Larry Birnbaum
Oct 15, 2023

Technology, Those in the Middle, and Technologists

This article is a continuation of the conversation around value added services, managing risks, partnerships, and ways to help hoteliers and their service providers sleep better at night.

Technology, Those in the Middle, and Technologists

Larry Birnbaum
Oct 15, 2023

This article is a continuation of the conversation around value added services, managing risks, partnerships, and ways to help hoteliers and their service providers sleep better at night.

You may have missed the 30th birthday of the World Wide Web, or the internet as we know it. April 30, 1993 was the day Tim Berners- Lee made the source code for web browsing and editing open to the public. About 18 months later we were introduced to Netscape, AOL, and consumer access to web browsing tools.

Prior to the release of browsers and search tools, navigating between sites and servers required some serious networking skills, a fair amount of time, and specific knowledge about which sites to contact. Browsers and search engines quickly compressed web access into the democratized state we have today. Not only did these tools do all the hard work for users, they may also provide the best example of how we, as consumers, have been trained to interact with technology.

Want to know the answer to a bar trivia question or diagnose a rare medical condition? Simply type a few words into your browser. There’s no need to even form the words into a question. Then wait about 1 second – Google says its average response time ranges from 800 milliseconds to 1.6 seconds.

We fully expect to receive not just an answer, but The Answer to our question. We don’t want to know how the machines work behind the screen. We’ve become so acclimated to technology in our lives, we just expect it to work, and we get very frustrated when it fails us.

LDAP Authentication Error – Superuser Not Available

This common error message above is just one simple example of how technology can fail us in our daily lives. Looking through the lens of hospitality technology, the number of devices and applications hotels use has grown as fast – or faster – than our consumer experience.


At the same time, they’re also less technologically aware. Failure can lead to high personal frustration levels and the consequences for errors can become significantly more distressing. It becomes crucial to figure out what caused the failure, how to resolve it, and who will ensure it doesn’t happen again.

The same can be said for hoteliers and their staff. Like other businesses, hotels are technologically dependent. But the decision makers, management, and staff are less technologically aware.

Finding hospitality industry technologists is difficult for a variety of reasons beyond the staffing challenges hoteliers face. What it means to be in technology has evolved. With its integration into most all aspects of society and industry, the term can encompass a wide range of roles beyond just networking or application development.

There are more opportunities than ever before for those with technical aptitude, but the industry has had a difficult time externally recruiting for and retaining staff in these roles. Look around and see how many people in hotel tech come from hotel finance, telecom, and operations. How many are from similar roles outside the hotel industry? Disparity in pay, career development, and technical skills are a few of the real challenges we must address.

Other industries recognize and appreciate technology’s value for their business process, operations, and profits. They think and act in terms of investments in technology with long term planning. Hotels continue to act and view technology as a cost with operational burden. The goal appears to be to lower costs in the race to the bottom commoditization of technology and services to hotels.

The vendor community has largely acquiesced to this race to the bottom scenario. A hotel ownership group recently tendered a Request for Proposal specifically asking for ways to add value to its hotel portfolio. The criteria had nothing to do with prices. It called for:

  • Cost reductions through operational efficiencies
  • A platform to increase revenues
  • Ways to improve guest/staff experiences

Responses focused on costs, value engineering, and products that wouldn’t meet any of the value-added requests. The hotel industry is anxious for real technological solutions that can provide business improvements. This is the antidote for the race to the bottom. The question many ask is: WILL HOTELS PAY FOR SERVICES THAT SOLVE PROBLEMS AND DEMONSTRATE WAYS TO IMPROVE THEIR BOTTOM LINE?

Request of Information - My Netflix Is Spinning!

In a Request for Information, one hotel company asked various vendors how to measure and improve application performance on their hotel networks. Several companies provided ideas and solutions. Some were on the drawing board; others were in full production. Imagine being able to address a guest application performance issue real time on a hotel network. If high speed internet access (HSIA) is the most important amenity for most guests, what hotelier wouldn’t want to implement this type of service? Such innovation is needed. It’s incumbent on the vendor community to educate the largely non-technical audience about the value their innovations provide – and for who.

“Good, Fast or Cheap – Pick Two” Is Dead!

This tired adage is long past funny or relevant. Market forces determine survival and in most every case the best solution wins. Cheap is not a value- added service. It isn’t sustainable, and Darwinism takes over. Fast is expected [See our article "Just in Time" in the Fall 2022 issue] and first to market, early adopters have the advantage. Good, or better than good, is the standard that value-added services have to meet. The trade-offs have to look at the benefits of the solution, the costs to implement the solution [short and long term] and complexity.

The current state of the industry looks something like this. Guests are demanding more and willing to pay less. Hoteliers are trying to provide more services with less staff and struggling to find technology to help solve some of their issues. Vendors have a customer base that’s a lot like the hotel guests – they’re demanding more but want to pay less.

Folks of a certain age have recently been called the sandwich generation, meaning they’re caught between taking care of both their parents and their children. This isn’t a new phenomenon. Similar generational support challenges have likely been in play since humans first walked upright. This is just the first time we’ve been able to apply a marketing slogan to them. However, the squeeze is on and the struggle is real. The industry faces challenges. But there are companies that will adapt and innovate to create the next generation of hotel technology and offer services that meet the industry’s demands.

LARRY BIRNBAUM has spent his entire career in the hospitality and technology arena. When he isn’t traveling or with his family, you can usually find him on a golf course or tennis court. This is a great topic and one that generates a lot of ideas and comments. Keep the conversation GOING AT HTTPS://WWW.LINKEDIN.COM/IN/LARRYBIRNBAUM/

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