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Cheval Collection - Hoteliers' Voice S4E4 with Mustafa Gokcen: Purpose of hospitality and its relationship with technology

Updated: May 19

Challenges of recruitment in the hospitality industry

In the latest episode of Hoteliers' Voice, we had the pleasure of engaging in an insightful conversation with Mustafa Gokcen, the Head of Information Technology at the Cheval Collection.

Our discussion offered a deep dive into the brand's innovative approach to luxury apartment management across London, Edinburgh, and Dubai, and how they are setting new standards in the hospitality industry through technology and sustainability.

Mustafa Gokcen shared with us the unique business model of the Cheval Collection, which stands out for its ownership and management of luxury apartments. This model allows for a more personalized and intimate guest experience, distinguishing itself from traditional hotel offerings. The brand's dedication to integrating cutting-edge technology and sustainable practices has positioned it as a leader in the hospitality sector.

Drawing from his extensive experience with hospitality giants like Hilton, Starwood, and Marriott, Mustafa compared his past roles to his current tenure at the Cheval Collection. He highlighted the opportunities that arise from the mix of short and long-term stays, which enable the building of deeper relationships with guests and the delivery of exceptional, memorable experiences.

The Role of Technology in Hospitality: A career-defining moment for Mustafa was the realization of the importance of prioritising innovations that enhance guest experiences. He shared his perspective on technology as a crucial element in delivering top-notch hospitality, rather than just a tool for cost reduction. Mustafa stressed the need for a progressive mindset towards innovation and the importance of effectively communicating the role of IT within the hospitality industry.

Investing in Future-Ready Technology: The Cheval Collection's strategic focus on technology includes enhancing their cloud presence, leveraging AI and machine learning, and prioritising robust security measures. Mustafa emphasised the necessity of seamless digital integration to meet the evolving demands and expectations of guests in today's digital age.

One of the challenges highlighted by Mustafa was the difficulty in finding and retaining the right talent within the hospitality technology sector. He underscored the need to realign the perception of IT's role, showcasing its critical contribution to the operational success of hospitality brands.

Concluding our conversation, Mustafa discussed the qualities that define a good technology vendor partner. Trust, reliability, and a shared vision for success are paramount in forging long-term partnerships that can support the growth and innovation of a hospitality brand.

Our enlightening discussion with Mustafa Gokcen provided us with a wealth of knowledge on the evolving landscape of hospitality technology. The strategic initiatives undertaken by the Cheval Collection are a testament to their commitment to excellence and their foresight in meeting the needs of modern guests and staff. As we continue to explore the intersection of technology and hospitality, it's clear that brands like the Cheval Collection are leading the way in transforming guest experiences through innovation.

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Programme Notes

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

Ryan Haynes (00:00:21) - Hello and welcome to Hoteliers Voice Season for a series part of Travel Market Life. I'm your host, Ryan Haynes. And in today's episode, we're speaking to Mustafa Cochin, the head of information technology at the Cheval Collection. The Cheval Collection is an award-winning hospitality group with 13 luxury all-apartment locations in London, Edinburgh and Dubai. Mustafa has worked in the hospitality industry since 2012, following a move from the IT industry, where he spent the first ten years of his career. He has worked with brands including Hilton, Starwood and Marriott before joining several collections in 2023. In today's episode, we learn from Mustafa about the journey he's taken in his career, the misunderstanding about technology in the accommodation sector, and the mindset and culture required for the industry to adapt.

Ryan Haynes (00:01:25) - Travel market life is backed by Haynes MarComs, a B2B marketing communications PR consultancy specialising in the technology, travel, hospitality and property sectors.

Ryan Haynes (00:01:35) - Marketing, PR and social build profile gain momentum, shape strategy with Haynes MarComs.

Ryan Haynes (00:01:48) - I'd like to welcome Mustafa Gokcen, head of information technology at Cheval Collection, to Hoteliers Voice. Hello and welcome. I'd love to first hear about the Cheval Collection, what is unique about the brand and the accommodation?

Mustafa Gokcen (00:02:01) - Hello, Ryan, and thank you for having me on the show. I think our most distinct feature, is our unique business model. surprisingly, if you have not owned or operated traditional hotels instead for over 40 years, and we specialise in owning and managing luxury apartments with an upper, segment of the market, each locations are set to meet very high expectations. presently, as you mentioned, we boast 13 properties. We have additional locations set up this year and in the years to follow. The portfolio ranges from studio apartments to three, 4 or 5 bedroom units. as you would understand. Or for the significantly larger spaces compared to the traditional hotels.

Mustafa Gokcen (00:02:59) - And it's the more homey ambience, overall. another thing that I want, I can say is innovation. Innovation is another pillar that defines our brands. We are committed. We are very much committed to integrating the latest technology and sustainable practices into our standards which sets us apart from other brands.

Ryan Haynes (00:03:29) - Thank you very much. I mean, obviously, the service apartment sector has diversified massively, particularly in the last few years. And, with the invention of Airbnb really driving a greater awareness of this sector, we're going to explore a lot more about the technology, infrastructure and some of the challenges that you're experiencing currently. But first, I'd love to explore a bit more about your background. You've worked in the industry for over 18 years now, and as previously mentioned, you worked at the Starwood, the Marriott and Hilton brands. How can you compare your experiences with the Cheval Collection?

Mustafa Gokcen (00:04:04) - I mean, all those brands, Hilton, whether it's Hilton, Starwood, Marriott, they are immensely big brands. that that's the three big market leaders there.

Mustafa Gokcen (00:04:14) - you learn a lot working with them, specifically understanding the global hospitality standards, customer services and efficient operational procedures. they're they're invaluable. it also offers you a broad perspective on hospitality in the industry. we have quite a diverse clientele. And there are also a lot of different market demands. transitioning to Cheval. There is a distinct shift there. it's more personalized and personalized. It's intimate. The approach is much more intimate. to guest experiences, there is a focus on luxury apartments rather than traditional hotels. The model is more, I think, for lack of a better word, it's home away from home. So that was interesting to see. It demands a different level of personalization, and it demands different levels of attention to detail. Also, our locations. it's mixed with short stay and long stay. So we have guests that have been with us for years. I think a couple of weeks ago, I found out that we have a guest that stays with us for nine years. Wow. so it is a home.

Mustafa Gokcen (00:05:51) - So there is an emphasis on long, long-term stays as well. And that introduces unique opportunities for building deeper relationships, with the guest and tailoring the service more specific to their needs. So those are the couple of things that were interesting to find out and a couple of distinctions.

Ryan Haynes (00:06:14) - I mean, I know we're going to sort of delve in a lot more about how you're approaching the tech stack and a strategy there at the Cheval Collection. But what has been really impactful on your perspective is your career so far? And in our conversation prior to this interview, you gave some really interesting insight into how that has shaped you. What was a career-defining moment for working in the hospitality technology industry specifically that has helped give you a, you know, a different viewpoint on your role in the industry and what hospitality is there to deliver?

Mustafa Gokcen (00:06:52) - I mentioned this in many conversations, and people probably hear the same story from me five, six, seven, eight times. Mine is my number one memory.

Mustafa Gokcen (00:07:04) - This was a long time ago, in my early years with the hospitality IT. I think I was helping, with the technical issue with one of our CEOs. While I was working on the issue, I couldn't help but overhear a heated discussion that he was having on the phone. After the call, he comes back into the room. Is a bit annoyed. Visibly contemplative, and he goes, Mustafa, let me ask you a question. What is our product? And me sitting down trying to impress the CEO. I start listing rooms, but hotel stays and every answer I give you goes, no, no not that. I ran through everything that I could think of. And there is also a sense of curiosity. Like what is the right answer? I just give you things and different things. And I said, okay, all right. I don't know what is our product. And he goes memories. I think that was a cornerstone for us. the beyond technology, the amenities, the luxury and all the offerings that we provide through your offering lie in the memories that we help our guests create.

Mustafa Gokcen (00:08:33) - It kind of gives me a guide to prioritize innovations and solutions that enhance the guest experience and to ensure that they have those memories when they leave us. And till the next day. at the end of the day, I guess it's fair to say you go back to locations where you have good memories, where you have positive things to remember.

Ryan Haynes (00:09:03) - I mean, obviously it sounds like he was very visionary in it and he was as a CEO, no doubt, you know, obviously had a very clear idea as to what he was trying to achieve for his guests and his staff and for the brand itself. And, you know, this idea of memories is something really quite recent. I think over the last 7 or 8 years where we've actually looked at hospitality, Airbnb, really shaking up the entire industry about sort of creating experiences and memories, within that. and I guess, as you say, you know, you were quite young in the hospitality career, but you'd already been in the industry for over ten years.

Ryan Haynes (00:09:38) - You'd already worked in it. So, you know, when you've worked in it, I mean, we worked at Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft. how did you feel that role is so different at an IT institution compared to working within hospitality?

Mustafa Gokcen (00:09:57) - obviously the focus is different. In it. There is no dull moment in the hospitality. There is no dull moment. There is always something different happening in different. You are presented with a different scenario. so you need to be very innovative and very forward-thinking. And also, when you're working for a company that solely focuses it, you are not touching people's lives. You are not, interacting with, guests or customers or partners directly. You are in the back end and making sure the system works etc. But in one year in hospitality, anything you do, anything you implement, and any changes you put in place will have a direct impact on guest experience, and operational, experiences at different departments. so it is more it requires more forward-thinking.

Mustafa Gokcen (00:11:04) - It requires you to, put yourself into another person's shoes, whether it's a guest and whether it's a department. it's a different it's a completely different dynamics.

Ryan Haynes (00:11:19) - And so what do you feel is misunderstood about technology, particularly in the accommodation market?

Mustafa Gokcen (00:11:25) - Oh. Well, I think the most misunderstood aspect of technology. And I can talk for hours about this, how we perceive the technology primarily when you go and have these discussions that it's primarily perceived as reducing headcount or cutting costs. however, that in my understanding, that view overlooks a broader and more significant role of technology plays within our industry. technology should be seen as an enabler. It's a tool. It's a tool for you to empower you to enhance the guest experience and improve operational efficiencies. the the primary goal is not to diminish the workforce replace a person, or merely serve as a cost-cutting measure. It's there. It's a tool. It's an enabler that will allow you and different teams, to redirect the focus towards more critical areas, to provide more human touch.

Mustafa Gokcen (00:12:41) - such personalized guest services will bring more to the business. it will provide quality assurance. It will provide more time to do strategic decision-making, more thinking, and spend more time with the guest. Technology should be leveraged to automate routine tasks. It can streamline operations. It can get valuable insights, insights where in the absence of technology, will spend additional time. but again, it's a tool that will help you automate those tasks. and then it will enable our staff to concentrate on creating more memorable experiences. Strategic use of technology will foster a more engaging and satisfying guest experience. but again, it is a tool. It is an enabler for you to, for you that will allow you to focus on other areas. It's not to replace someone. It's not to cut costs.

Ryan Haynes (00:13:54) - Acid. Really interesting. And obviously, if anybody wants to talk in more detail with Moustapha about that, he's going to be at the International Hotel Technology Forum, and you can grab his ear and discuss a bit more about the misunderstanding of technology in the accommodation market and his perspective.

Ryan Haynes (00:14:09) - But, I mean, for you, you know, I guess, is there a requirement for the mindset and culture in hospitality to adapt and change? for us to meet the new needs of today's guests and staff?

Mustafa Gokcen (00:14:26) - I mean, overall, maybe overall as a mindset within hospitality or how hospitality approaches technology. there is there are areas that we can do better. and there is a significant challenge in, and prejudice against embracing innovation, embracing new technologies. there is a common mindset that if something is working adequately, there is no need to change it. This cautious so so to speak approach often results in the hospitality sector being the last to adopt new technologies. It does hamper the potential for growth. Potential for improvement. this resistance to change needs to be addressed. we have to cultivate a culture that is more receptive to innovation, that is more unafraid of disrupting the status quo. That is one. There is also, a crucial need and that's on us, the IT leaders, there is a crucial need for better communication, the role and contribution of it and technology within the industry.

Mustafa Gokcen (00:15:59) - Historically, it's always been, background. The department is often perceived as a support function rather than a strategic partner. And this perception on the one. Undermines the potential of technology. And, Stops us from driving significant advancements and shaping companies' strategies. I don't think we are a force that operates from the sidelines. I think I think now it is very much at the forefront.

Mustafa Gokcen (00:16:39) - Then you look at it today, having a proper connectivity, proper Wi-Fi, you know, ability to cast on the TV, ability to watch my YouTube, my Netflix, my Amazon Prime, etc. that is next to having a hot water. So, in summary, the hospitality industry needs to adopt a more progressive mindset towards innovation and technology and recognise the critical role in driving the sector forward.

Ryan Haynes (00:17:15) - Oh, absolutely. And you certainly see with the legacy system sort of stalling the industry in some way for, for that innovation and that need, as you say, for leaders, especially IT leaders, to, you know, step up, step up and really make sure that they're helping to drive that strategy forward.

Ryan Haynes (00:17:31) - As consumers, you know, if we expect to be able to book everything on a mobile and receive information instantly at our fingertips, then we need that infrastructure behind in order to be able to deliver that. And, if you're working in the industry, you should be really sort of championing that and really driving that agenda forward. And I guess looking at Chevrolet's tech stack itself, you've been there just under a year now. what is your area of focus and investment in technology in the immediate term?

Mustafa Gokcen (00:18:01) - Well, I can tell you it's been a very busy ten months.

Ryan Haynes (00:18:05) - I bet it has.

Mustafa Gokcen (00:18:09) - When overall in the industry, there is a significant shift towards enhancing the crowd presence and leveraging the AI. using machine learning, expanding the automation capabilities prior, and prioritizing ever-growing security measures. and our focus is not on different areas, all these areas are touching and we are trying to update our tech stack to the latest standards. the key initiative, one of the key initiatives, for us is the the cloud.

Mustafa Gokcen (00:18:52) - We have successfully established our presence. We are shifting numerous services to cloud or software as a service. It's been instrumental in reducing our on-prem, server footprint. I'm very proud to say that 70% of our locations have no server footprint.

Mustafa Gokcen (00:19:21) - We are hoping to bring that number to 100% by the end of the year. 

Ryan Haynes (00:19:29) - It's an ambitious goal, but you're well. On your way by the sounds of it, so congratulations.

Mustafa Gokcen (00:19:33) - The strategic shift not only aligns with the new technologies, but it also obviously brings significant, enhancements, whether it's operational efficiency, scalability, security, etc.

Ryan Haynes (00:19:52) - Now.

Ryan Haynes (00:19:53) - I mean, what tech is enabling the industry to provide that touch of hospitality expected by guests?

Mustafa Gokcen (00:19:59) - There is a significant transformation in guest demands and expectations. and most of it is driven by the technology in our daily life, how we use it, how much we use it, and devices that touch our lives.

Ryan Haynes (00:20:19) - I mean, I agree, I mean, I think there's almost a misunderstanding about, you know, these younger generations that expect technology because my mother, being a baby boomer, you know, doesn't put her mobile phone down and expects to be able to connect to things and be able to have instant access.

Ryan Haynes (00:20:33) - And, you know, she wants to make a booking. She wants to do it online. She doesn't want to have to talk to anybody. so, you know, it is a cross-generational thing. but I guess, you know, the tech itself that hospitality needs to deliver, those experiences, you know, I guess what what are those priorities?

Ryan Haynes (00:20:51) - I mean.

Mustafa Gokcen (00:20:51) - The traditional elements of hospitality are still there. they remain valued. but there is a shift towards digital solutions, like technology such as online checking, online checkout, mobile key unified communication platforms, whether it's an app, it's a digital any any other digital medium, it becomes it's becoming increasingly prevalent. there is a like I said, there is a requirement for robust and reliable connectivity. It's not it's not even considered as an added luxury anymore. But ten years ago, it was it was like a bonus to help you promote your hotel. Now it's a fundamental expectation. it's next to hot water. It's next to that bottle of water you put in the room.

Mustafa Gokcen (00:21:43) - this shift underscores the importance of seamless digital integration. and there is a new term. Now, we throw almost in every meeting, digital guest experience, all these things that these, these forms, that digital guest experience. We are observing a move away from traditional reception desks to more personal interactions. those traditional desks are now replaced with warm welcomes at the door of friendly conversations at the bar. The ones. The lengthy check-in and checkout processes are no longer that it's more streamlined. It's simple, efficient actions you take through the app or on a web browser, etc. You don't have to stop and queue anymore. so all these things that are obvious to all these areas touch some shape or form in technology.

Ryan Haynes (00:22:54) - No, I mean, staffing is a big issue, across the industry. And there's always been a talk of, you know, how do you effectively have the right talent and experiences, especially within hospitality? You said it's never a dull moment, but also the challenge with hospitality is it's a 365, 24 seven-day business.

Ryan Haynes (00:23:13) - You know, it needs to be operational constantly. How have you managed to improve the IT resources and find the best talent with the Cheval Collection?

Mustafa Gokcen (00:23:24) - There is no 9 to 5 in it in the hospitality IT. I mean, considering that our busiest period is when people take holidays, right? So finding and retaining the right talent in hospitality tightly, it is it remains a significant challenge. And I think it will be there for, years to come. it's largely due to the traditional positioning of it a little bit, within the industry. this alignment often makes it challenging to attract the right calibre of talent. when you go head to head with other industries, like, just to name a few pharmaceuticals, the financials. there is this perceived, there is this perception, there are innovative, there is a growth opportunities. Whereas in hospitality people tend to think that that's absent. so I mean, to address this, there is a key strategy, there to align its role within the hospitality sector, and emphasize its critical contribution to the operations and success.

Mustafa Gokcen (00:24:38) - again, like like I mentioned, there is no dull moment. There is no day that you get bored. There is. Oh, you need to keep educating yourself. You need to keep innovating. it's very stimulating work environment. and I think it's very distinct from other sectors. Another thing that I mentioned in hospitality IT. You actually make a difference. And you can see that difference in real-time. If I change one system, it directly impacts all the guests that walk into the hotel.

Ryan Haynes (00:25:17) - Wonderful. I mean, it's absolutely fascinating, you know, especially to see how much, you know, impact what you do has on the overall delivery of hospitality. And, you know, there's so much there's so many aspects to it, as you mentioned, you know, all those different applications and software and systems that all need to work together. And I guess selecting, you know, the right system is essential for representing the brand and the experience that you need to deliver both your staff and your guests.

Ryan Haynes (00:25:46) - What makes a good technology vendor partner?

Ryan Haynes (00:25:52) - yeah. I mean.

Mustafa Gokcen (00:25:52) - We mentioned all these different, different systems, and we throw in our beloved IT jargon. But in order for all this to work seamlessly, in order for us to deliver these solutions, there is an intake, some level of integration, there is some level of complexity, how all these systems work in harmony. I like the term that you use their partner. It resonates, resonates deeply. it signifies it's not a mere transactional relationship. it's a long-term commitment. It's the commitment that you collaborate, and there is mutual growth there as well. A good tech partner is one that you can depend on like I should if I'm up at 3 a.m. I know that he has my back. and it's not just for immediate solutions, but for sustained support and innovation over the, you know, years to come. As I said, the couple words that I can mention, there's trust, reliability, and a shared vision for success.

Mustafa Gokcen (00:27:16) - And you evolve together, right? If my business grows, they grow. so it's a long-term relationship. It's not. It's just one project, one transaction. we are operating in a multibillion-dollar industry. the expertise and the commitment of our tech partners are invaluable.

Mustafa Gokcen (00:27:40) - We definitely rely on them a lot.

Ryan Haynes (00:27:44) - Excellent. Thank you, Mustafa. Thanks for all that wonderful insight and for sharing with us your experiences of working within the hospitality technology industry and the challenges that you're experiencing, but also the major achievements you've managed to make, not just in your career, but also in the last ten months at the Cheval Collection. Congratulations and thanks again.

Mustafa Gokcen (00:28:03) - Thank you, thank you, and thank you for having me.

Ryan Haynes (00:28:07) - So that was Mustafa Gokcen and the head of information technology at the Cheval Collection, who is part of our season for Hoteliers’ Voice. Look out for the other episodes with our other guests who are joining the Hoteliers’ Voice Series. Also check in on our monthly review shows, the travel and the hospitality versions, where we have our regular panellists and joined by our guest interviewees, where we look at what's happening in the industry on a month-to-month basis.

Ryan Haynes (00:28:35) - You can check us out on all the regular podcast channels, and don't forget to subscribe to us on LinkedIn or TravelMarket.Life. Thank you for joining. I'm your host Ryan Haynes. Ciao for now.

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