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May's Hospitality Review: F&B profitability, Premier Inn Ad ban, IHTF & future tech

Updated: May 18

May's Hospitality Review: F&B profitability, Premier Inn Ad ban, IHTF & future tech

Navigating the Evolving Landscape of Hospitality: Insights from Industry Experts

In our most recent episode of the Hospitality Review Show, we explore the pressing challenges and technological innovations shaping the future of hotels and hospitality services.

We have a thought-provoking conversation with Johnny Siberry, Group Revenue Manager at Sarova on the balance of F&B profitability in hotels, the ban on Premier Inn's £35 a night advert and an overview of IHTF 2024. We are also joined by Simone Puorto and talk about future tech and industry challenges and had a conversation with Tess Mattison on the approach to the tech stack.

The Balancing Act: Profitability Amidst Rising Costs

Johnny Siberry shares valuable statistics and insights from his recent property visits, focusing on the profitability of food and beverage services within hotels. We discuss the impact of escalating costs on profit margins and share strategies for cost management, including supplier changes and control of portion sizes to mitigate financial pressures.

Navigating Advertising Standards and Dynamic Pricing

We delve into the recent ban by the Advertising Standards Authority on Premier Inn's advertisement, which promoted rooms starting at just £35 a night. We debate the feasibility of such low rates and the use of lead-in pricing for promotional purposes. The importance for hoteliers to stay informed about regulations related to pricing and marketing is underscored, especially in the context of dynamic pricing strategies.

Technology at the Forefront: AI and RPA in Hotels

We share experiences from the International Hotel Technology Forum (IHTF) 2024, where discussions on artificial intelligence (AI) and robotic process automation (RPA) were prevalent. Johnny expresses excitement for RPA's potential to streamline repetitive tasks in hotel operations, citing an example of a digital worker adept at entering reservations into the Opera system.

The Future of Administrative Efficiency

We touch upon the innovative solutions offered by companies like Centelli, Aphy, RobosizeMe, and Hotel Res Bot, which are leading the way in RPA to reduce the administrative burden on hotel staff. These digital solutions automate mundane tasks, allowing for a more efficient allocation of human resources, valuable in times of labour shortages.

The Tech Stack Conundrum: A Tailored Approach

Tess Mattison, President and CEO of Zaplox, joins us to share insights on how hotels should approach their tech stack. She emphasises the importance of aligning technology investments with business objectives and ambitions and the necessity of a sophisticated integration layer for system connectivity and scalability.

Engaging Senior Management and Staff in Technological Change

Tess offers advice on securing buy-in from senior management and staff for new systems, focusing on the value proposition of technology as an enabler for business growth and improved service. Understanding the benefits for each stakeholder is key to successful technology adoption.

The Power of Whiteboarding Sessions

Tess shares her passion for whiteboarding sessions, a collaborative approach to understanding a client's current position and aspirations. These sessions are crucial for identifying opportunities to add value and fill gaps in the existing tech landscape.

Navigating the Future

Simone Puorto discusses three key trends reshaping the landscape of travel and hospitality. He highlights the shift from traditional search methods to what he terms the "Netflix effect," where algorithms curate personalised suggestions, transforming how travellers discover destinations and accommodations. He also delves into the emergence of conversational advertising, enabled by AI models, empowering even small properties with impactful campaigns.

Lastly, he explores the evolving realm of hardware, noting the rise of innovative devices such as Apple's visionary offerings, smart glasses by Meta, and AI-based devices like the Rabbit R1. Puorto emphasises the importance for hotels to adapt swiftly to these changes, ensuring infrastructure readiness and agility in the face of evolving consumer behaviours and technological advancements.

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Programme Notes

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

Ryan Haynes (00:00:01) - Hello and welcome to the Hospitality Monthly Review Show for May. And in this episode, we are two panellists down. But no fear, we have got replacements for the panellists with two expert interviewees. In our episode today, we will be joined by Johnny Siberry, the Group revenue manager at Sarovar, as we deep dive into the International Hotel Technology Forum and some of the conversations presentations and insights that we gleaned during the event in April, we will also tackle food and beverage profitability in hotels and Premier Inns add that was banned for promoting rooms from only £35 a night. Then we will hear from Tess Mattison, the president and CEO of Zaplox, as we discuss how to look at your tech stack and identify the right systems and technologies. We'll then also speak to Simone Porto about the future of technology for the hospitality industry. So we're here. Let's get on with the show.

Ryan Haynes (00:01:32) - Hello and welcome to the Hospitality Monthly Review Show. Now, we're a few panellists down today, but we do have Johnny Siberry, Group Revenue Manager at Sarova. Thanks ever so much for coming along and joining us today. Johnny, it's great to see you back home after our time in Barcelona.

Johnny Siberry (00:01:49) - Hi, Ryan. Yeah, good to see you again. Trust you survived and got back in one piece. You look like you did.

Ryan Haynes (00:01:54) - Absolutely. Yeah. And the journey home was much smoother than the journey out, which I was pleased with. No delays whatsoever. And, it was just, just nice to have a smoother journey. Obviously says a lot more about Spanish airports than it does about British ones. Right?

Johnny Siberry (00:02:10) - Absolutely, absolutely. I had a nightmare of a journey going out, but that had more to do with highway agencies and motorway closures, airport experience. I've got to say both sides were really good for me. I was lucky I did have to fork out £8 for the priority security lane or whatever it's called at Gatwick.

Johnny Siberry (00:02:30) - Because I was so late, I would have missed my flight if I stood in the regular queue.

Ryan Haynes (00:02:34) - See? That's good. It's great. They've got that option now, isn't it? That you say if you're going to be late, that you can just hop, skip and jump through it? I've never used it. So what do you do? Do you just turn up and you just go to the counter and you snap a card and you go through literally?

Johnny Siberry (00:02:48) - It's the second time I've done it. for the same reason that I was, I was late and I wouldn't have made it through. And it's literally it's a gateway. And there are two people who started a desk on like, bar stools with a PDQ. And you walk up and they just. How many people want to go £8? Take your card straight through.

Ryan Haynes (00:03:06) - That's crazy.

Johnny Siberry (00:03:07) - I stayed up to the front of the queue, and then as soon as somebody moves from the conveyor belt, you're directed straight through.

Ryan Haynes (00:03:14) - And there is no queue at all.

Johnny Siberry (00:03:16) - I literally stopped for 10 seconds and then the guy said to me, go to number five, please. And that was it. Straight through. And I think I cleared as opposed to having to rebook a flight. It's the best investment ever.

Ryan Haynes (00:03:30) - Yeah. I mean I think I don't think I've taken less than 40 minutes in the last couple of years to get through security. and that's on the UK side. It's very different when you're going from Europe because when I was in Barcelona, I think that took me ten minutes to go through, which you know, does put you at ease, when you're trying to fly that, you know, you're not having to race for the gate. Yeah. but, that's great. I'm going to have to do that next time, right?

Johnny Siberry (00:03:55) - Yeah, it's worth it.

Ryan Haynes (00:03:56) - So, coming up today, we're going to be looking at a couple of new stories, and then I'm talking about our trip to the International Hotel Technology Forum.

Ryan Haynes (00:04:12) - Now one of the big stories that have come out recently, Johnny, and it's really surprised me, is profitability around food and beverage for hotels.

Ryan Haynes (00:04:21) - Now, Hot Stats has shown some really interesting data that while room revenue per available room is up 17% compared to January 2020. FMB is just 5%. But what's even worse is that we've seen profit margins within FNB fall from apparently an average of 30% pre-pandemic to 22%. And obviously, that's been massively affected by so many different aspects like, increasing national, minimum wage, energy costs, supply costs, I guess, and all this sort of thing. And what's your take on this story?

Johnny Siberry (00:05:01) - Well, Ryan, we've just been around, several properties that I, look after this week and last week do a quarterly, quarterly performance reviews with them. And FNB is one of the areas that we were looking at in detail. And I'll give you some quite scary stats. it depends on the location and the volume of covers and services that they're doing. But in some cases, the food cost alone was up to 39%. And we have wages at around 49.50%. You don't need to be a mathematician to work out that already 90% of your sales revenue is gone straight away in buying the food, cooking and serving it.

Johnny Siberry (00:05:43) - An that doesn't even allow for the gas to cook it, the water to wash up the electricity for the lighting, the cost of, you know, the linen on the tables, crockery, cutlery, all of these sorts of things is not as you've got 10% left to pay for everything else. And in most cases, by the time you wash it all out, in the PNL at the end of the month, they're not even turning a profit at all. It's a it's a loss leader in the hotels, some of the hotels I was looking into. but it's not something you can turn off or take away. You've just got to manage it as finely and as tightly as you possibly can to mitigate those liabilities.

Ryan Haynes (00:06:23) - It's fascinating because there are so many different aspects at play here, and one of the interesting conversations I had when I was at the ITF this last month was with Veryan Palmer from the Headland Hotel, and they've recently completely refurbished, their entire kitchens and removed all their gas stoves and replaced them with electric induction heaters and cookers.

Ryan Haynes (00:06:47) - And she says that they've obviously, as a result of that, eliminated their gas bill and their electric bill has only gone up by 2%, which I found absolutely fascinating. But there are a lot more, obviously, areas that we need to look at to be able to cut those costs related to FNB. Where are you currently? Sort of like looking at where you can sort of improve those margins and squeeze a little bit more out at the moment.

Johnny Siberry (00:07:16) - The two main areas we're looking at are the suppliers, where we get the products from some of the hotels. You've got a much bigger selection of suppliers to choose from, and more of the more rural hotels are the ones out in the sticks. As I say, they don't have the same options of, distributors that you would like to have. So you're a little bit stuck. and the other area that we're looking at is just changing the lines on some of the products that we're putting out, for example, the bacon at breakfast.

Johnny Siberry (00:07:48) - Let's give a real-world example. There's, you know, there's probably three or 4 or 5 different brands or lines of bacon you can buy, and some are a little cheaper than others, and it's going to cost a bit less. Without, excuse me, without compromising too much on the quality. so really, that's it. And in terms of, you know, banqueting or conferences, things like that, really just controlling the portion sizes that you're putting out and the numbers of people you're catering for and making sure you cater for that number of people and don't stick out an extra five covers just to keep the buffet looking pretty and healthy. You know, when the food's gone, it's gone. You don't want to end up having five leftovers to just throw in the bin because you don't want it to look empty. So those sorts of things that we just can't afford to do anymore.

Ryan Haynes (00:08:35) - Well, hopefully, I can have a bit more of an exploration into this topic over the coming months. So look out for our episode where we'll dive deep dive into FNB profitability.

Ryan Haynes (00:08:45) - One of the other stories that particularly got your interest in the last week or so, Johnny, was the fact that Premier Inn, had its advert banned for promoting rooms from only £35 a night by the Advertising Authority. I mean, you know, I think this has been quite commonplace across all industries, and we've seen it with the likes of Ryanair and, other holiday companies. What are your thoughts here?

Johnny Siberry (00:09:12) - Yeah. Well, I mean, a couple of thoughts. The first one is how they can service a room at £35 a night and turn a profit. I don't know that problem. but I think this is, you know, something across so many industries, where products are promoted either from price or starting price and, you know, you can have add-ons and things like this. but certainly looking at the hotel industry specifically. A lot of the hotels I've worked with, we do it. We do it directly through our own distribution channels. We do it with third-party, channels where we do, you know, seasonal offers and flash sales and things like that.

Johnny Siberry (00:09:51) - And there's always a lead in price now, as long as you're reasonable and realistic. And your throne price is available for a good selection of dates throughout the offer travel window. and if it's bookable then I don't see a problem with it. I think the majority of people understand it's from price and lower demand dates. For example, on Sunday nights you're probably going to get more availability on it. Friday. Saturday nights you're probably not because they're busier and that's the way it goes. Also, you have to be careful because a lot of offers are based on dynamic pricing, which would be maybe a fixed percentage of your best flexible rate, or it would be package. With extras added on to a variable price for a daily rate. And of course, the daily rates will change as time goes on. And then your. The derived rate will also change and from price might disappear. So you've got to keep an eye on that. And perhaps Premier ended something like that. And they just took their eye off the ball. And the £35 that was available disappeared.

Johnny Siberry (00:11:01) - I don't know, but it's a bit of a nanny state, I mean. If you like the offering, you can afford the price that's being offered for when you want to stay. And if you can't, then you don't. But. I don't see the point in crying about it, you know? There's bigger things in life to worry about.

Ryan Haynes (00:11:19) - You would think so. But, you know, I guess that's why the Advertising Standards Authority is there, that people love to complain. and they've left their doors open for people to be able to send those complaints in. We will be exploring this subject a little bit further in our June issue as we look deeper into marketing and e-commerce. And we've just actually launched an interview, looking at drip pricing and what hoteliers need to be aware of in and around the regulation there, which is also very connected, with the, the, the sort of like from only packages.

Ryan Haynes (00:11:57) - Right coming up. Then let's have a conversation. Looking at the IHTF 2024, which just finished in April, you'll be able to check out actually some of the interviews and conversations that I've already had with some of the attendees and delegates.

Ryan Haynes (00:12:11) - The LinkedIn live session is already available on our podcast channel, as well as a conversation with the Cheval Collection, Mustafa Gokcen about the purpose of technology in hospitality, a conversation with Marriott Hotels and Florian Hepp looking at employer branding to attract staff. With Clink Hostel, we speak to Diogo Vaz Pereira. Looking at trends in the hostel market. CitizenM with Bojan Pavicic talking about technology innovation, as well as Melia International with Sofia Muntaner. Looking at the evolution of hotel marketing so plenty plenty there for you to get your ears into and to learn a bit more about their approaches and how they're tackling many of the changes that are happening in the market. Now, there are so many fascinating conversations that we were having with Johnny at the IHTF this year. There was quite a packed schedule, particularly of content from across the two streams in the technology and Operations auditorium and the marketing and distribution stream. You were able to go to both. I was stuck in the marketing and distribution, which I found, you know, really interesting. and there was, you know, a real sense of passion and interest from the hoteliers presenting and, and some really good insights from the vendors.

Ryan Haynes (00:13:31) - And what about you? What were some of the topics and some of the presentations that you went to and you found particularly, of interest?

Johnny Siberry (00:13:40) - yeah, a lot is going on. It was a very busy three days. You're right. I was able to float around between the two streams and, pick out the best sessions, a lot of meetings and ad hoc conversations with people as well across the day. The three days. a lot of the topics were around, the future of AI. I found that quite a predominant topic this year. and several vendors already embracing that technology and offering their wares to the hotels to use their suite of systems that they already have. I think that was probably the newest thing this year over the last year.

Ryan Haynes (00:14:20) - I know one of the things that you picked up on when I was speaking to your IHTF was RPA, Robotic Process Automation, these little worker robots. now, I'm glad that you picked up on this. and it was saying that you know, really excited and interested you.

Ryan Haynes (00:14:36) - And I'm not going to explain it because I've already done a podcast on it. And if anybody wants to hear about it, they can listen to the Hotel Partner interview that I did with Louvre Hotels. But just tell us for the audience here what your understanding of RPA is.

Johnny Siberry (00:14:51) - Yeah, I'll, I will do because I was impressed with it. I've never come across it before. And I'll give a little shout out to the company who, who I had a meeting with, of course. Santelli. and they have a product that they call a digital worker. And what it does. It's not AI, it doesn't learn, it doesn't develop itself or anything like that. It literally it's a bot that you would install, and it doesn't have to be on a, you know, an office desktop. You can sit on a server in the dark cupboard or anywhere really, but you basically program it with a set of repetitive processes that are a normal part of your. Staffed office or your office with the carbon interfaces.

Johnny Siberry (00:15:36) - We like to refer to them, as the actual people, who do monotonous tasks on a daily basis and which are boring, there's no question about it. And people get bored after 15 minutes of doing the same system entry or data entry of some description. But these, robotic workers or digital workers, as they call them, will perform. these tasks continuously with no complaints, no lunch breaks, and no days off sick. and they just do the job as long as the process is the same each time. and you program it correctly to start with, it will just carry on forever. It's very similar to an Excel macro. If you're familiar with how Excel macros work. Again, you program it to click on cell A1, copy it, go to cell B4 and paste the value. And it could just keep doing that forever until you tell it to stop. And these do the same thing. and they had a short video, an example of it entering a reservation into Opera. and you could see on the screen each field had open and it put in the dates stay and it put in the name and put in the room type and all of these sorts of things.

Johnny Siberry (00:16:51) - and it was picking these up from, I mean, one of the functions it does amongst other things, but it can read emails, that are in a template format. So if you get a lot of bookings from a particular agent, which is always on an email template and they're always in the same format, and the arrival dates are always in the same place, the names and the same place, the room type, the rate, all of these credit card number and stuff that always in the same place on this email template. This digital worker can read them copy them and enter them into Opera as a reservation. So for example, if you did a campaign on the likes of, you know, flashlights like Secret Escapes or Travelzoo or something like that, or Wowcher or whatever. When the bookings come in and this robot, you can program it to go pick out any email. That's a new booking from one of these agents, read it, put it in the system, and then your teams don't have to worry about it.

Johnny Siberry (00:17:45) - They see it in the sales inbox and they can go. The robot will pick it up. I don't need to do that one. I can deal with, you know, the real guest phone calls or the real guest queries. And it's really it was really clever. I was really impressed with that.

Ryan Haynes (00:17:57) - I mean, I think it's fascinating, as you say, you know, it is effectively replacing those mundane administrative tasks which are essentially copy, paste, copy, paste, copy, paste for someone else to handle. And at a time when we're struggling to find people to fill some of these roles, you know, it's a great way of using your resources. Now, the company that you mentioned was.

Johnny Siberry (00:18:19) - Centelli. 

Ryan Haynes (00:18:23) - Excellent, and just a couple of others that I'm aware of. Aphy they're, they're a great company looking at RPA as well as RobosizeME and another company also looks at sort of managing your emails in a similar way called Hotel ResBot.

Ryan Haynes (00:18:37) - So something something to consider, if you certainly need some administrative help within your hotels. Okay. So coming up shortly, I've got an interview with Tess Madison from Zaplox, one of the sponsors of IHTF, to find out about her advice about looking at tech stacks and the technology to implement. We'll also be hearing from Simone Puerto about the future of technology in hotels. So, Johnny, just before we go over to those interviews, I know we're going to be in Portugal next year for the IHTF.

Johnny Siberry (00:19:07) - Yeah. Looking forward.

Ryan Haynes (00:19:08) - Great little location.

Johnny Siberry (00:19:09) - A yeah, definitely. I've not been before. I've very briefly been passed. I've passed through but never really spent any time in Portugal. So I'm looking forward to that actually.

Ryan Haynes (00:19:19) - Yeah. And I know they've also launched one in Dubai and they've got one coming to Singapore as well. So they are going truly international. And I'm keeping my fingers nice tight together, hoping that I might be invited to share one of those as well. So who knows?

Ryan Haynes (00:19:34) - and listeners, you might get to see me in the Middle East or Asia sometime soon. Just, maybe contact Arena to to get me there.

Johnny Siberry (00:19:42) -  If you need an assistant. Right. I'm sure I'm available.

Ryan Haynes (00:19:45) - All right. I'll look at it. Johnny. All right. Johnny, lovely to hear from you. Lovely to speak to you again. And we'll catch you next time. Thank you. Perfect.

Johnny Siberry (00:19:52) - Thanks, Ryan. Take care. See you soon.

Ryan Haynes (00:19:58) - On the line now is Tess Mattison, President and CEO of Zaplox. Friend of the show. Welcome back, Tess. How are things going in the world of Zaplox?

Tess Mattisson (00:20:06) - Oh, it's going great. It's golden Ryan. How are you?

Ryan Haynes (00:20:11) - Very well, thank you very much. I'm sorry we missed each other. IHTF. That is absolutely crazy. We're both in the same space for three days.

Tess Mattisson (00:20:18) - I know, I don't. I have no idea how you managed to avoid me for three full days.

Tess Mattisson (00:20:24) - Shame on me. Because it would have been great to catch up. But, hey, we're catching up now.

Ryan Haynes (00:20:28) - Yeah, and I understand it went well. You had a lot of good business meetings.

Tess Mattisson (00:20:32) - We did. we did. You know, there's just something about it. And it's funny coming from, you know, the president and CEO of a technology company, but there's just something about meeting in person. either if it's for catching up or making new acquaintances. So I really enjoy every now and then, to go to these events. And then, as you probably noticed, I'm not stuck behind the desk or the table. I'm out there mingling, you know, hanging out with people. So it was a great event.

Ryan Haynes (00:20:59) - Making the most of the show. Absolutely. There you go. So you've joined our special technology feature for today and already wanted to get from you how hotels should look to approach their tech stack.

Tess Mattisson (00:21:10) - Oh, you're gonna love this answer at the very political one. It depends.

Ryan Haynes (00:21:14) - Okay.

Tess Mattisson (00:21:16) - No, but it really does run because, you know, I often get the what should I do? What tech stack should I invest in? And I say, well, it depends. It depends on where you are. What's your starting point? And maybe more importantly, what's your ambition? Because what we tend to do, we tend to look at our competition and we tend to look at, you know, the unicorns of, of the digital kind of the most digitally savvy, in our industry. And then we try to do what they do, but that might not make sense to your business. So what I always try to say when, when hoteliers or, you know, brands or, you know, management companies come and say, like where should I invest? Well, it depends, it depends on where you are, where you want to go and how much money you have to get from A to C. What I normally say, that you should not do is, is just go for what everyone else is going for.

Tess Mattisson (00:22:08) - You need to go for what makes sense to your business.

Ryan Haynes (00:22:12) - Excellent. Now, I mean, you know, there's so many different applications and systems. that could be part of this ecosystem. What do you feel is essential today?

Tess Mattisson (00:22:21) - Well, of course, you're going to have the old-school core ones. What I say is the heart of your business and like your distribution and your reservations, technology that's going to always be the core. And what I think what what we're looking at now, they're becoming more and more essential is really to have that very kind of sophisticated integration layer that's going to like, enable you to scale and to grow. So instead of just having core systems to have that middle layer to tie these core systems together, and that's easy for you to add to, and that's getting more and more essential. But again, it depends on your ambitions and where you're going. I think what we see more and more is the streamlining of the very fragmented tech stack that is out there and that there's a need, especially for brands or companies that are growing, to have that middle layer that can streamline across different versions.

Tess Mattisson (00:23:16) - Or, you know, let's say that you have one PMS today, and then you're acquiring a group that has like three different PMS. And what's your middleware? And we see that more and more. So I think that when more and more move from the one-stop shop to a middle layer that can actually connect all the dots.

Ryan Haynes (00:23:34) - Lovely. Now, I mean, it can be a big move. and you need to really be thinking about, you know, how you get senior management and staff behind the systems. What's your advice?

Tess Mattisson (00:23:43) - So first of all, don't talk about the systems. Technology is not doing anything for you unless you tie it to your business objectives. For me, technology is the enabler for you to grow your business, to decrease your costs to, you know, what have you, whatever is important, your agenda. So when I was, I was with the brand side for 15 years. When I went shopping for technology, I looked at what business challenges or opportunities we have and how can I reverse engineer from that into a system that can help me reach those targets or those objectives. When we talk about the staff and I think this goes across, you need to understand what's the value for them.

Tess Mattisson (00:24:24) - So whenever we introduce new technology to our staff, whether that's operations or it's HQ or what have you, we need to find what's the value for them. Will it make their life easier? Will they save time? Will they, you know, be able to give better service? And I think if we leave out the technology and talk about the value proposition, it's going to be way easier for them to understand why I want to make this investment. At the end of the day, Ryan, it's going to come down to what's in it for me now.

Ryan Haynes (00:24:52) - I mean.

Ryan Haynes (00:24:52) - One of the key things that you really enjoy, I know we've had conversations about this when you bring on and. The client has this opportunity to get in a room and do a whiteboarding session. Why is that so important?

Tess Mattisson (00:25:04) - All right, I love whiteboarding sessions and I know I've always done it. I've loved the whiteboarding sessions for so long. There was actually a blackboard when I started. That's how long I've joined it. No, but you know, I think that we are providing technology that is going to complement either the existing tech stack or their business, and we can go out and demo a product.

Tess Mattisson (00:25:26) - I think that's like a 19th-century way of selling technology. I want to add value to every customer, and to do that I need to understand where they are, and where they want to go. And I need to identify what's the grey space that they have today. And is there an opportunity for me to fill that grey space? And to do that we need to co-design. And I think that when you have that collaboration, in a room with individuals, that's a prerequisite for having the collaboration between your different tech stacks when you're actually implementing this.

Ryan Haynes (00:26:02) - Before you go, I really would be keen to know what technology you're particularly excited about for the industry right now.

Tess Mattisson (00:26:08) - For me, it's really that I can see that we're moving into NFC for mobile keys instead of Bluetooth and that we are doing this through the wallet, for example, with Apple. And you know, hopefully, we'll see Google there as well. And the reason why this is exciting for me is because it really enhances the guest experience. The technology is now at a point where the guest experience is optimal, which is great, and also because in 2010, believe it or not, Ryan, it's now 14 years ago, I was part of the team that did the world's first pilot with NFC technology at the hotel where I was managing.

Tess Mattisson (00:26:43) - So for me, it's like 14 years after we piloted this, it's actually going live in the market. And I think this is such a huge, huge shift. and it's the missing piece of the digital guest experience puzzle that we've been playing for so many years.

Ryan Haynes (00:26:58) - Awesome. Now, Tess, thank you. It's been fast. It's been furious. But it's been absolutely wonderful to catch up with you and for you to give us your insights today.

Tess Mattisson (00:27:07) - Thank you so much for having me, Ryan. And next time, let's meet up in person.

Ryan Haynes (00:27:15) - So I caught up with Simone Porto, the futurist consultant and author, to find out about the future of technology. We've got an extended interview which you can find on the podcast. But here I asked him, what are the top technologies on the horizon for the industry?

Simone Puorto (00:27:32) - Well, the first one is, of course, what I called a false search. Okay. What we are seeing and, you know, this trend already started a few years ago, but now it's getting bigger and bigger is that we're not searching for anything anymore.

Simone Puorto (00:27:47) - Right. And it's what I call the Netflix effect. if you go on Netflix, for example, or if you go on Spotify, it's very unlikely that you go and check every single show or every single movie. Right? It's more the algorithm that will show you, suggestions. And Netflix is great at doing this. for example, even changing the artwork of the show, based on your preference. So let's say you like Uma Thurman, for example. You've got Pulp Fiction but with a cover with Uma Thurman on that. Right. And there's a lot of literature about that and how this hugely increased the CTR. And, this is something we're seeing with travel as well, you know, so we're moving from travel brands obsessed with search engine optimization to travel brands that now need to understand how they can make sure they fit with this new search or post search paradigm. You probably you heard about Google testing out, travel assistance, and journeys directly into the search engine result page.

Simone Puorto (00:28:52) - So it could be that in just a couple of years when you try to search for, I don't know, we can. In Paris, you have this beautiful journey created, by in the case of Google, by Gemini, by AI. Right. And this completely changes the way we do, market our properties and even the way we do market, you know, flights and everything that is, around travelling. And, this will completely change the way, guests and travellers book travel. And, you know, he will have a huge impact. the second one is probably a generic advertisement. That's another thing that is super interesting., we're seeing this more on, on social media, Meta or TikTok. But Google, for example, is, testing now in the US only for now? a conversational advertisement, meaning that today, if you're a small hotel, for example, and you want to launch a campaign, you need to go through a web agency, right, or an advertisement agency.

Simone Puorto (00:29:57) - And, you know, for a lot of these hotels, having this middleman is this super expensive and it's not sustainable. Now, what you can do is basically you can talk directly with, an LM model. So basically you talk to Gemini's like you talk to Target and say, look, I want to make sure that I do have this campaign because I'm launching, I don't know, a New Year's Eve special offer for my hotel. make sure that you can do that and the system will write the copy will, start beating and it will basically, completely, empower even small properties or micro properties to have an amazing advertisement, and visibility to they cannot have now because of the costs involved. but if you think about it, that's super scary for a lot of people working in the industry because this will completely change, you know, advertisement. Companies as we know them now could basically disappear if that becomes the standard. Right. And the third one is more, hardware, if you will, and is for the first time, I think we're looking at a new era of devices.

Simone Puorto (00:31:07) - You know, if you think about it, since the introduction of the iPhone, nothing really changed. Okay. to a level that now there's no real innovation in phones anymore. Right? And, since 2018, we know that traffic on the web is mainly mobile-first, for some, industries, mobile only, but it's been always a mobile-centric world. Right now we're seeing a lot of new devices, and I think a lot of these devices will fail, but I think it's they're opening the street for a new era of devices. And, you may look at, I will tell you three names that I think it's worth taking a look at. And one, of course, is, the vision provided by Apple. they're clunky, they're big, they're heavy, but they are something new. In terms of devices, the second one is smart glasses. For example, I was reading Meta. Now it is implementing even AI into into meta glasses. The cool thing about it is that they're beautiful because the Ray-Ban they're not horrible.

Simone Puorto (00:32:12) - Google glasses from 2014. The third one is rabbit R1. so I don't know if you heard about this device. they're starting to ship them now. I saw an unboxing. Super interesting device, totally AI-based. No OS, no apps. And this is really changing the way we interact with the web. Because for the first week, the web is changing, but also the devices we're using are changing. So I would say that to get it down, to a short answer is voice search, generative advertisement and transitional devices.

Ryan Haynes (00:32:45) - Really interesting. Now, particularly as you point out, this whole idea of hardware and how that's going to innovate. And, when you, when you, when you also look at how, you know, emotionally led booking and buying now, is so much driven, as you say, by guest preferences or consumer preferences. And it was a conversation I was having at the ITF as well about that influence that, you know, that that actually, you know, being more sentimental or being more emotionally charged in your marketing is going to drive much more return than generic standard imagery.

Ryan Haynes (00:33:17) - and descriptions and certainly can see that around the corner. But as you say, hoteliers have so little time. We need the platforms. We need technology for them to be able to do it now. I mean, the hospitality technology, has been sort of moving at leaps and bounds over the last 15 years. but there is still a little bit of hold back from particularly maybe the larger hotelier brands, but also difficulty for the independent brands to find that investment, to really, employ some of these new technologies that have come out. What do you feel, though, are the frustrations that you have with the hospitality technology market?

Simone Puorto (00:33:56) - Well, it's always the same. It's, It's the fact that. I think a lot of these properties, would love to innovate. They cannot do it because in order to do that, they need to get their data to the root of their data. The problem with the root of their data is that usually, they are in a billion different software that act as data silos.

Simone Puorto (00:34:19) - So that's the problem, you know, and I think we will have this conversation more and more now that, pretty much every single industry is trying to integrate some level of AI. If you want to do it with hospitality, you need to integrate your PMS first thing. And this is where the problems start, because a lot of these PMS, you know, they've been built in a pre-cloud era pre API era. So it's very very difficult. We need to make sure that the basic technology and the technology where the data are is as open as possible.

Ryan Haynes (00:34:51) - So why do you feel hotels need to double down their efforts, especially over the next year or two?

Simone Puorto (00:34:57) - They need to make sure that infrastructure-wise, they're ready for the change. Like just a few years ago, you could make marketing plans for the next five years. Probably. You now need to do marketing for the next six months. That's it. Be ready to change your mind. Don't fall in love with ideas. Just be as fluid as possible.

Simone Puorto (00:35:16) - So keep your technology lean open as much as possible, and be ready to change your mind as soon as you can.

Ryan Haynes (00:35:24) - Now, some exciting news. you have just published a book.

Simone Puorto (00:35:30) - Yeah. it just came out last week. it's, I've been working on this. This is my second book. and I've been working on the book for probably three years. It's been three years of research, three years of interviews and conversations I had with amazing people like yourself. And, I think it's probably the best thing I've written. it's not just because of what I did, right? but because of all the amazing contributions that I have. I do really have some amazing people in this book. you know, probably a lot of people in the hospitality world will be familiar with Terry Jones, you know, founder of Travelocity and Kayak. and then I have, Louis Rosenberg, the first person to be able to work on a functioning AR augmented reality system. And, and then I got, Zoltan Istvan, you know, it's, it's running for president in the US with the Transhumanist Party.

Simone Puorto (00:36:30) - Some amazing person. Really. So it's, I think there's like an amazing group of people that gave some kind of vision of what the future could be. It's a it's a it's a book about travel and hospitality. And the future is more like, really some vision book. and, so I don't think it's a manual. You will not learn too much, but I try to understand where all of this is going, and that's basically what we did now in this, in this 15 minutes, basically, it's just okay. We know how to do stuff now. We all know how to do like a Facebook campaign, an Instagram campaign or a Google campaign. But what will be the landscape in five years? And that is the question that I'm trying to answer and I hope I did.

Ryan Haynes (00:37:27) - So that is it for the Hospitality Monthly Review show this month. Slightly different and you do miss out on the quick quiz. I am so sorry for that, but we will look at getting our panellists together for the next edition in June to look at e-commerce and marketing.

Ryan Haynes (00:37:40) - But in the meantime, don't forget you can check out all our other episodes on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, podcasts, or anywhere you listen to your podcasts, including our website, and Travel Market Life. Or sign up to our LinkedIn and make sure you get the latest posts for when we launch a new episode, as well as our newsletter. That way you can sign up through our website as well. Remember please, that this is, you know, all put on for you and we've not sponsored yet. So the more you can help share and really get this amongst your colleagues, your peers, and your associates, and spread this as far and wide as possible will really enable us to be able to grow and further invest in this. Thanks ever so much for listening and I hope you enjoy our upcoming summary of IHTF. In a series of interviews that we're going to be launching with some of the other delegates. Thanks again. I'm your host, Ryan Haynes. Ciao for now.

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