Amadeus Hospitality CEO Hazem Hussein on Moving to the Cloud, the Importance of Integration and the Company’s Long-term Plans

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June 18, 2018
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Fran Worrall - Fran@hospitalityupgrade.com





Hazem Hussein, Amadeus’ Hospitality Division CEO, on Moving to the Cloud, the Importance of Integration and the Company’s
Long-term Plans

In the last few years, the hospitality division of industry powerhouse Amadeus, has been making in-roads in the hotel sector. Now, under the leadership of Chief Executive Officer Hazem Hussein, it is poised for even bigger growth.

Hussein, who joined Amadeus in 2005, began in the company’s distribution division, where he worked extensively with travel management companies and multinational corporations. He then moved to the airline group, where he most recently served as an executive vice president, managing the Eastern Europe and Asia-Pacific regions. He took the reins as CEO of the hospitality division late last year.

His many years with the company have provided him with an opportunity not only to gain a broad understanding of the travel industry but also to witness the evolution of Amadeus into a major player in the hospitality sector. “We’ve had great success within the airline industry, and we can use what we’ve learned there to benefit our hospitality customers,” he said.

In this exclusive Hospitality Upgrade interview, Hussein examines some of the challenges he sees facing the hospitality industry, discusses the importance of cloud technology and systems integration, and reveals Amadeus Hospitality Division’s long-term plans.
 

The Move to the Cloud

Hussein is quick to note that hotels face many of the same technology challenges common to other hospitality entities, most notably outdated systems. “Many independent systems don’t integrate with other technology solutions in an open API environment,” he said. “Moreover, data silos prevent managers from having a comprehensive view into their businesses.”

As a result, hoteliers are limited in their ability to adapt to changing market demands and manage guest preferences. “Outdated technology poses a huge challenge around guest personalization,” he said, noting that personalization isn’t a trend or merely a hot topic in the press. “A personalized experience is something that’s expected by every guest who visits your property. Hotels that want to succeed must anticipate guest needs, understand previous stay challenges, and proactively address those challenges using data, analytics and business intelligence.”

Outdated technology is also a business sustainability issue. According to Hussein, it’s not a matter of if the system goes down, but when. Will it happen during peak hours? At midnight? Will the hotel have the resources to manage? What will be the impact on the guest? The brand? “This has long been a big question mark in the hospitality business.”

And, he said, it’s one of the main reasons why so many solutions are moving to the cloud. “Cloud-native solutions don’t rely on hardware that can crash. Instead, cloud providers manage the entire platform, providing both hardware upgrades and software updates that keep properties running smoothly.”

He also notes the cloud’s lower impact on hotel budgets due to the savings in hardware, staffing and maintenance costs. And, there’s a consistency in pricing that comes with a subscription-based product, as well as access to the latest software releases as soon as they’re available.

Hussein believes hotels of all types and sizes – from independents to chains – are increasingly shifting technology expenditures from a CapEx to an OpEx business model. “Hotels want to move from an in-house technology organization to a more quick and flexible operating model, which primarily means moving from on-site to the cloud.”

Systems Integration Essential

Another challenge facing hotels is that of knowing the guest. Hussein cites a recent survey conducted by Amadeus in which hospitality professionals were polled about their tech priorities for the coming year. Perhaps not surprisingly, the top priority for 2018 was customer relationship management (CRM) technology.

“The key to understanding customers is knowing everything about their interactions with your property or brand,” Hussein said. Is a guest visiting the property for business or leisure? What restaurants did he enjoy? Did she book a spa appointment? A golf tee time? Was there a problem during the stay?

These kinds of insights are critical not only to delivering personalized service but also for targeting guests for future stays and for building loyalty. Moreover, hoteliers can use the data to see overarching trends that can help them refine operations and increase profitability.

Yet, it takes systems integration to gather guest data and leverage it to the hotel’s advantage. Hussein notes that it is particularly important for the hotel’s property management system (PMS) and central reservations system (CRS) to be integrated in a true consolidated platform. A primary benefit is that it eliminates the need for ‘ARI’ synchronization, he said, referring to the triad of availability, rates and inventory. As a result, the possibility of discrepant and fragmented data is removed.

Another benefit is that it speeds the delivery of business value through product capabilities, while upgrades become simpler and less interdependent. “There’s no need for recertification of integrations,” he said. ‘In fact, there’s zero reliance on interfacing the CRS and PMS, as both are using a single source of truth for profiles, reservations, rates, availability and inventory.”

And, although the benefits of PMS and CRS integration in a consolidated platform apply to all properties, Hussein notes that larger hotel groups will realize the biggest increases in efficiencies related to revenue strategy execution. “It provides consistency across the chain,” he said. Also, hotels won’t have to spend a lot of time auditing and reconciling the CRS and PMS. “It’s easier to track the revenue side of the business.”
 

A Consolidated Platform

Anticipating an increasing market demand for consolidated solutions, Amadeus is developing a CRS/PMS platform that resides on a cloud-native open architecture. “We believe technology is moving in this direction,” Hussein said, adding that the company’s long-range plan is to bring together all the technology a property uses in a modular component-based platform, giving hoteliers an integrated view without the need for interfaces.

“The Amadeus Hospitality Platform will be designed so that all end-point solutions share a set of common core capabilities,” he explained. “Beyond that, the architecture will allow other applications, such as the Guest Intelligence Module, to connect to any of its other solutions, like the CRS or PMS, to eliminate unnecessary duplication of data. The idea of having customer profiles stored outside of the PMS is a very attractive concept for medium-to-large hotel groups that franchise, because of the inherent value in the protection of guest data.”

Amadeus is committed to using open APIs, or application program interfaces, which will allow various applications to share information. “This enables the components that are intertwined with it, such as revenue management, content management, payments and the call center, to communicate seamlessly,” he said.

 Last year, Premier Inn, the UK’s largest hotel brand, selected the Amadeus Hospitality Platform to offer more personalized guest service at its 765 properties. The platform’s modular cloud-based capabilities will give Premier Inn a 360-degree view of its properties and guests around the world. Moreover, by integrating the two key capabilities of PMS and CRS, Premier Inn’s corporate and property information will remain in-sync, allowing teams to manage content and share it across the organization. And, with information centralized in one platform, Premier can ensure a consistent customer experience regardless of location. The solution will go live at Premier Inn in 2019.

 Earlier this year, InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) began the process of migrating to the Amadeus guest reservations system. According to Hussein, the Amadeus CRS was the right fit for IHG for many reasons, chief of which is the system’s architecture. “The solution is service-oriented, with high availability and scalability,” he explained.
Of course, the technology portfolio of a large enterprise hotel company like IHG includes many varied applications. So, flexibility is also a requirement, in terms of both technology and people, Hussein said. “The two key components of our great partnership with IHG are cloud-native technology and employees who are committed to the success of the platform.”

 

New Payment Gateway Launched

Amadeus also is integrating its payment platform into its hospitality portfolio. Hussein notes that the solution will stand out from the competition for a number of reasons, including scalability, speed and security.

Yet, perhaps its most intriguing benefit will be global payment handling consolidation. “Our payment platform will act as a global meta-gateway for hotel groups,” he explained. “This removes the payment processing from multiple local sources and transitions it to a single gateway that automatically can send it to individual processors and banks in more than192 countries.”

In addition, the consolidation will allow companies to use a single user interface to report on and manage payment activities across the globe. And, the platform will enable hotels to use it to make payments to suppliers or pay commissions to agents, as well as to connect and integrate with more than 250 alternative payment methods.

Hussein said the company’s experience in the airline industry has been particularly beneficial to the development of the new payment gateway. “We can see that a lot of what we’ve done with airlines will transfer to the hotel market,” he said. “Airlines have given us experience in every market and with every local payment gateway method, and this is exactly the kind of experience hotels are looking for. So, when one of our customers wants to activate a payment gateway in Europe or Asia, for example, we will be well positioned to activate it in as little as three hours, because we have the payment method identified, it is tested, and it is up and running.”
 
According to Hussein, there’s a big demand for the company’s payment platform. “In most of our discussions with hotels, we get a clear interest in our payment solution,” he said. “It’s important that hotels are able to manage payments and have full control over suppliers and commissions to agents. I think this is going to be one of our unique selling points in the market.”

A Look at the Future

Although Amadeus is known as a major player among large hotel chains, it is expanding into the mid-sized and independent market. In fact, Hussein said, this market represents the biggest opportunity for the company, with more than 70 percent of hotels globally falling into the mid-sized and independent category from a property count perspective.

Research shows that smaller properties within the limited or select service markets share the same business challenges as larger full-service hotels. What varies are the available resources at each property to address those challenges. “Larger full-service hotels have teams dedicated to addressing specific areas of customer needs, while limited or select service properties have fewer employees, so everyone helps across different areas,” he said.

Moreover, this customer segment has been underserved from a technology perspective. “These hotels don’t have huge IT budgets and often have been at a disadvantage because of it. We want to help them leverage our technology in new and innovative ways.”

Hussein notes an increasing demand from chains for a product suite designed specifically for limited service properties. “We have a lot of requests from our chain customers, because they often have a variety of properties with different needs.”
In an effort to meet this demand, Amadeus will soon launch a product suite for the limited and select service hotel market that enables these properties to be as successful as their full-service counterparts. Streamlined to eliminate unnecessary complexity, the solutions can be deployed quickly and cost effectively, enabling smaller and mid-sized properties to increase efficiency and improve profitability. “We’re giving them all the tools they need, nothing they don’t, and delivering it at a price point they can afford,” Hussein said, noting that the company can accommodate the needs of all customer segments by the end of the year.

 

A Dynamic and Exciting Business

Hussein is optimistic, not only about the growth of Amadeus' Hospitality Division but also about the industry in general. “Hospitality is a dynamic and exciting business,” he said, estimating that hospitality technology represents a market worth more than $5 billion for core solutions alone.

Technology today is advancing at a rapid pace, providing opportunities for hotels to prosper like never before, he said. “Hotels that choose to be early adopters of new technology will see significant gains, while properties that don’t keep up will be at a substantial disadvantage.”

Although, historically, hospitality technology has been a fragmented sector, that’s changing, too, he said. “Technology providers are developing more sophisticated and intelligent solutions all the time, and they also are beginning to share a similar outlook about architecture and the use of common APIs.”

And, while Hussein acknowledges a healthy respect for the competition, he is clear in his conviction that Amadeus has a strong foothold in the hospitality market. “Our goal to power the entire travel ecosystem,” he said. “We have proven our success in travel agencies and airlines, and we are very solid in our hospitality business unit. We have one objective, which is to help properties serve guests more effectively. And we have the vision and the people to achieve that objective.”
 

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