In the hotel industry, there’s no shortage of information that can be leveraged to better reach and serve guests. Customer data within loyalty programs, price comparisons, location data and booking data is being collected on an unprecedented scale. Within this environment, it’s pertinent to remember that, while Big Data can provide valuable insights, the collection of customer data goes hand-in-hand with a responsibility to safeguard personal information.

Greg Adams, the Chief Digital Officer at Best Western Hotels & Resorts, says “There are a lot of opportunities from a Big-Data perspective, but they’re not necessarily cutting edge — they’re things we’ve been doing in the hotel business for decades that we can continually do better.”

Big Data is impacting marketing, customer interactions and operations, but Adams says just having the data isn’t enough. “Most companies the size of Best Western have Big Data, so the question is, do we have big insights? You can be data-rich and insight-poor.” Translating data into informed decision-making can be helped along with Artificial Intelligence. Brian Leon, president of Choice Hotels Canada, says, “Big Data and machine-learning allows us to have access to so much more information and to use it to do a better job.” A better job at tasks such as evaluating market pricing. “We look at things like our ability to scan the marketplace to see where our competitors are setting rates. It allows us to scour all of these different areas for different sources of data that can have an impact on [our business]. We can even learn from a stay a guest has had with us to anticipate things they might need. Used properly, it gives us a great opportunity to improve service.” Leon continues, “Big Data makes complex decisions much simpler for us. It gives us statistically significant samples and [more] data than we could ever digest”

Though the benefits of Big Data are impressive, there are consequences that come with having all that information. Though regulations in Canada have yet to catch up to Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), or California’s Consumer Privacy Act, doing business internationally means compliance or heavy fines. “Data is great, but another side of that is how you control that data and make sure you maintain it safely,” says Adams. “If you don’t need access to the information, you shouldn’t have it.”

“One of the things hoteliers need to understand is how the bad guys are going to come after them,” warns Adams. One of those ways is through emails. “In a lot of ways, emails are the lifeblood of our business. It only takes one person to click on the wrong link and now the system’s infected.” That means all staff with access to email on property computers must be educated on the various types of threats.

“Another thing [hackers] can do with hotels,” continues Adams, “is put a piece of malware within the PMS network, then lock out the hotel from their PMS data. If the hotel doesn’t have a recent backup and isn’t willing to wipe their system, they’re held for ransom. Of equal importance to protecting customer data on company systems is protecting guests using Wi-Fi from the potential risk from other Wi-Fi users in the hotel.

Samuel Schmidt, CEO & co-founder of Quebec-based Intello Technologies Inc. has a solution. — a separate, secure Wi-Fi access for guests. “[Intello] implements client-to-client blocking, which prevents one customer device on the network [from talking] to another customer device on the network. When you’re at home or at the office, you usually trust the other devices on the network and it doesn’t matter if they talk to each other. In a hotel environment, you don’t know who the other guests are and you don’t know how good they are with computers. We build in that security to make sure one guest can’t take advantage of another guest’s computer.” Keeping guests on a separate network than the hotel also provides another layer of security.

“There is no silver bullet. No way to stop every single attack,” says Adams. But the good news is, there are ways to make your hotel more secure. Updating software and operating systems is number-1, as most updates contain patches and fixes to security issues. Installing firewalls, intrusion detection and prevention solutions can also stop threats to your network data by using preset security rules to monitor incoming traffic and allow outgoing traffic. Ensure passwords are not duplicated, easily guessed or likely fall into the wrong hands, and are changed regularly. At the end of the day, it’s just good business sense to keep your guests’ and your business’ information secure at every possible point.

Written by Andrea Victory 


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