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  • Writer's pictureRyan Haynes

DESIGN HOTELS - Why hotel collections are pursuing digital guest experiences

Updated: Jul 3, 2023

In this episode we speak with Simon Schwitallik, Director of Commercial Strategy and Analytics at Design Hotels to discuss the trends in defined hotel collections and the importance of a tech stack to deliver digital experiences that match the hotel ethos and style.

With an abundance of hotel collections, curated by those passionate by a certain theme whether it’s luxury, independent, eco, spa and wellness or design - properties need to ensure they represent the soft umbrella brands that deliver them bookings and business. We discuss

  • The trends in hotel collections

  • The development of the design hotel category

  • The importance of tech

  • And digitalising experiences.

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Design Hotels represents and markets a curated selection of 300+ independent hotels in over 60 countries worldwide. Since 1993, Every single hotel carefully selected based on a range of criteria to guarantee guests a unique hotel experience. More than a collection of hotels, the company is a collection of stories.


Programme Notes


Ryan Haynes:

Hello. Well, welcome back to Travel Market Life. I'm your host, Ryan Haynes. And in today's episode, we are going to be looking at design hotels and the importance of hotel technology. There's an abundance of hotel collections around the world, many created by those, passionate about a certain theme, whether it's luxury, independent eco spar and wellness or design. In this episode, we speak to Simon Swat, the director of commercial strategy and Analytics at Design Hotels, and discuss the trends in hotel collections, the development of the design hotel category, the importance of tech and digitalizing experiences,


Ryan Haynes:

Hello, and I'm welcome now by Simon Schwitallik, the director of commercial Strategy at Analytics to Design Hotels. Hi there Simon. Thanks again for joining me. You and I have the opportunity. How are things going here?


Simon Schwitallik:

Very well, thanks a lot. How are you doing?


Ryan Haynes:

All very well, thank you very much. Now you and I actually had a good opportunity to have a good conversation at the International Hotel Technology Forum in March and Vienna this year and look at some of the developments that are happening across the industry, particularly from a technology and digitalization standpoint. And in particular, you know, there were quite a few bits of representation from hotel collections. Now, as I said at the beginning, there are a lot more defined hotel collections. It seems to be a bit of a trend today and I know that Design Hotels has been growing as well. So, you know, why, why is there such a trend for such specific hotel collections?


Simon Schwitallik:

Yeah, I mean that's true. I think we observe that too. So, I think people are really primarily looking for reaching larger audiences. So, I think often what we see in our conversations is especially new build properties as well, which are certainly designed, focused or even in remote locations, right? So, we have some new hotels in like the new destination called Zumba or like quite remote destinations in, in, in Mexico, which you wouldn't just find by, by yourself often. So, I think many of our hotels are looking for that additional exposure, reaching different audiences and communities that they won't be able to reach otherwise. And in addition to that, of course, people also like to be taken by the hand a little bit, because in our case, we also have people that are not hotels by training and coming from different industries.


Simon Schwitallik:

And that's why there's a large piece of us also handholding that on from a, from a technology perspective, helping them with these types of setups, distributing them to different channels and, and also from a sales perspective, so also connecting them with other travel influencers or travel agents across the globe. So there's a possibility for hotels to meet people around the world from, you know, LA New York to European destinations or Asia to meet relevant people they can present their products to. So that's, of course, helpful for them too.


Ryan Haynes:

And obviously, you've got to be tapping into that consumer interest there and sort of experience they're looking to have. And I guess architecturally as well that experience within the hotel can be particularly unique, especially for the type of designs that you can get. Are you seeing a lot more investment and a lot more consideration there from actual investors, and hotel investors, to really go for these more unique concepts today?


Simon Schwitallik:

Yeah, exactly. We do see that a lot, which makes it almost harder to differentiate for us, right? Because we, I think somebody in, in our portfolio team who looks after us trying to acquire new members as well is said that there's a lot of cute hotels, things that are having, you know, interesting looking or modern design and modern furniture. But it's actually for us it goes a bit further. There's, there's, there's really supposed to be a character within the hotel that primarily comes, is driven by the, the owner behind the concept and, and creating a very unique concept instead of just having some pretty furniture. And that's I think what, what people also feel when they book a design hotel, that's also a bit of an expectation that there's a bit more and more edge to it than, than just being pretty or modern like that from an architectural perspective.


Ryan Haynes:

Yeah. Let's have a look. Let's have a close look then on the design hotel side. You know, what sort of trends you're seeing. I mean you obviously we, we sort of have the interest from consumers and what sort of experiences they're looking from a design hotel, but then we obviously have those developments that are on the horizon. You know, what are the new design aspects that are really going to be coming out and going to be part of the industry over the next coming years?


Simon Schwitallik:

Yeah, I think we're looking more at the CRM piece and looking at guest data, which of course is a big topic, but I think that has changed a little bit while revenue management, it feels, people have been talking about that piece a lot. That real guest data piece is, is some, is at least more interesting even for a, smaller boutique or medium-sized hotel, which hasn't been the case before. And where I think people were just sending out, I'd say blast emails to their consumers. There's more of an appetite or interest to understand consumers better and capture data in a more segmented way to be able, to to have more target communication. Then even expanding that too, to the different channels that you can use, and you know, is it just only email or how do you piece that together with, with other communication forms to WhatsApp or other, you know, chat functionalities and guest communication pieces and bring that together.


Ryan Haynes:

Is is, does that mean that sort of like beyond sort of like just how the, how the hotel looks that design hotels really need to be crafting the experience of digital experience in that as well? That the infrastructure, the architecture so to speak, it's not just sort of like how it physically looks, but how you're digitally engaging. Yeah,


Simon Schwitallik:

Yeah. So I think we sometimes also, in a strange way might be like go against the grain from that perspective while, while we I think want to have a really great digital experience almost, or very not great but a, a digital experience per se prior to arrival, then it's often I think almost an opposite. How when do we take tech away in terms of a digital detox of how, when do you take away the digital piece of the guest stay, right? So, I have one example where there was a French hotel which was recreating the hotel experience of the French at the French Riviera of the fifties, right? So of course there you maybe one take away the text message about how your stay is or when the yoga class is because, and you want to rather send a postcard that the sailing trip is at 10, 10:00 AM 10:00 AM you know, so it's, it's funny to also think about when do we, is there going to be this tipping point where people are like, well actually I just want to put my phone away and I I don't want this piece in in in that experience like that.


Simon Schwitallik:

And I don't say that as a, I say that as a person that loves tech and looking at how we can optimize and streamline everything from the, from that perspective. But it's also interesting to think about, you know, when are we deliberately not putting it in there? And I think that's something that's, that that crossed our mind as well and especially for the experience that's, that's probably going to be a cool, interesting to thing to consider as well.


Ryan Haynes:

That's really interesting when you say that. I mean it hadn't really crossed my mind in all honesty with you, Simon, that you might have, you know, a cutting edge, innovative, architecturally designed hotel next to a 1940s sort of hotel experience. I mean they're, they're both designed, they're, they're, they're both sort of a breathing, they're the same sort of theme an around sort of that visual ex and personal experience you can get in the hotel, but obviously the, the way that you deliver that you need, I guess you need to be looking in deep down into, so what as a hotel do you want to stand for? What does your design stand for and what do those experiences you want to be delivering to your guests?


Simon Schwitallik:

Yeah, yeah, the architectural piece and the creative piece is more of an artistic drive that we have, and it is less of a digital drive I think I would say. And then, but to enable that, the digital piece is interesting, especially in the automation piece and streamlining the operations in the, in, in the back of the house, that type of thing. And of course, also, the more digitalized the pre-check-in is more experiential the check-in can be because you don't have to hand over your passport and type in this and sign here and sign that. So, the more you can remove that, of course, the cooler, you can create that non-administrative aspect of things as well. So, there are of course pieces where the digitalization of the technology can assist that like that.


Simon Schwitallik:

But I don't think it's just blanket always tech is better. It's also being like, oh, maybe we should take it away sometimes too is what, what I'm, what I'm pointing in on.


Ryan Haynes:

Yeah, really go down into the principles and values of the property. What do you stand for and what is that guest experience and will it add, or will it actually take that experience or that feeling you want them to leave with away and, and obviously you, you don't want that, you need them to take that feeling away from them, away with them and to be sharing that in a positive way. Whether that's through reviews or, or with their family and friends at home. I mean you've talked about the role of tech and particularly the importance of data in CRM, but I guess the big challenge for a lot of hotels is because you're working with independence, there'll be smaller properties right through to I guess larger resorts. It's really about defining the type of tech stack that you want and the partners that you want to work with.


Ryan Haynes:

You, you, we mentioned just, just before we came on to record that, yeah, there's such fast differences in firstly where properties are in, in the tech stack of evolution, but also the type of tech partners that they could work, work with where what, what sort of cons consultation do you have with your hotel partners around identifying right partners and trying to build a tech stack that's going to be relevant for that particular property.


Simon Schwitallik:

I think that does start with looking at the basic functionalities, or at least that's where my head is at the moment in the PMS piece and how, how to build around that and allow the flexibility in there and also reduce the cost through these open API structures that really enabled even to, to think about, you know, installing a CRM solution because often previously the interface was more expensive than the actual, you know, third party tool that you maybe want to use for, for a CRM solution. So, so definitely the PMs piece with the open API has, has opened up, that box to even start playing with that for the smaller independent space, which was often otherwise going to be too expensive to even to, to even play.


Simon Schwitallik:

And, and the struggle actually when I, when I got concrete with these things is, is, and I just felt like of also many, many of these PMs vendors would be like, yeah of course, you know, we served the whole world, but that's really not the case, right? So, there's, of course, the few more legacy vendors that really serve primarily most of the globe because they, I think they have to cater to the big chains there, but often with a newer place that's really not the, not so much dec because we have these tricky ones. I mean there's the Mountain Negros and, and Vietnam and, and a couple of like difficult countries where that gets quiet, where they won't be able to handle. And I mean it doesn't have to, we don't have to have to go so far like Greece for example, or has like difficult, you know, police forms that you need to fill in or send like every single invoice to the government, which, which not every PMS wants to deal with anymore because that's really hard to, to keep up with these governmental changes and, and, and, and Italy.


Simon Schwitallik:

So, it's not even like two crazy destinations where you have to guess e-Stop is this thing that's called where, where we have special police reporting within every state of Italy. It's not like Italy by itself, it's Umbria does it differently than, you know, so, so it gets harder than you think when you think like, oh I'll just use this one vendor that we really like. It's like, oh my God. Like, and we've really run into a lot of like roadblocks with these, with these types of things like that. Even though it seems like well you just choose one of those ap like open API guys and you're, you're done like that. That's not my experience at the moment.


Ryan Haynes:

Yeah, no, I've, I've heard things similar and more in relation to taxes, local taxes, local tourist taxes. I think it's in Spain, I might be wrong with that. Anybody who's listening and has an answer for me, please comment. But I think that they have maybe different taxes or the way they collect their tax, their tourist taxes are, are different in different places and so obviously some of them you need to pay them as the guest arrives and obviously you need that API in place. So, I'm not surprised that some of the time it's just better to have a look at your regional providers and those that have the open APIs and specialize in understanding what's, what those requirements are because you say you need to abide by the laws, the taxes and all the other policies and regulations in every country.


Simon Schwitallik:

Exactly. That's a very, I think that's why I end up now as well in, in that sense. And so yeah, we always have to connect, connect to one CS. So that's why we make sure that those vendors then, you know, work in, in tandem there as well. We have interfaces to that c r s but yeah, it's the, I think that's the right way to, to go to look at the local stuff. Cause it's also the producing stuff. How much can you save the passport, or you should not, or like, I mean there's like, it varies so fast like in so many countries and it's hard to, if as you said, like we have 60 countries I think in 300 hotels, so I didn't actually expect it because it was going to get so complicated actually. Yeah.


Ryan Haynes:

And I think that's a lot of the time, you know when people enter the hotel industry, they suddenly realize how many different property management systems there are around the world and how different some of the policies are across different continents and countries. And you know one of the things that we sort of noted at IHTF as well was a disparity in the digital adoption within the hotel industry. How you've got some of those, it may even be a small proportion of hotels that are really early adopters of innovative cloud-based technologies Yeah. That has a full digital tech stack. And then obviously those with the legacy providers that are sort of limping along waiting for either the prop, the PMs to be, you know, offsite and in the cloud or, or still waiting for the property management system to be accessible to other apps and systems.


Ryan Haynes:

And you, you said that you know, I guess firstly it's essential is to really look at your property management system, identify what processes.ds are, but above and beyond the property management system you mentioned a CRM, is there any other sort of essentials that hotels need to be thinking about in their journey to developing their tech stack and digitalizing some of their processes.


Simon Schwitallik:

That it's still step by step And I've heard people say that now when you do many of those yourself, you kind of see that it's like you can't do like CRM RMS like, you know, Keating or like automated dialogues. At the same time, it's really a step-by-step process. I think that like project manages to cause it's not just flipping a switch in all these cases. It's always more work that it really works through in that case.


Ryan Haynes:

So really taking that time to have a look at your entire tech stack, build a plan of action and then assess those priorities one by one and, and working closely with your, your vendor, your vendors to make sure they're able to help you with meeting the needs of the hotel. But as we just also mentioned the other policies.


Simon Schwitallik:

But that's a good point. I don't know if that is really what ha what is happening. So that might be interesting as well to reconsider because I think you're often left alone and, and in as a hotelier I think to do that work yourself and you need to go and, and find, I think people who've done these transitions for you like that in advance to be able to even, you know, anticipate the, the pitfalls in that context and that you don't get it from the vendors that are of course rightly trying to sell their products. But it's, it's, it's, I don't think the vendors are often and probably want to look at the PMs side to help, help build that whole stack for the hotel then, or they could I think deliver more.


Ryan Haynes:

The really final question I'd, I'd love, love to hear from you is some of these design hotel properties that you've got coming onto your books, design hotels.com, are there any sort of particular unique features or aspects of the actual physical property itself that you are starting to see as, as a trend in a particular sort of types of furniture co-design or smart room technology? What sort of features within design hotels that are really peaking consumer and guest interest


Simon Schwitallik:

Well focuses on designs or from a consumer perspective, we see a lot of talk and focus from us for the sustainability piece. So that's of course key to us because we did observe that there's a, that the traveller is looking for yeah. Sustainable experiences in, in, in, in, in the world and that there's a different type of travel. And I think because when we say sustainable, it also, it's kind of everyone's covering that, that that piece somehow. But it's, it's also purposeful travel as a new trend that we're seeing that people don't just want to go somewhere and kind of harvest the experience from, from the destination, but also what people can bring to the destination.


Simon Schwitallik:

How that translates into the architecture is yeah, more of how the hotels are being built, integrating with the local communities, either supporting the local communities also from a sustainability perspective in terms of, you know, adding them as employees, training people on property. That's, does that, that's what we're seeing.


Ryan Haynes:

Excellent. Simon, thank you ever so much for that. And it's really insightful to learn a bit more about Design Hotels and some of the challenges that you see around hotel tech, tech and digitalization in the industry.


Simon Schwitallik:

Thank


Ryan Haynes:

You. So that was Simon Schwitallik, the director of commercial Strategy at Analytics at Design Hotels. Absolutely fascinating when you think about the array of types of designed hotels and what they can be there and the types of experiences they can deliver to guests. So, for more information, check out our other podcasts on TravelMarket.Life and we'll be following up this episode to explore more of the trends around hotel technology at different types of hotel collections, as well as how different types of techs are actually being deployed with independent, small groups and large chain hotels. Thanks for listening, I'm your host Ryan Haynes.

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