Thoughts from Seat 16D

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June 18, 2018
Technology | Trends
Jeffrey Parker



The tragedy on the recent Southwest flight to Dallas was an eye-opener for those of us who have memorized the pre-takeoff speech from the flight attendant. It is time for all of us to take off our headphones and make sure we know where the exits are, and what to do when the masks pop down. I know that I will. Planes, even though supersafe, represent a unique set of dangers and safety needs.

We are thankful for the heroism of the pilot and a few passengers that reminded us even under the worst of circumstances, that people will rise to the occasion and take extraordinary measures to help complete strangers. Without their strength, this would have been a much bigger disaster. I am also so impressed with the proactive way that Southwest has handled the accident, giving all of the passengers large “no-strings” travel credits, and asking them to give SWA another try. Other airlines need terrible headlines and social media blasting to act on anything, and then still reluctantly, but Southwest seems to take the high road when a customer is involved and continues to build on brand loyalty that is more then collecting miles.
 
You might need to sit down for this one, but our politicians do not understand technology.

Let’s start with net neutrality laws that allow equal access to technology and prevent service providers from prioritizing certain traffic over others. Basically, they are putting internet access under the same rules as telephone networks. This sounds pretty simple, right? But some carriers claim that net neutrality rules stifle innovation. The Obama-era net neutrality rules have been removed, so carriers can offer prioritized traffic, or “fast-lanes,” to services and companies willing to pay for them, or that are in the carriers’ best interests. 

Why do you care? As hotels are enabling technology that allows for over-the-top content, internet service providers can monetize that usage over other usage. This is particularly important when your circuit provider also provides content. Look for these companies to make up losses in pay-for cable by charging extra for streaming content.
 
… and they have no idea how internet companies make money.
Senator Orrin Hatch recently asked Mark Zuckerburg, “How do you sustain a business model in which users don't pay for your service?” This quickly reminded us that our congressional leadership simply has no clue how the internet works.
Also, if you have not figured this out, we (the users) are the product, Facebook sells us (see Google, Apple, Gawker Media, etc.); and we (businesses) are the customers, with hospitality being one of the big consumers of this data.

GDPR
GDPR is real, and the industry needs to be prepared to be tested early and often. Google and Facebook have war chests prepared to defend themselves. Hotels, even large brands, do not have the resources to fight a lengthy battle. Small franchises, particularly those attached to larger chains, are likely to be tested early. If you have EU citizens staying at your hotel, or are doing business in the EU, you need to have a plan. The front line will be critical (front desk, call center), but shore up your website language and mobile app terms and conditions. We are already seeing cottage industry starting to form around it – DPO as a service anyone?
 
Airbnb is focusing on secondary and smaller markets.

They are lauding this as opening up travelers’ eyes to new markets and helping smaller economies. Am I the only one that sees this as an Airbnb play to move revenues to areas where small government structures will likely be slow to react with legislation? I know that they are here to stay, but we need to work as an industry to make sure that owners are not using their systems to create virtual hotels that do not adhere to local tax codes, as well as lifesafety, ADA and other regulations.

GDPR will first become a U.S. de facto standard, and our politicians will follow with a national privacy law. Following a very entertaining question and answer with Mr. Z and most of our senators (did they really have nothing else to do?), Facebook revealed that it would adopt the GDPR standard as its standard. While Facebook had to make this move regardless of the senate hearing, as it has users all over the EU, the announcement will reverberate through the social media and eventually all other services.

I believe that at some point, our government will look to build a national privacy law, if even just because our hubris will not allow the adopted standard to be European. I would be shocked if the current U.S. president and Congress will get anything done as they are more focused on deregulation, but the Facebook user falls solidly into a demographic that donates to campaigns, and they just figured out that the privacy statement that they did not read, gives Facebook the right to sell their information and they don’t like it.
 
Do Not Disturb Signs are Going Away
If the Las Vegas shooter has taught our industry anything, it is that we need to check who and what are in our rooms. While Disney started it, I have noticed over this year that more and more hotels are leaving the DND sign out of my room. Expect at least daily “eyes” on room checks, particularly from large brands.
Though privacy is going to be the new PCI, expect new legislation around ID checks, or enforcement of existing laws on the books. There is a dichotomy here, balancing the consumer’s need for privacy and the country’s need for security. I have long felt that we would see TSA-like ID checks become mandatory at hotels. Law enforcement has other concerns around hotel rooms being used for illegal immigration, pop-up meth labs and human trafficking will be addressed.
No longer will travelers be able to set the DND and forget it. 

It’s not just Apple Pay®, you need to have a strategy to take all kinds of alternative payment types.
Apple Pay gets many headlines, because the cult-like following makes anything attached to the brand a good move for advertising. But there are other (dare I say, more important) payments out there that need to be part of your strategy.

You have likely heard of Samsung Pay, Android Pay and PayPal, but according to Forbes, Walmart Pay transactions overtook Apple Pay at the end of 2017. AliPay and WeChat Pay are making major inroads for Chinese travelers in the U.S., but often these solutions ride credit only over other issuers “rails.” Make sure that debit for foreign transactions is part of your strategy; it is a big deal as to who can spend money with you.
 
Beware Vaporware
It sounds obvious, but the promise of using platform and infrastructure as a service had helped launch a series of marketing companies to build “products” on these rails. This sounds really cool, but so much of what I am seeing is either a PowerPoint presentation promising innovation, or a skin over another product where the marketing company is just a reseller. This type of vaporware can be a disrupter (even though I hate that term) and more and more offerings will use pieces of other solutions to try to look unique.

The warning here is to know what you are getting into; if you seek to innovate, be prepared to have some setbacks.
This is not necessarily bad, but technologies built in this manner often have no control over their availability and are in turn offering watered down SLAs (service-level agreements) because they rely on another company’s infrastructure.
 
Please tell me why your cloud product needs a maintenance window every month?

Venting a little here, but how come so many of the solutions that are offered to hospitality in the “cloud” require maintenance windows akin to on-premise solutions? How do we keep getting duped into purchasing solutions, from major players, that do not have the ability to operate for 30 days without a scheduled four or six-hour maintenance window – even with mission-critical systems like CRS and PMS? We need to ask more from the cloud, as our guests are asking us for more.

It is not just the size of your pipe or the signal strength in your rooms, good Wi-Fi and high-speed internet access design involves throughput, density, stickiness and management.

Think about this when you are leveraging new technologies riding over the “guest” network. The average guest brings at least two Wi-Fi connected devices into our rooms.

We are adding Wi-Fi set-top boxes, occupancy detectors, thermostats, lights, minibars and door locks, and then, tablets for maintenance and housekeeping automation, and even Amazon Echos and robots.

Make sure your HSIA infrastructure can handle all your innovation, or you are going to face failure.

Is your network really ready?
 
Jeffrey Parker is the Vice President of Hotel Technology for Red Lion Hotel Corp.




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