TORONTO — More than 300 industry leaders gathered at Humber College on May 6 for Viewpoint, a new learning series dedicated to the discussion of industry trends and innovation.
The event featured a panel discussion on the long-term outlook for technology within the hospitality sector, including topics such as user experience, management benefits, costs and operational impact.
David Goldstein, president and CEO of Destination Canada (DC) opened the event with an update on what’s happening on a macro level within the tourism sector and how DC has responded through a fairly fundamental shift in how it markets Canada.
“We market [Canada] to try and incent behaviour in the marketplace that wouldn’t take place in and of itself,” said Goldstein. “We have four major pillars of our core essence. The one we’re best known for is marketing. But the other pieces are to provide information to the sector to help improve the competitiveness of the Canadian industry — small, medium and large enterprise — and to be the custodians of the Canada brand with regard to tourism. The vast majority of our activity is focused on bringing international travellers to Canada — be they meetings and conventions or leisure travellers — and that’s largely because of the yield principle.”
He said, of the 1.4-billion travellers traversing the planet right now, “there’s about 250 million of those who are what we consider to be long-haul travellers that would be a key market for Canada.”
Goldstein also told attendees that we’re in a golden age for tourism right now for three reasons. “[First], tourism is one of the fastest-growing sectors on the planet, outpacing global growth by almost double. So, if you’re in the tourism business, you’re in the right place. Secondly, it’s probably never been a better time to sell Canada from a competitive perspective, from a brand perspective. And third, if you’re in the marketing business, we’ve never had tools in the toolbox that are more efficient and effective than some of the digital-media platforms we’re able to work with right now.”
One of the challenges DC has faced, from a data-analysis standpoint, is what customers are actually spending, Goldstein explained. “We formed an alliance with Statistics Canada and the credit-card companies so we can now pinpoint, for example, what a German traveller will spend when they go to Calgary on accommodation, compared to food-and-beverage, compared to retail. We have more data right now — right down to the postal code of what is being spent — and, therefore, have a better idea of how to market strategically to those customers.”
Distraction to Disruption
Moderated by Reetu Gupta, president and CEO of Easton’s Group of Hotels, this panel featured Duncan Bureau, president of Air Canada Rouge; Robert Chartrand, CEO of Atlific Hotels & Resorts; Don Cleary, president of Marriott Hotels of Canada; Steve Gupta, founder and chairman of Easton’s Group of Hotels; Bonnie Strome, GM, Park Hyatt Toronto; and Thomas Wellner, president and CEO of Revera Inc.
“We’re completely addicted to technology,” Reetu Gupta stated to kick things off. “But where’s that line with security? With efficiency? How do we know whether it’s an opportunity or a threat — that is what we’re here to discuss.”
Next, she touched on the types of technology the panellists were utilizing in their business — both successfully and not — to enhance customer experience.
“We’re somewhere between a hotel and a hospital,” Wellner said of Revera’s operations. “We have three customers in our business — the resident, the family and our frontline workers. So, any technology we choose to engage in has to satisfy one of those areas. If you look at it through the lens of the seniors, mobility is key for our business, so our technology focus is on things like installing lighting to guide residents from bed to toilet. The one where we’ve had more challenges with the technology is actually voice recognition.”
“Technology is part of all aspects of the hospitality business, whether you’re building hotels or marketing,” said Cleary. “At Marriott, we bring a philosophy of trying to let people recapture the experiences that they have in their home. We have a lot of [technology] and I would say, at the outset, many of these things are in various stages of being rolled out. We test a lot of [technology] in our hotels — some of them work, some of them don’t. For example, we have Alexa in our hotels for ordering room service and controlling the lights. Also, the technology through the TV continues to grow, such as Bluetooth capability and the ability to stream your own content and recreate the experience you have at your home.”
Cleary also emphasised the importance of digital and mobile and how hotels can utilize those platforms. “That is [where] the big growth is. We’ve had mobile check-in and check-out for quite some time, but within a couple of years, we’ll have mobile keys and that changes the definition of the front desk. It doesn’t necessarily eliminate the front desk, but it certainly changes [the dynamic] if people are going straight to their room because they check-in on their phone.”
But implementing technology can be expensive, so, according to Steve Gupta, cost is top-of-mind when it comes to choosing with technology to have in his hotels.
“First and foremost is the cost and also the efficiency,” he said. “Then [we look at] how we can implement it. Many times, hotels decide to go for the technology if [they think it can] give them an edge over the competition. But you don’t know if it’s going to give you an ROI, so how do you make that decision?”
For Strome, who is on the frontlines every day at Park Hyatt Toronto, the technology wish list is long — but it has to be relevant. “All our decisions that are made around technology have to have a significant impact on our guests, our colleagues and our meeting planners. If it’s not going to have a big impact, it’s not something that we look at implementing.”
For example, Strome says in Hyatt’s luxury properties, the company made a decision not to put Alexa in the guestrooms, “because we just haven’t seen the returns on it outweigh the resources required to use the tool for what it’s intended to be, which is a marketing opportunity within the hotel. We would rather divert [resources] to our mobile app.”
The conversation then tackled the issue of data and security concerns associated with technology in hotels.
“Obviously, this is a huge opportunity,” Reetu Gupta said. “But as much as we all want to adopt technology, we also want to make sure our information is secure.”
According to Strome, Hyatt employs an entire cybersecurity team dedicated to safeguarding guest information. “[Hyatt has] engaged the hacker community to assist with making sure we can be on the front line of these threats as they evolve at the property level.”
The final segment of the panel discussion focused on jobs, education and disruption. “I know a lot of people fear that with the use of new technology, we’re going to be losing jobs,” said Reetu Gupta before asking the panellists if technology implementation had cost any jobs at their companies.
“Although technology is evolving, individuals will never be replaced by technology,” said Chartrand. “For anyone who wants to make a career out of the hospitality business, there’s never been a better opportunity to jump in and work with technology.”
“We’ve created an incredible number of jobs,” said Bureau. “We certainly had jobs that were repetitive replaced with technology. But, with the launch of Rouge, we’ve added 2,000 jobs into tourism — there’s hundreds of jobs attached to every single new flight. So we are certainly continuing to grow jobs in the tourism sector. And at the end of the day, we’re in the customer-service business, we just happen to fly airplanes.”
A question from a hospitality student in the audience then sparked a lively discussion. “It sounds like a lot of great innovative stuff is happening around technology, but it seems as though there’s less entry-level jobs for someone just trying to get their foot in the door. What does it look like in the next five to 10 years for someone like myself who’s trying to get into the industry [through] entry-level jobs?”
“It is a great industry to be in and I promise you there will be jobs,” said Bureau. “We’re recruiting like crazy — I can’t hire fast enough — and there’s an incredible opportunity in tourism, regardless of whether it’s hotels, airlines or any other sector. And, again, I think it goes back to that individual that has a real knack and will and desire to want to be in the customer-service business.”
“On that note, we never have enough people,” said Cleary. “We’re also opening brand new hotels from scratch. You will never not have jobs in hospitality. Technology isn’t going to replace jobs — it’s going to change jobs and, in some areas, it’s going to create jobs.”
The panellists also focused on what types of skills they’re looking for when hiring entry-level positions. They agreed that personal skills are key, as is a willingness to be coached by your superior or colleagues who have experience on their side.
“The other trait we would look for is the willingness to move,” said Chartrand. “If you’re young and coming out of school and are willing to move, you’re going to be able to leverage jobs and move up very quickly.”
Finally, Cleary said he looks for leadership skills. “We’re really going to look for people that can be leaders, because when you come into this business, you’re quickly going to find yourself as a supervisor and a leader — someone who has to inspire the hourly workers in our hotels.”
Following a Q&A period, attendees were invited to visit the food-tasting stations, which showcased how Humber is pioneering and driving change through sustainable and responsible culinary practices.