

Remember George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign? Of course you do – Vice President Dick Vader was running the country from the White House basement while President Bush II was telling us how much safer we all were as a result of the government’s hard work. What was the self-evident evidence of our safety? We hadn’t had another September 11, so of course we were safer – what don’t you get?

It is true that reviews on TripAdvisor, OTAs and social media play a role in helping leisure travelers make a purchase decision, but a large majority of these travelers still visit the hotel website to learn more about the hotel they are going to book. This means it is important to design a convincing and effective website, but exactly what do hotel website visitors want to see in a website? Do you really understand what makes the difference between bouncing and booking for visitors to your hotel website? If you ensure that your website has the following elements it will work just fine.

This is part two of the “Flex Your Data Muscles” analytics challenge. If you are not familiar with this challenge, click here for the first article in the series. In summary, each month throughout this calendar year, you will be presented with one analytics-related challenge to tackle. The challenges, each with 2 levels (basic and advanced), will be presented and discussed via this newsletter and the Hospitality Upgrade magazine.

In technology, it is essential that teams collaborate effectively. Communication standards must be in place with projects divided up and deadlines set, and everyone must deliver on their expected results or else the entire workflow gets jammed. In the midst of a complicated project, it can be easy to forget that a single organization is made up of many teams — all essential and all working to deliver different elements adding up to a whole.

One of the biggest hooks in travel and tourism is the loyalty program. It’s a godsend to a modern marketing department that understands that nothing fuels the love a consumer feels for the consumed like something for nothing.

The revenue management culture in a hotel is best built on exceptional interdepartmental communication. The revenue department’s drive and ownership of the message is key for the property’s revenue influencers to be well informed and make good decisions.

As is often mentioned, the hospitality industry is still playing catch-up when it comes to the adoption of analytics to support decision-making. Even though quite a number of hospitality organizations have made significant strides and are extensively using analytics to improve their performance, a larger proportion still remain behind the curve. Those who find themselves behind the curve may perceive the adoption of analytics to be a very daunting undertaking, and are more often than not stuck in the “how do we get started?” rut. While it is true that becoming an analytics-savvy organization is not a quick and easy thing to do, there are quite a number of relevant and less daunting analytics tasks that can be undertaken to help you explore the benefits of utilizing analytics within your organization, and also get started with your analytics endeavors.

The recent shifts and changes in the landscape of distribution continue to take form in 2015. With fragmented distribution, fierce competition and better-informed consumers, guest loyalty is elusive and costly. Transactions via mobile are increasing exponentially and bookings shift from what we used to know as walk-ins, to mobile app bookings with a lead time of zero.

The distribution division of Pegasus Solutions, now renamed DHISCO (an acronym for the Distribution Hospitality Intelligent Systems Company) will now operate as a stand-alone hotel distribution services company following its acquisition by H.I.G. Capital. Official announcement of the acquisition and rebranding will take place at the HEDNA (Hotel Electronic Distribution Network Association) Winter Conference in Long Beach, Calif., Jan. 13-15, 2015.

Most hotels are riddled with security gaps. But I’m a glass-half-full kinda guy. The good thing about that is the issues that plague the industry are also simple to fix.

Dear Troubled Traveler
Posted: 12/18/2014

Early in my hospitality career (which to me is a gentler opening than “Many years ago…”) I served as an administrative assistant to a regional manager of a franchise company that operated several dozen roadside motels flagged by a famous chain. It wasn’t my first job in hospitality – I’d already been a desk clerk and night auditor for a chain of two vacation hotels on San Diego bay. But I was looking for the next rung on the ladder of advancement in hospitality and this was billed as a golden opportunity by the guy who hired me. My initial learning moment from that experience: don’t believe everything you hear in a job interview.

Establishing an impressive online presence where guests can find, review and even book a room is now as important as the bed itself. Many social media channels help create more impact on the target audience. Top social media channels include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Foursquare. Facebook is still the 'big kid on the block' with over 1.3 billion users and counting, but you can use Twitter and Foursquare for maximum gains.

Data, by nature, represent the information about yesterday’s world. The more the data, the better we can learn about what happened. In conventional wisdom, the bigger the data, the more profitable the analytics will be. This, however, is not always true. The profitability of big data analytics is largely determined by the questions that we can ask.

Snapshots from HOSPACE 2014
Posted: 11/24/2014

Yeah, Baby! Rich, Henri Roelings, Frank and Emily Wolfe have the rare opportunity to capture a moment with the famed Austin Powers.

Introduced in the mid ‘90s and then exploding at HITEC 2000, hotel guest networks (HSIA) became an integral part of the hotel industry. Cais Networks, Darwin, and Wayport took the industry by storm. Of course, by storm didn’t mean anyone was buying. The original business model was free with a revenue share. Some installed computers in the rooms, some just installed a network. The premise was based on take rates. While all their theories may have been on the right track, they were 10 years ahead of their time. The bottom line, customers were not buying and the bleeding edge companies crashed. More than 14 years later doesn’t seem so long ago, but HSIA has progressed light years since that first introduction.

In both 2001 and 2008, within a relatively short period of time, striking global similarities triggered two cataclysmic declines in travel demand. In the early 2000s the Internet was coming of age. During this period there was unprecedented and often irrational Internet growth. It triggered an artificial bubble of speculative economic activity that was unsustainable. The tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, and the subsequent collapse of the first Internet economy plunged the world into a recession that within months decreased global hotel demand by more than 40 percent.

In the fast paced world of information security it seems that exploits outpace the fix resulting in the compromise of sensitive data. Security has always been a reactive discipline but maybe that is changing.

I live and work in Indiana, a state rich with both high-tech and agribusiness, so believe me, I understand the value of silos... for farming, that is. Corporate silos are another matter entirely.

In part 1 of this three-part series, I discussed the health of the overall US hotel market specifically focusing on the group segment and the less than stellar ADR growth. In part 2, I discussed the need for and related challenges of estimating group demand in today’s current environment and the impact on pricing. If you haven’t already, you can read part 1 and part 2 now. In this third (and last) post, I will talk about how your measurement of group demand may be causing you to price group business incorrectly.

In Part 1 of this three-part series on the Changing Landscape of Group Demand Measurement, I discussed the health of the overall U.S. hotel market specifically focusing on the group segment. If you missed it, read it here. The looming problem is that group ADR growth is far below what it should be – a challenge that must ultimately be solved by the revenue and sales team responsible for an individual hotel. It’s obvious, but many times forgotten, that overall statistics are made up of each individual property and the decisions they make. Now, let’s take a look at some possible reasons for lackluster group ADR lift and what hotels can do about it.

The hotel industry had a record setting year in 2013: It was the year of most rooms sold, highest rooms revenue, highest ADR, and highest RevPAR. 2014 is shaping up to be even better: Occupancy is projected to grow between 2.1 percent to 2.6 percent, and ADR is forecasted to grow between 4.2 percent and 4.5 percent. In fact, in the United States, May 2014 RevPAR growth was a new record breaking 10 percent.

There are many opinions on what constitutes big data, but the most widely accepted definition was coined by Doug Laney (currently with Gartner) back in 2001. His definition of big data is based on the three V’s– volume, velocity and variety.

The truth is that many of the greatest protective measures you can take to secure confidential information are also the most simple. While attacks have incrementally gained in sophistication, they often aren’t immune to being detected and stopped before the damage has been done. Yet even today, we’re still seeing that security basics are being overlooked and leading to compromises. For example, passwords are a key way to securing access to computers and your point-of-sale environment. Not changing these passwords regularly or using ones that are easily-guessed is like leaving the cash register open and one of the simplest ways for criminals to sneak into your system and access valuable customer payment information. ‘Password' is still one of the most common password used by businesses today; in 2013 two out of three breaches involved compromised credentials according to the 2014 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR).

Karl and Bob were good friends when they attended college. After they graduated from college, life happened and they slowly lost contact. They reconnected at their 20 year reunion. They were working for similarly sized companies, graduated with nearly identical GPAs and had the same work ethic. However, for some reason, Karl was two levels higher in his organization than Bob.

At virtually every hotel security audit I’ve ever conducted, and at every hotel I’ve ever stayed at, front desk computers are used to both browse the Internet and accept credit card transactions. That is a serious violation of security protocol.

Post-HITEC Takeaway Tweets
Posted: 07/21/2014

HITEC is always a unique and exciting experience for both attendees and providers. We all meet so many people and see an incredible amount of new products and services, but just a few weeks post-HITEC, the takeaways can become a little fuzzy. With Hospitality Upgrade’s post-HITEC takeaway tweets we offer great reminders to clarify your notes. We asked our partners who were HITEC exhibitors to provide a recap of their HITEC exhibit in just 140 characters or less:

Segmentation is one of the most critical tasks in pricing and revenue management, yet getting it right is the most daunting task. Throughout my career, I have had the opportunity to work with extremely talented hotel and casino-hotel revenue managers who, via extensive experience at their properties and a strong analytical skillset, are able to identify segments with impressive accuracy. For instance, they are able to deduce that guests booking between two weeks and 60 days prior to the arrival day have a distinct behavior and sensitivity than other guests. Or that groups arriving on Mondays and staying two nights should be priced differently than groups arriving on Thursdays for the same length of stay. More often than not, data analyses performed by our science team corroborate the revenue managers’ insights.

As discussed in the first article in this series, in order to survive and thrive in today’s extremely competitive hospitality environment, hotels need to continue to distinguish themselves from the competition by improving the guest experience. Those companies that can take all of the Big Data about their guests and their operations, and turn it into a personalized experience that provides value both for the guest and the hotel will be the ones that win.

Move Fast and Break Things
Posted: 07/03/2014

Even days after the close of #HITEC2014 in Los Angeles I’m still recounting the details of this tremendous industry event and takeaways that I will use in the workplace. My mind continues to download information, insights and new connections to my network.

Gambling in America has a long history that can be marked in three segments. Many of the original settlers brought English traditions and beliefs, while the Puritans discarded those values. As a result, the tolerance of gambling was very much a regional attitude. In New England and Pennsylvania, the Puritan values prevailed. In the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the possession of cards, dice and gaming tables was outlawed (even in private homes) as was dancing and singing. In other colonies, gambling was viewed as a harmless diversion, as long as it was for recreation and not as a trade. Professional gamblers were considered unsavory, a theme which prevailed for over two centuries.

Sadly, according to last year’s Data Breach Investigation Report, the hospitality industry grabbed the top spot for the most data breaches in both 2011 and 2012. Released in April, the results for 2013 show the same ranking. The industry snapshots, aimed at helping organizations understand the anatomy of a data breach and how to best provide protection, offered an in-depth view of the financial services, health care, retail and hospitality sectors. Ranking behind the retail industry is, in my opinion, embarrassing.

In March, Merchant Link held its first Lodging Focus Group Summit. There were 14 large and mid-sized hotel brands represented, with the goal to bring together hospitality professionals to better understand what they knew about payment security, what they were concerned about in payment security and what things will be coming that they should begin preparing for with regards to payment security. It was discovered that e-commerce and the recent reported credit card breaches were two hot topics, followed closely by integrations to alternative third-party vendor interfaces.

Forging New Guest Connections
Posted: 05/20/2014

As connected, mobile, always-on travelers become the norm, hotels and other travel providers are increasingly using wireless communications to improve services, to enhance guest satisfaction – and to drive bottom-line business performance.

Hotels’ total energy consumption costs can be 6 percent of the operating cost and utilities cost continue to rise. While energy management focuses on the amount of consumption, cogeneration allows the hotel to have greater control on the cost of consumption. While other energy-reducing technologies have produced limited results, cogeneration appears to be a technology that will meet expectations. It’s a technology that has significant corporate investment behind it so we expect to see continued research and development to improve the technology and lower its pricing.

It’s getting to be that time again – we are only weeks away from HITEC and the buzz around new technology innovation is starting. It’s an exciting time of year. This week I was approached with two very interesting and unique technologies for hotel, resorts and restaurants.

While the hotel industry is on a firm path to recovery and room demand especially for higher end hotels continuing to break records, average rates have still not recovered in real terms, suggesting that hoteliers continue to experience challenges in taking full advantage of the strong demand in many markets.

Food and beverage revenue can make up to 20 percent of all hotel revenue or more. That is a significant part of a hotel P&L. Recently, an increasing number of hotel executives have begun to view their full-service restaurants as a way to attract customers and drive incremental revenue for their business.

“We're deeply sorry for the inconvenience and frustration this issue has caused our guests.” Those are the words prepared by the public relations staff for the 40 million Target customers impacted by the data breach announced in December 2013. Besides having their information stolen and sold on the underground market, many of those guests found themselves with banks, credit unions, and state benefit programs closing down their cards as a result of "recent fraudulent activity occurring on customer’s compromised cards.” Those cards have been or will be reissued and the customers will not be financially liable for losses but they still have had unnecessary hassle introduced into their holidays.

Typically my messages and insights shared in Hospitality Upgrade revolve around security and ways to simplify PCI compliance. After all, I consider myself first and foremost a merchant advocate. This message is a little different; it’s more of a heads-up on a little-known PCI regulation that could cause you major problems in the near future.

Contemporary cruise ships are arguably among the largest, most complex machines on earth. As passenger vessels have gotten larger, the technologies employed to operate them have grown ever more complex and integrated.

On January 14, 2014, SearchEngineLand broke a story that the Google+Local pages for around 4,000 hotels, branded and unbranded alike, had been “hijacked” by a third party. Many of hotels in question had unverified listings on Google+Local that had been claimed by the 3rd party to steal traffic, according to Danny Sullivan, the founder of SearchEngineLand. Google has said it is aware of and addressing the issue.

With the announcement on January 15, 2014, and the news of DIRECTV dropping The Weather Channel because of a disagreement on a market-based carriage deal, our Publisher Rich Siegel sought the opportunity to explore how this would affect the hospitality industry. Rich went straight to the source and interviewed the EVP/CIO of The Weather Channel, Bryson Koehler.

As usual, I was surprised when looking back to see just how many mergers and take-overs there were last year. The biggest deal by far came right at year-end with Amadeus picking up Newmarket. This is a fascinating move; Amadeus has been working on expanding its offerings to all areas of hotel operations for some years, and this both fills major gaps in its product range and gives it a major boost in credibility outside the GDS/CRS arena. Further, while Amadeus does have capable RMS and GMS products already, it’s tempting to wonder whether it might also be hunting for similarly-renowned products in those two areas as well. IDeaS? Protel? It’s fun to speculate, but only time will tell.

Part 7 of 8 - Check back daily for each section of Jon's Technology Year in Review. (excerpt from full post - 01/09/14 Siegel Sez Newsletter)

It was interesting to see the growth in formal ties between vendors of complementary systems, especially in the reservations/distribution/revenue management area. InnLink integrated RateGain’s PriceGain rate intelligence software into its CRS, and Denihan Hospitality integrated Duetto's revenue strategy software with Sabre Hospitality's SynXis CRS. The impact of reputation management was shown by IDeaS integration of data from Brand Karma’s iO reputation analytics tool into its RMS pricing analysis, and by Genares’ partnership with TrustYou. Genares also integrated Flip.to’s social-media referral engine into its CRS

Australia-based SiteMinder had a banner year, being adopted by Silken Hotels (33 hotels), Macdonald Hotels & Resorts (45), Malmaison and Hotel du Vin (26), Secret Retreats Hotels (37), Sun International (30), Hoteles Catalonia (60) and Anantara (24).  MICROS also used Siteminder’s RDX platform as the basis for its Channel Manager in Asia Pacific.

Despite continued forecasts of their decline GDS and CRS services had a strong year. Sabre Hospitality picked up Park Hotel Group and renewed contracts with Marriott and Leonardo Hotels, Trust International gained Falkensteiner Hotels & Residences (32 properties), Indonesia’s TAUZIA (13) and Malaysia’s Hospitality Integrated Technology Sdn Bhd (5), and Pegasus added Atahotels (19), Bangkok-based Compass Hospitality (28) and India's Fortune Hotels (37). Sceptre’s Windsurfer also had a good year, attracting broughtonHOTELS’ 12 properties and being white-labeled by both MSI and

Jon Inge's 2013 Technology Year in Review - Guest Management Systems Part 3 of 8 - Check back daily for each section of Jon's Technology Year in Review. (excerpt from full post - 01/09/14 Siegel Sez Newsletter) To read part one: click here To read part two - Mobile: click here Part 3 - GMS Two interesting new developments this year were Indra’s introduction of its exceptionally capable all-in-one Travel Management Suite to the U.S. market (an SAP-based rival to Cenium) and Choice’s launch of its in-house cloud-based GMS to the worldwide market under its new SkyTouch Technology division. It’ll be interesting to see if Choice has more success with this than Starwood has had with its in-house Galaxy system, but a 5,500-strong installed base with Choice-branded properties is a great place to start. Micros continues to dominate the GMS scene with Opera, and its Opera 9 version looks set to continue that trend. To no-one’s surprise Marriott announced Opera as its standard GMS for all Marriott brands worldwide; Best Western also added it to its list of Preferred Hosted PMS Providers. Infor continued steady development of its new HMS product and added the 1,295-room Galt House Hotel to its client list. PAR Springer Miller enhanced its striking Atrio system and added a POS module; ResortSuite added a tablet-based POS to its comprehensive suite. Agilysys continued development of its second-generation new GMS for release next year while continuing to gain further casino sales for its LMS product. Northwind celebrated its 35th year in business and added many new features to its Maestro suite, including on-line booking of guest activities and mobile BI functionality. RSI International’s Roomkey received a major boost when Magnuson Hotels named it as the exclusive recommended GMS for its 2,000 independent North American hotels, offered at a minimal fee per occupied room-night. Hetras made a good comeback this year after its recent rewrite and attracted a steady stream of new clients, including independents Hotel Bellevue Kärnten Seeboden (Austria), Stare Miasto (Krakow, Poland) and the Prinz Hotel (Munich), and the first properties of start-up chains Glow, Ruby Hotels, Aducco Hotels, OKKO Hotels and Scandic’s new HTL brand. To read part one: click here To read part two - Mobile: click here Jon Inge's 2013 Technology Year in Review - Guest Management Systems By: Jon Inge Date: Wednesday, January 15, 2014 Keywords: Jon Inge, Hospitality Technology, Guest Management Systems for hotel, GMS, Indra, Choice, SkyTouch, Galaxy, Micros, Infor, Marriott, Best Western, Galt House, PAR Springer-Miller, Atrio, ResortSuite, Agilysys, Northwind, RoomKey, Magnuson Hotels, Hetras

The sound and fury surrounding “mobile everywhere” has signified nothing much more than a flurry of apps spreading existing functionality across more convenient devices, putting even more strain on overloaded WiFi networks.

It’s been an odd year. Apart from Indra’s bringing its successful and comprehensive TMS system to the US market and Choice launching its proprietary GMS onto the open market under the SkyTouch name, no major new systems have appeared. The sound and fury surrounding “mobile everywhere” has signified nothing much more than a flurry of apps spreading existing functionality across more convenient devices, putting even more strain on overloaded WiFi networks. There have certainly been many interesting developments across the board, but these have tended to be incremental rather than game-changing. Probably the biggest news of the year was Amadeus’ takeover of Newmarket, which may indicate a potential shake up in the established order of vendors, and this is discussed more below.

After hours of traveling, you finally arrive at your destination for the holidays, ready for some well-deserved R & R. However, instead of handing your luggage to the porter and grabbing a key from the concierge, you walk into the lobby and see a long line of hotel guests waiting to check in. Frustrated by the prospect of waiting in yet another line, you wonder, “Isn’t there a better way to manage the check-in process so I can get my vacation started sooner?” The answer is yes, and the solution is simple. In fact, it can probably be found in your pocket, purse or suitcase: a mobile device.

The hotel marketplace is rapidly evolving from price transparency, where the advent of the OTAs suddenly allowed consumers to easily compare all room rates in a market, to value transparency, where, along with price, consumers have ready access to user experiences with hotel stays in the form of reviews, ratings, rankings and images. As this transition unfolds, nearly every hotel revenue manager I’ve spoken with in the last couple of years (and there have been many) has (smartly) asked some version of the same question: How should all of this user generated content impact pricing decisions for my hotel?

PCI DSS 3.0 was just released and hoteliers around the globe are scrambling to determine what the new requirements are and what changes they need to make to stay (or become) compliant. While there are some significant changes in 3.0, I fear that many are overlooking a much larger change that they will have to make as the PCI Council implements its new standard for tokenization in the coming year.

In the past, implementing a digital signage solution was either a financial (what are my current cost for graphic, print and installation), and/or a marketing decision (what opportunities am I missing by not having a dynamic digital infrastructure.) However, if you have not yet adapted and are still trying to determine if you should go digital, know that bus has already left the station. While you’d be late to the table, admittedly you have missed the growing pains of early adoption, including the initial high cost of investing in a system that didn’t fit your business needs or selling your soul to a vendor that is no longer around.

Corporations like Google and Facebook collect incredible amounts of information about their users,1 and this summer saw confirmation of widespread surveillance of private citizens by the U.S. National Security Administration. Between government and corporate information collection, privacy experts have gone so far as to say that privacy on the Internet no longer exists. As data collection has become ubiquitous online, privacy regulators and other enforcement authorities such as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have become more interested in reviewing websites' and Web applications' privacy policies. These authorities require or strongly encourage, depending on the jurisdiction, website and app operators adopt and publish privacy policies that inform users of the information they collect and how they use it. Indeed, California Governor Jerry Brown recently signed into law new provisions of California Online Privacy Protection Act (CalOPPA), which require website operators and online services to notify users whether other parties may collect information across different websites and disclose how they respond to Web browser do not track signals.2 Given the increased scrutiny being given to privacy policies and the size of the penalties levied for not complying with applicable laws in this area,3 it is surprising that so many websites and apps have inadequate policies or none at all.

Google’s latest release codenamed “Hummingbird” drives specific implications for SEO, marketing, technology and content efforts. In the next print edition of Hospitality Upgrade, we will delve deeper.

When compared to competitors, companies that can achieve the digirati level of digital maturity are driving 10 percent more revenue, are 26 percent more profitable, and have a 12 percent higher market value.

Hotels are a business, and as such need to make money to stay in business. Hospitality is the art of the hotel business. Once the business was all about getting heads in beds, and driving customer satisfaction and loyalty by providing the best accommodations for the price, today the business is different. Today, hospitality is all about the customer experience; it is not sufficient to merely offer the same quality of stay at a similar price.

When a new child is coming into this world the endearing couple is anxiously awaiting the special delivery and wonder if they are prepared. Most couple research extensively to prepare for the event. Similar to this rite of passage, the hospitality industry is awaiting a delivery of a darker kind and one that each professional should be anxiously monitoring.

As a father of three Generation Z’ers, I’m able to watch first-hand the impact mobile technology has on their life. If their smartphone, tablet or high-speed internet is unavailable, it’s downright catastrophic. Unfortunately I can’t say much, because I’m the same way. Look around the office, the mall, even schools…it’s apparent we are a mobile society with digital-connectivity engrained in our DNA.

Over the phone, Tammy Farley, president of The Rainmaker Group, seemed cool and confident and completely modest about her recent achievements. Congratulations were in order for the company’s honor in the Georgia Fast 40, and as she politely accepted, she pointed the credit to her colleagues and also to the industries The Rainmaker Group works within.

Tipping is a practice that varies from culture to culture. In many countries, tipping isn’t expected and in some cases, it is not even allowed. However, in America, servers and bartenders rely on tips for their economic survival. And, Americans are quite generous when it comes to their tipping practices. According to recent statistics released in The Wall Street Journal, the average American tips around 19.1% when dining out, a number that has increased steadily over the years.