by Lindsay King

The future is 360'

Integrated technology platforms are making it easier for travelers to explore the world

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Integrated technology platforms are making it easier for travelers to explore the world — and it is helping especially hotels to deliver personalised and valued guest experiences

Technology has disrupted the tourism and hospitality industry in many ways. The largest working task force is the millennials — and even the baby-boomer generation have become inevitably digital-savvy. This shift is integral to enhance guest experience for any industry, but particularly in hospitality, says pioneer Barry Clemens, Regional Head: Africa & Oceanic Countries of hi Inc, a next-generation travel company that empowers people to experience all the world has to offer through an integrated technology platform.

The platform encompasses inspirational content, travel booking tools, hotel services, destination services, smart products for the hospitality sector and data intelligence. hi Inc’s handy smartphone, a free guest amenity, can be found in around 600 000 hotel rooms worldwide. The company, which has attracted more than USD300 million in funding, operates in 82 countries and seven offices in Hong Kong, Singapore, Shenzhen, London, Tokyo, Milan, Taiwan.

Explore magazine spoke to Clemens, a self-proclaimed technology nut and gadget lover, to get a better insight into this new trend which is taking the world by storm.

Can you briefly tell us a bit about yourself and your career in the hospitality industry?

I have been in the hospitality industry for over 25 years. I grew up, trained and started my career in Europe. My first job (at the age of 15) in the industry was scrubbing floors in the kitchen, after which I got promoted to washing dishes. I slowly but surely worked my way through the departments and have worked in all departments of a hotel, giving me a proper understanding of all the operations. Since these early beginnings I have grown and have come to lead large hotels and groups. I have worked with local and international governments and related organisations on the strategy of tourism growth and improvements of the related service providers. Over the last few years of my career I have focussed on strategic and operational consulting. I currently fulfil this role in a tech start-up environment in the hospitality industry. I have also been a judge for the South African Tourism Lilizela Awards for the last five years. When I was approached by hi Inc, then known as Tink Labs, it was a good opportunity to help ensure that our continent would not fall behind. I took the opportunity to grow this and help educate the industry on the importance of this.

Can you explain the next-generation travel company concept to our readers?

The value chain of a traveler effectively has four phases: dream, plan, experience and share. Guests, and or potential guests, are looking for the travelling experience. Using the various technologies, we can now create the world’s most rewarding travel and lifestyle platform, a seamless experience covering every stage of the journey, from pre-trip, in-destination to post-trip planning. We envision that this platform encompasses inspirational content, travel booking tools, hotel services, destination services, smart products for the hospitality sector and data intelligence. This can empower people to experience all the world has to offer.

How does this new way of doing business differ from the way we have arranged our trips before?

In the past, when smart devices, data analytics and predictive technologies like A.I. weren’t playing a central role to travellers when planning trips, travellers would end-up spending a lot of time to plan their trips and experienced a lot of friction even during their trips. The way we can now deliver the promise of a ‘next-generation’ travel experience is that travellers won’t need to worry about a thing once they got to a new destination. Modern and handy devices can now always guide the traveller’s way to a museum, a Safari day-tour they could simply book on the device, and hotels would also be able to personalise their needs and market the right product to guests.

The new buzz words are ‘integrated technology platforms’. Can you please explain what that means?

By integrating the platforms for our hotel partners and hotel guests, we are building an intuitive and seamless guest experience and journey for travellers during their trips, and for hotel partners to capture and maximise direct revenue with data-informed insights. An integrated platform might need a full suite of hotel and guest-facing products. Hotel guests will stay connected and will be fed with the most useful travel guides via these widely known handy devices. We are also currently working on new IoT devices that would become a centerpiece of a modern hotel room and this will that ultimately enhance in-room experience. For hotel operators we offer a comprehensive analytics-powered guest management platform (called hi Intelligence), which uses data analytics for actionable insights.

How are platforms (open sales and distribution systems) and the API (application programming interface) driving the next phase of growth in the travel industry and how are these platforms helping travel companies sell more than they could by selling on their own?

Open communication between systems allows for niche services to integrate with other core services of a hotel or service provider. It can also enhance the services offered. This allows third parties to provide quality specialised services directly and on one easy platform. It’s all about convenience. Through integrating a fully comprehensive service, either by one company, or a host of them (in one place), the end user will be more inclined to finalise a transaction as this is convenient. Converting clients quickly through a simple process means more business can be done. The use of the right technology can definitely also mean comprehensive cost savings, which can in return be used for further growth.

How can business travelers benefit from new technology systems when traveling?

With platforms like hi Intelligence one of the key features are that hotels will be able to gather a 360° view of guest behavior, which is the only way to capture loyalty and engagement with the frequently travelled and often hard to satisfy business traveller. These platforms will be able to extract guest data from their hotel Property Management System (PMS) and build a real-time guest profile to be shared across multiple properties. analysing guests’ historical spend, stay behavior and social attributes, these platforms can help hoteliers to enhance their guest experience, employ targeted pricing and optimise spend.

How well is this trend being received in the world?

There is still a ‘fear’ to embrace technology in the industry in general. In a Deloitte survey done in 2015 it shows that the hospitality trade is investing less as a percentage of revenue in technology over the years. Now, four years fast-forward, those in the industry who fail to evolve are also the ones the worst hit. We are seeing more hotel groups combine and OTA’s being dominant in the market.

Which countries are taking the lead?

Interestingly enough, emerging countries are more open to new technologies than first world countries, which need more convincing, as they believe they are already providing top class services. At the same time, though, first world countries better understand the need, but are more conservative in their approach.

Looking at embracing technology in travel, where does SA slot in and how advanced are we on a global scale?

South Africa sits somewhere in the middle. Through the demands of the traveler we are being forced to improve what we have and where we present ourselves. In general, the industry is quite conservative though and I believe that we can still do a lot more.

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