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Challenges of hotel technology with Kurt Macher, Shangri-la Group - The Shard

Updated: Nov 29, 2023

In partnership with ACE Hotel Tech Summit, we spoke with Kurt Macher, General Manager, Shangri-La The Shard, London and Innovation & Luxury Customer Experience Lead - Middle East, Europe, India & Americas for the Shangri-la Group about the challenges and frustrations with technology.


We cover the complexities in technology at hotels including;

  • the journey to implementation and adoption

  • struggles to maximise the investment

  • security risks to consider

  • staff usability


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Programme Notes


This episode has been automatically transcribed by AI, please excuse any typos or grammatical errors


Ryan Haynes:

Hello and welcome to Travel Market Life, an ACE Hotel Tech Summit special. As we look at some of the presenters and speakers who are going to be talking at the event in September 2023. In today's episode, we're going to be talking to Kurt Macher, the General Manager of Shangri-la Group - The Shard, London and Innovation, and Luxury, Customer Experience Lead Middle, East Europe, India and Americas. I'm Ryan Haynes, your host, and in our conversation today, we're going to be looking at complexities in technologies through the implementation and adoption within hotels.


Ryan Haynes:

Life Travel Market Life is backed by Haynes MarComs, a B2B marketing communications PR consultancy, specializing in the technology travel, hospitality and property sectors, creating meaningful connections and visibility to grow. Hans Marcoms cuts through the noise to resonate with target buyers, decision-makers and influencers. From contextualizing your mission to positioning your value proposition, Haynes MarComs helps you address the issues that matter, marketing, PR and social build profile gain, momentum shape strategy with Haynes MarComs.


Ryan Haynes:

So, joining me now is Kurt Macher. Thank you ever so much for joining me. Now you've got a very interesting title there, Innovation and Luxury Customer Experience Lead, Kurt. Please tell me what that's about and what's involved.


Kurt Macher:

Yes, Ryan, thank you so much for having me first of all. Yeah, so I'm in charge of innovation, and luxury customer experience for our 15 huddles within the MIA region. And, I have at each hotel one innovation champion, and we do monthly calls, we do training courses, I visit huddles and together with my innovation champions team, we're trying to, you know, research what's, what's new in the market and what a new innovative luxury customer idea we could imp implement in our Shangri-la Hotels in AMEA region. So that's pretty much what it's sum us. It's very exciting. And I also work with some hospitality universities that also help me to research and work together. So exciting stuff


Ryan Haynes:

That's very exciting, especially as you say, it's all about the innovation there. And why is that so important, particularly for the luxury customer in today's world?


Kurt Macher:

Well, nowadays I think you, in order to be successful, need to always stay ahead of the game, right? Then the luxury hospital is like, everything is about experiences. So, through innovation, you can come up with new innovative experiences that set you apart from other hotels and other businesses. So that's the key pretty much. And to, and, and light their stay and do something different than nobody else does. So that's the exciting part about it.


Ryan Haynes:

Is it always about looking at the front-facing guests, and interactive technologies or are you looking at other areas of innovation that actually support and elevate that customer experience?


Kurt Macher:

We are also looking back of house as well. We could start innovation experiences source for our internal customers. Those are staff members, right? How, how technology or innovative ideas enhance the experience of our staff members in our hotels or how a system could reduce work time and enhance productivity, right? So that those guests get more time with our employees. For example,


Ryan Haynes:

I mean one of the areas that you're really going to be focusing on during the ACE Hotel Tech Summit conversation and discussion is around the complexities involved in tech, not technology. That's, you know, it sounds like, you know, you, you do experience quite a bit of hindrance with technology. It's not seamless, it's not perfect at the moment. What are some of the key areas that are a real struggle for you and your hotel team to actually make these systems work effectively?


Kurt Macher:

Well, the struggle is of course that not all of the systems talk to each other or are integrated, right? It's very difficult training time, of course, if you implement a new system, it takes a long time to train on the new system, all the employees. And then with the current situation, especially in London, with so much staff turnover, you constantly have to retrain staff members on new technology. And then also, you know, sometimes there's so much wastage of time in regard to how technology companies work with adults, that they really don't figure out how it could affect the operation, you know, timelines of implementation.


Kurt Macher:

So, it's quite frustrating. I, I wish there would be one company that has a solution for everything, we work as one company, And, we have a big dashboard, and we can see what's happening. But unfortunately, it hasn't happened yet.


Ryan Haynes:

Do you feel that the industry is slowly getting towards the point where they have a single solution? Or do you feel that the industry is perhaps going in the other direction, that it's becoming much more fragmented and you're having to really consider many more suppliers than you have done in the past?


Kurt Macher:

I think there are more and more suppliers right now than in the past. I think it became a very competitive market, I would say, and a lot of competition is out there and within technology of course, and it's also challenging to always keep up with the latest technology, right? You, you work on a new program, especially for hotel companies, bigger hotel companies such as us, you know, it's a long process to get new technology approved that takes time, then you have it approved, you implement it and then already a new system comes out. That's much better, right? So that's also frustrating in a way and no solution yet out there either.


Ryan Haynes:

Oh, I was going to say, I mean, how do you start to identify the right partners for you in the first place? And is there a particular approach that you've been taking with the Shangri-la to identify the right profile of supplier and what you need to know from them in order to have confidence in their systems?


Kurt Macher:

Yes, so what we do is we reach out to different suppliers, we invite them in, we have discussions, we involve the operation and different leaders that will be involved in that new technology system. And then of course we had to get a, we have to get it approved by our, our regional VPs and then within our corporate office in Hong Kong as well. So, it's a long process, but we always have to find three suppliers, and three quotes I think most companies do as well. And then you choose the best that has, works best for your hotel and provides the best solution, but it takes time.


Ryan Haynes:

I was going to say, because I mean you're asking for, you know, there's so much competition, but then so many different companies sort of define themselves and their value proposition and the types of systems that they actually have or their features and functionality quite differently to one another. So, I guess then you're not comparing necessarily apples of apples is a matter that you are probably having to identify the best one that's going to work throughout the three quotes that you've received.


Kurt Macher:

Correct.


Ryan Haynes:

And who is generally involved in that? I mean, I know you mentioned that you've got a head of it there as well. Do you also involve some of the users who are actually going to be on the ground, be it the staff members or the managers of the departments to make sure that it has that user-friendliness and the qualities and features that it needs to be supported in your role in delivering the customer experience?


Kurt Macher:

Yes, definitely. So for me, it's very important since I've been doing operation with so many years that the operation is involved, that staff members are involved, that actually using it and the department heads of that department that they really dig deep and ask a lot of questions and try out the system and give feedback and, and hopefully sometimes those companies they can change certain things or set it up, set it up for us differently to make it most effective for our customer journey or for the staff journey.


Ryan Haynes:

I mean it's expensive if you're not getting the return on investment or you're continually having to find solutions to the problems that are actually being generated as a result of this new technology. You were telling us just before this call, before we started recording it, in fact about the issue around the sort of hardware smart devices that you've had, particularly within guest rooms.


Kurt Macher:

Correct. So, you know, they broke, and guests didn't take care of them then you constantly had to change them out. But then we, there was a supply chain issue of course and then we didn't have enough so we had to use the tablets from the restaurants, put them in the room. So, it was quite a challenge and frustrating because most importantly, there's the same product offered in all of our guest rooms. So, we then changed the system now And, we are actually using Smart TVs and integrate everything in a TV because we feel it, it's much better for us and for the customer journey.


Ryan Haynes:

And are you finding, in that case, that's that connectivity from, you know, obviously the guests knowing how to use the TV but being able to make those orders and that then going right through to the relevant department to fulfil that, that said that's an easier experience for both your team as well as the guests?


Kurt Macher:

Yes, definitely. It's much easier for housekeeping as well because you know, you always have to make sure that the tablets are cleaned, that they charge, and the TV is always there, right? The TV is always plugged in, and everything's supposed to work. And then also key, right now we are working on the look and feel of the TV on, on how it looks, what photos you use, what content you use to make it super nice, cool and user friendly.


Ryan Haynes:

Now we just developing new technologies. There's always that idea of security and that risk involved. How do you consider the security element within the Shangri-la particularly protecting high-wealth, luxury guests?


Kurt Macher:

This is very, very important for us because we, you know, we have to protect the data of our guests and GDPR of course is a very hot topic in Europe and in the UK and for a company as well. So, so that's a key consideration, and our corporate office in Hong Kong is very much involved to ensure that we really use the right technology to protect the data for our customers.


Ryan Haynes:

Now I guess because you've got so many people using different systems, it's everything from looking at how you protect what's going in and through IoT devices as well as your emails. But do you use, do staff, are staff allowed to use their own devices or are you a hotel that mandates that they only use the technology that's provided within the hotel itself?


Kurt Macher:

Staff are not allowed to use their own devices. So, we provide cell phones for our staff that need to use them. For example, within Operational we use no cross, that's a system where you communicate guest requests and also guest complaints and ensure service is delivered within a certain timeframe. So, and also how we going to communicate then for example, from the housekeeping coordinator up to the guest room. So, all the housekeepers have phones and that's how we send messages and communicate with them. This is very important to us as well because of the complexity of the building, you have to match, our housekeeping coordinator's office is in B one and the guest room starts on level 34.


Kurt Macher:

Wow. So, Wi-Fi and connectivity need to be tested to make sure we can communicate very effectively and efficiently.


Ryan Haynes:

Within the industry. There's very much this focus on the art of Hospitality particularly within luxury and there's been a bit of hesitation within the luxury sector to actually implement too many technologies. But what is the expectation you are seeing from guests nowadays? What are they willing to do? What are they wanting to do with technology rather than necessarily interact with people on a day-to-day basis?


Kurt Macher:

It only depends on the guest on the age I would say and where they're coming from. So, we, for example, implemented KI last year, which is basically what's up, we communicate through KIPP WhatsApp guest requests, and the guests can communicate with us. Some guests like it, some guests don't use it, so it really depends on the guests, but we are offering it to all the guests up and check-in And, I find it super useful. For example, if you go shopping in London and then you need something in the hotel to be ready at a certain time, you already can send a message through KPPs and WhatsApp to a hotel and when you arrive here your request can be delivered in your room or whatever it might be.


Kurt Macher:

So, it's quite efficient so it depends on what the guest wants, but that has been actually quite a big success. And we are using it now in all of our mere hotels in my region, so.


Ryan Haynes:

Oh, excellent. That's really good to hear. I was going to say, I mean there's obviously a lot more focus now on being held to have that interactive communication and on a channel that is accessible for the guest, particularly with the number of emails that people have got in recent years that WhatsApp goes directly to the palm of the hand and people are always in receipt and ready to respond, particularly if it's, you know, related to their stay and related to their experience. Is there a way that you have to manage that effectively, that you don't inundate your guests with too many messages or sort of overwhelm them with, with sort of a level of digital support?


Kurt Macher:

This is the only messaging system we use, you know, for our guests. So that works quite well and as I said before, we give the guests the option if they want to use it or not. So, we have a QR code, a check-in, they can then scan and then use it if they want or not. But of course, if they want to talk to us via the operator, the operator's office is on the stand and we will look after them as well.


Ryan Haynes:

Now technology, as we've said from the beginning, you know, mentioned some of the challenges that you've had with that, particularly around adoption and training, but what about customer support? How important is customer support, and what are you particularly looking at from looking for, from a technology vendor to make sure that your team have the necessary support when they need it?


Kurt Macher:

Customer support is very important because we need the technology to run the huddle and to of course look after our guests and have great service of course. So, it's very frustrating if you don't hear back in a timely manner from customer support offices or companies that you bought the technology for, right? If it's broken or it needs to be fixed because it could really affect the guest journey and the experience, you know, huddle and as well affect the team, right? There are so many delays and again we then reduce productivity, and we are wasting so much time.


Ryan Haynes:

Yeah. I can imagine that if you've got a team on shift work and someone goes and then someone else comes on and that issue hasn't been dealt with that could be left until that next person is potentially back on shift again. Is that some of the issues that you tend to experience there?


Kurt Macher:

Correct, yeah. Especially overnight. Sometimes it's when there's a system failure overnight then you have to call our IT director. They might have to come in and fix it and then, you know, if there's an additional delay from a customer support office then it's very frustrating of course.


Ryan Haynes:

And are there any particular technologies that you are looking at the moment to implement or you've actually got scheduled to adopt within the Shangri-la


Kurt Macher:

So, we are looking at the new TV system we are working on already, its implementation phase. We are working with Houdini, which is a great integrated guest experience system for our smart TVs. And then next year through the region we might change our finance system. So those are more internal systems and our recruitment system as well. So, we are looking into new partners and to make it more efficient.


Ryan Haynes:

Into the recruitment side of things, you know, where purchasing orders that system, how, how they talk to each other and currently be looking at a new system, how to do more effective scheduling, you know, scheduling of staff members become so complicated but currently in the, in the phase where we are looking into it.


Ryan Haynes:

Yeah, I say it sounds like you definitely need the integrations in place if you want to bring much more automation and connectivity and sharing of documents and data within the hospitality company.


Kurt Macher:

Correct.


Ryan Haynes:

Excellent. Kurt, thank you ever so much for your time today. I really appreciate your insights there and sharing with you some of the challenges and complexities that you are finding with technology in hotels.


Kurt Macher:

Thank you so much for having me. Ryan.


Ryan Haynes:

So that was Kurt Macher, General Manager at Shangri-la Hotel London and the Innovation & Luxury Customer Experience Lead - Middle East, Europe, India & Americas. Check out more of the episodes that we've had from the conversations at ACE Hotel Tech Summit within our podcast listings and well as well as check out our Hoteliers' Voice series on Travel Market Life. I'm your host, Ryan Haynes. Thanks for listening. Ciao for now.

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