Technology Rock Stars DENISE WALKER

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April 19, 2021
Technology Leaders
Fran Worrall

The People Leading the Industry
 
In HU’s second annual ‘Technology Rock Stars’ special report, we feature 10 technology leaders who have set themselves apart as hospitality’s best and brightest. Selected by a panel of hotel and gaming consultants and insiders, these men and women not only are driving change within their organizations but also are at the forefront of innovation in the industry. Our profiles provide an in-depth look at their recent accomplishments and highlight their predictions for technology’s future. We also share some of their personal bests ó ranging from favorite travel destinations (everywhere from Napa Valley to New Zealand) to favorite periodicals (in addition to Hospitality Upgrade, of course). We hope you enjoy this year’s special report.

DENISE WALKER
VP of Information Technology
Virgin Hotels

Denise Walker is vice president of information technology at lifestyle boutique brand Virgin Hotels. She came to the company in 2018 after 10 years at Atlantis Paradise Island Resort, where she served for eight years as vice president of application development and two years as CIO/SVP of information technology. Combined with 10 years at Royal Caribbean International, she brings more than 20 years of hospitality IT experience to her current position.

Virgin Hotels’ tech-forward philosophy attracted Walker to the company. “Virgin innovates and disrupts in every vertical it enters,” she said. “In our hotels, everything from room design to food and beverage offerings to technology is thoughtfully considered to enhance the guest experience.”

One of the most groundbreaking projects she has been involved in at Virgin Hotels is building out the brand’s guest app, Lucy. A combination of in-room systems and mobile applications, Lucy enables guests to control everything from booking through departure with their smartphones, including lighting, thermostats, room service and more. The latest version allows users to provide feedback in real time, so that properties can improve guest service almost immediately.

Walker believes that agility is essential for hotels that want to succeed. In 2018, she and her team retooled Lucy to make it even nimbler and more responsive for guests. At the same time, they included functionality that enables managers to make quick decisions as the environment changes. “With COVID-19, many hotels are trying to figure out how to make guests feel safe and empowered, but we had already innovated in a way that provided those capabilities and more.”

Virgin Hotels is known for providing highly tailored experiences, and Walker is enthusiastic about using technology to connect with guests. The brand’s The Know program is all about preferences – from favorite sips and snacks to choices in entertainment. “We’re engaging customers just-in-time, and not in a general way but in a very personal way,” she said. For example, Virgin offers Minibar OnDemand, which gives guests the option to stock their preferences, right down to the brand.

When selecting vendor partners, it comes as no surprise that Walker looks for providers that understand the direction in which technology is moving. “Our vendor partners must embrace the need for adopting a digital operating model and understand the impact artificial intelligence will have on the hospitality industry,” she said. “Digital engagement, data capture and being able to use those platforms and forums to provide hyper-personalized experiences to guests and value owners is critical. Vendors who don’t share and embrace that philosophy won’t be competitive in the future.”

Coming up is the opening of the 1,500-room Virgin Hotels Las Vegas, part of the Curio Collection by Hilton. Also scheduled to launch this year is Virgin Red, a comprehensive loyalty platform for Virgin Group.
 

Family: Happily single. “My mother and three brothers live nearby, and I’m also blessed with extended family in the Caribbean. They are my inspiration, heart and core.”

Go-To Periodical or Website: Deloitte Insights, Wired and the New York Times.

Book: Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist's Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations by Thomas Friedman. “It lays out exactly where we are as a society and how technology is driving so much of the world around us.”

Hobbies: Outdoor sports, especially basketball. “It clears my head and is one of my first loves.”

Jams: R&B, hip-hop and jazz.

Favorite Travel Destination: Napa Valley. “It combines my love of travel and wine.”

Advice to Young People: “Know your principles and your code of ethics. We’re living in a society where right and wrong are not built around you.”

Dinner With: Nelson Mandela. “I’d like to pick the brain of a person who overcame imprisonment and oppression to lead the fight for human rights around the world.”

©2021 Hospitality Upgrade
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