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Operational Excellence in Hospitality a view from BWH Hotels

Updated: Nov 29, 2023

Jeroen Van Gils, Development Director – Europe from, BWH Hotels talks to us about Operational Excellence in hotels and how technology is playing an increasing role in improving processes for staff as well as for guests. In this episode, as part of our Media Partnership with ACE Hotel Tech Summit 2023, we dive into the key aspects for hoteliers to consider.

During our conversation, we cover:

  • The role of technology in operations

  • How to get the most out of staff and retain talent

  • Why certain systems are mandated

  • Quick wins for the team and for guests

  • Longer term tech investments

BWH Hotels is a leading, global hospitality enterprise comprised of three hotel companies, including WorldHotels™, Best Western® Hotels & Resorts and SureStay® Hotels with around 4,300 hotels territories worldwide and 19 brands across every chain segment, from economy to luxury. https://www.bwh.com/


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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 back. To Travel Market Life. I'm your host, Ryan Haynes. And in today's episode, we are going to be looking at Operational Excellence in Hospitality with Jerome Van Gils Development Director Europe of BWH Hotels. This is as part of the ACE Hotel Tech Summit in September 2023 where Jerome will be a presenter. BWH Hotels is a leading global hospitality enterprise comprised of three hotel companies, including World Hotels, Best Western Hotels and Resorts, and SureStay Hotels with around 4,300 Hotels worldwide and 19 brands across every chain segment from economy to luxury. in our conversation today, we are going to be covering the role of technology, how Hospitality is a people business and getting the most out of staff, how to make more time for guests and those quick wins for the team, and longer-term considerations for technology.


Ryan Haynes:

On the line now is Jerome Van Gils. Jerome, thank you ever so much for joining us. Now, you are going to be talking at the Aho Tech Summit about Operational Excellence in Hospitality, and obviously, the central theme here is going to be around technology. So, what's the role of technology in operations today?


Jeroen Van Gils:

Good morning, Ryan. Thank you so much for having me on your, on your podcast. Actually, it's my first podcast, so I'm very excited. Now, regarding the role of technology, I think technology is getting more and more important these days. Of course, of course, hotels are using technology to manage inventory, to do bookings, to do reservations, but I think these days technology is getting more important in refuse as well and also in yield management because if you don't have the right information regarding your guests, regarding their booking data, et cetera, you are not able to do any good forecasting. Revenue management is not making any yields, or productions in the future. So, I think that that's really, really important and especially knowing your clients makes it much easier for operations to manage clients like they are expecting to be managed.


Jeroen Van Gils:

So, in this case, technology is actually key. And what I think that is really important as well regarding these days’ technology is that it must be simple technology, simple to use. So, we see, for example, such huge reporting and data coming in that nobody's ever able to do something with it. So, make sure, I think when you implement technology or more technology in your company, make sure it's, it's reasonable technology that is easy to use and readable for the majority of your, of your staff.


Ryan Haynes:

I mean, you know, when it comes to technology, it covers so many different aspects, especially within operations and there are so many different departments that you need to consider how those technologies talk to each other. When it comes to sort of deciding and identifying those technology platforms and systems that you require, how do you approach it at BWH? Is it a matter that you need to approach it by territory or is it by brand or are you looking at it by property level to identify actually what's going to work best within that environment?


Jeroen Van Gils:

I think one of the most important things is that the technology is compatible, with your PMS system because, in the end, the PMS system of a hotel is key. If you cannot interface anything with your PMS, it doesn't make sense because then you have several systems in your hotel that are not speaking to each other. So, I think one of the core things if Hotels are having a new PMS system involved is checking, is it only PMS or are there as possible in this PMS? And we do the same with our CRS, actually, we own our own CRS system with BWH, which makes us very unique but also sometimes very complex because we are adding more and more p m S systems to our CRS, but we cannot add every p m s so far, although via channel manager of score, but this will be very, very detailed, but on hotel level, our hoteliers are in the lucky position to make their own investments, but also their own choices based on, based on technology.


Jeroen Van Gils:

Although of course, we are trying to stream and steer them to the right products because with the number of hotels you just mentioned above 4,300 at the moment, we have some good examples of hoteliers that are using specific technology that works very well. And we know that in hotel in Frankfurt is quite similar maybe to a hotel in London. So why not use the same technology for their guests instead of finding a new product and discovering, and benchmarking several products if we are able to, to steer them? But I think, well, what's really nice for, for me to work with the chain I'm working right now is that the hotel and y and the owners are able, are able to make their own decision and we're not forcing them to use 1, 2, 3 kinds of systems.


Ryan Haynes:

I was going to say then, you know, particularly, you know, since a lot of the owners own their own properties, you know, how do you get around or you know, how do you look at mandating technology? I mean obviously not specific systems, but actually the use of technology because although it hasn't been a people business and Hospitality is very much requiring that personal service in, in many circumstances, especially the upper tier segment of the Hotels, there is the necessity for technology. Digitalisation is here, we even see it in our day-to-day payments, but within the operations itself are you having to mandate that properties actually have a certain level of systems and tech infrastructure in place?


Jeroen Van Gils:

The only system actually that we are forcing the hotel A to use is Medallia. Medallia is our, is in guest satisfaction review program. That is also because we are targeting our Hotels on Medallia to see how they are performing comparable to other Hotels that our concept but also comparable to their own hotel last year in the previous years because we need some system that has data to see how the guest satisfaction is going up or down with hotels. And the good thing about Medallia in our opinion is that it makes life easier for hotels as well because it's, it's a platform and there are similar platforms or, so I'm not pitching specific for Medallia, but as a company, we're using Medallia.


Jeroen Van Gils:

But the good thing about a tool like Medallia is that the reviews are hopefully able to be reviewed via one platform for all their Expedia, the booking, the Google reviews, et cetera, et cetera. So, they have a good overview of all reviews coming in, all streamlined and make good reporting to see if they have to improve their housekeeping, the front office, their breakfast, et cetera, et cetera. So actually, that is one of the few systems that we are forcing Hotels to work with. And the other system is of course that they have to be connected to our CRSs system because otherwise we cannot deliver on any business. And that is really for, for a lot of next to the loyalty program, one of the, the main decisions to join our brand and to get the GDSB links and the corporate bookings and the lecture bookings in,


Ryan Haynes:

I mean, technology is not just about making, and helping operations work better, you are also there to support your staff and retain that talent. And obviously at the moment, especially in Hospitality, we need to be attracting much more talent as well to the sector. What is really important do you feel at this moment in time that hoteliers and the industry need to be focusing on to get the most out of their teams?


Jeroen Van Gils:

I think really the most important thing is that the employees are doing what they're good at. So, if you are hiring employees, the chance that you are hired by a Douglas employee with 10 years’ experience in several seven other hotels is most likely you will get a new one on board that didn't have any clue about how a hotel is working but maybe has the attitude to entertain guests to make sure that guests are feeling at home. And we think technology-wise it's more important that it's quite easy for them to make a reservation, quite easy for them to produce a room key, but they don't have to go to the task list of 17, 18, 19 questions before they're able to check in a guest. It must be more about making, and feeding the guests at home, making good interaction with the guests and that they are doing what they like to do because nobody who wants to work in a hotel is there to do a lot of administration.


Jeroen Van Gils:

A front office employee thinks when he goes into his job, he wants to interact with guests. That is something he likes, that is something he's good at. And I think that's the role of the management team as well in the Hotels to make sure that every employee is in the right place in the hotel. So, if you have an outgoing person, make sure he's shining in the front office, in your lobby in your restaurant, in your breakfast, and don't put him away in the back office to fill in several forms to make sure that all the credit card statements are correct, for example, because that is something technology must take over in your day-to-day operations.


Ryan Haynes:

I mean, well I say it, it's the moment of being able to identify where that person fits best in order to get the most out of them. But then it's also about getting that time for guests. Where are you starting to help Hotels find that time in order to provide that more personalized and interactive service to their guests?


Jeroen Van Gils:

Now what I think is really important is that like, like you mentioned, it must be personal. So, for example, I'm staying quite often in a hotel in Frankfurt as we have from our office over there, And I always use the online check-in and it works quite smoothly. I can do the online on my mobile, I've got my room key on my mobile, so I don't have to see anybody at the front desk. And I'm not willing to see anybody at the front desk because most of the time I'm in a rush, I want to go from the airport to the hotel back to the office. So, I don't have the time for the 12, 13, 14 questions. But when I'm going leisure to the beach with my girlfriend, for example, I want to have the full experience. I want to know everything about wellness, about the breakfast time, about the good restaurants, et cetera, et cetera.


Jeroen Van Gils:

So I think what's really, really important is that the front office employee, but also the people in the restaurant et cetera, have the knowledge about who is the guests that are speaking to and what are their needs so that you can really say, okay, for this guest I have only 32nd needs and the other guest may be a grandmother who celebrates her 80 years birthday and go for the second time on-site inspection. She wants to have the full hour, maybe an hour and a half with, with coffee, with everything to, to feel at home. So, I think that's really important as well. And there is a lot of Hospitality training for that as well that is provided to make sure that you are delivered at the right time for the right guests instead of doing the full multi for everybody instead of the people that don't are looking for that.


Jeroen Van Gils:

So, I really believe that technology like online check-in, but also like an online checkout can be extremely time-saving for the front office employee and to make sure that they have the time for the people that are not willing to use those kinds of services without having more and more people on, on your front desk. But what's really important in this I think as well is that if you use this technology, it must be good technology because nothing gives more complaints to a hotel. If technology is not working, I'm really pissed as well when I'm going to the fourth floor with the stairs and my room key is not working because somebody didn't push the right button or maybe the system is broken, et cetera, et cetera. So, in that case, please give me a normal key so that I know for sure that it's working.


Jeroen Van Gils:

If your technology is not up to date and not working like it's supposed to be,


Ryan Haynes:

How do you work with vendors to ensure that they are providing you a service and a system that is, you know, continually working and doesn't have the downtime or maybe the friction within the guest experience and really drive them to deliver that, that experience that you need to for your brands?


Jeroen Van Gils:

And that that's, that's quite tricky of course because everything, everybody is selling you the, the, the Golden Mountains, I'm not sure if that's in English as well, but everybody is telling that they have the best product ever. But I think we are in the lucky position that all our hotels are independent and all our hotels do have the need to make a good product for their clients and they're also willing to share, refuse with each other because when somebody is staying in a Best Western hotel in Paris and he wants to go to a Best Western hotel in, in, in Barcelona for example, they want to have the same experience. So, our hotel EAs want to make sure that the other Hotels are on the same level as well. So, during conventions, during online meetings, Hotels are really willing to share best practices in their hotel, but also are willing to share, okay, we did an investment in our hotel, but it didn't work out like we were supposed to do.


Jeroen Van Gils:

So if you are looking for new room keys, if you're looking for new sheets, if you're looking for a new PMS system, please make sure you consider this and this and that. So that is really, I think as we actually tell that it's part of the family that we are sharing good practices with each other to make sure that it's workable for everybody and it's in the end workable for the brands. So, to get satisfaction and good for everybody.


Ryan Haynes:

There's so much technology coming onto the market, you know, addressing all different types of issues or problems and frictions within the guest experience, but also for team and staff management. Where do you see the actual quick wins right now for hotels where they can really drive that Operational Excellence with systems that are quick and easy to,


Jeroen Van Gils:

I really believe myself in QR codes, And I know during the COVID period a lot of hotels and a lot of hospitality-related companies went into QR codes. But now as the moment we see QR codes combined with training, because it's not only adding QR codes on your table and receiving at your bar the request for several drinks, but you are also able to upsell with QR codes and to make sure if you don't get rid of your stuff to make sure that the stuff is adding additional services to it. So, it's actually in my opinion more like, like the McDonald's example. For example, McDonald's is now having all those big boards when you're entering where you have tick boxes and adding drinks and food on it.


Jeroen Van Gils:

I think five years ago nobody was expecting that because you had to go to the counter, and you had to get your burger directly with you. The good thing regarding debt is that McDonald's is increasing its revenue with points and points and points because of the additional services coming up, there's popping up the one F and extra code, do you want to have your fries large or medium blah blah blah. But also, the expectation is, is much, much better and you are able to do things tailor-made and if you don't, you are for sure that there are no mistakes in it. And I think for example, if hotels on a five-star level are putting their room service menu with a QR code, they're able to adjust to change menus on a weekly, monthly, or hourly basis.


Jeroen Van Gils:

But they also are still able to do the call after the order from the client to the hotel room. We thank you so much for your order, really appreciate it. We will create your rum steak, blah, blah blah, and it'll be there in 15 minutes, please give me a call if you need something else. So, you can still make it really tailor-made instead of only receiving the offer via QR codes, but you're able to do the phone call after three minutes or after four minutes. So, it's up to you when you do have the time for it. So, and Operational wise you have way more time, way more flexibility to do it. So, I really think that it's a quick win next to the, the self-check-in self-checkout, like already mentioned, but also a, a tool like the guest satisfaction tool is a huge time saving for hotels because they don't have to go to every website, every review website to fill in their response.


Jeroen Van Gils:

They can do it way more easily from one platform and have really good reporting and also see how the guest is experiencing the experience of the surface that the hotel is offering with, for example, the QR code or the online check-in. So, I really believe those are the quick wins, easy to adapt and of course, they all cost money but not extremely a lot.


Ryan Haynes:

From quick wins to longer term considerations. In Denver owner, obviously, we are looking at the role that artificial intelligence is going to play in augmented reality, but also how holograms might start to make more of an appearance within the Hospitality sector. What would you sort of look at within your longer-term strategy?


Jeroen Van Gils:

Of course, we do, and we are looking at that from a brand's perspective as well because we do have the traditional brands where guests do have other expectations than, for example, one of the brands that we have with Aiden Hotels, we have several Aiden Hotels with is a lifestyle Boutique brand in Scandinavia. And what's really a nice thing actually in those Hotels is that I believe five or six Hotels working together with a hologram for a check-in and a front office employee. So, if you're going to the hotel, there is a big screen you can stand in front of it, you can touch the button and easy questions of people will come in for your id, you will see the hologram and they have the questions about the breakfast and the standard questions about which time is the gym open, et cetera, et cetera.


Jeroen Van Gils:

But if you have a specific question that is not on the tick box with a five or six regular question, somebody from a studio somewhere in the country comes up after 30 seconds, maybe one minute, and you have a real face-to-face interaction with a human. So, you will see a human in front of you wearing his Aiden shirt greeting you, he's seeing your fire camera as well. So, you have a really good connection and interaction with this guest of, with this, with this employee. And he's able to, to help you make your, your, your customer journey actually in, in this. And the good thing about technology as well that this guy is also able, this girl also able to work for 2, 3, and 4 other hotels at the same time.


Jeroen Van Gils:

So, he is just standing there in the studio. I believe that three studios, four, five or six Hotels. So, in the nighttime maybe there's one person, but in, in, in daytime, maybe two or three. But it's so easy for them to adapt especially with specific brands like Aiden, where more younger people are coming. I believe the average age is around 30 beginning thirties. So, people are willing to use this investment as well because when I'm sending my parents to a hotel for a leisure trip, they absolutely, they don't understand anything when there's a hologram coming in. So, I think that that's really important as well when, when you do things like this you have to make sure that you pick the right brands and the right audience for that.


Ryan Haynes:

Wonderful. Jerome, thank you ever so much for that pretty much whistle-stop store around sort of Operational Excellence in Hospitality and utilization of technology obviously. I look forward to actually meeting you in person and having a much deeper conversation about this at the ACE Hotel Tech Summit in September.


Jeroen Van Gils:

Thank you so much, Ryan, it was a pleasure. Thank you for having me and looking forward to meeting you in London.


Ryan Haynes:

So that was Jerome Van Gils Development Director Europe for BWH Hotels as part of the ACE Hotel Tech Summit series. Please check out more of our episodes on Travel Market Life or just head to any of your podcast channels where you'll be able to find our latest series, including Hotel Partner and season three of Hoteliers Voice, where we hear from senior hotel directors about some of their implementations of new technologies, processes and strategies across their portfolio. I'm your host, Ryan Haynes. Thanks for listening. Ciao for now.

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