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Exclusive interview: How to empower hospitality’s future leaders with modern tech skills and innovation

Sebastien Leitner

By Sebastien Leitner

The lodging industry has long been a laggard when it comes to adopting new technology. But the COVID-19 pandemic pushed hoteliers to adapt in new ways—with many turning to technology to solve new operating challenges. Today, hoteliers at the property level and above are relying on software and applications to do their jobs more efficiently and provide an improved guest experience.

A drawback? New technology almost always requires new learning and training. Many of today’s line-level employees are returning from more than a year off the job or are new entrants into hospitality entirely. 

A key approach to solving this technology skills gap is by partnering with hospitality schools and universities to provide access to real-world applications, knowledge bases, and educational materials to help upskill students in modern software. Through our Cloudbeds Horizon program, we’ve partnered with schools around the world to do just that. 

One partner in the program is John Niser, Director, International School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, at Fairleigh Dickinson University. I recently spoke with John to get his take on why truly understanding how technology works is essential to the future of lodging operations. We discussed the benefits of getting real-world tools in the hands of students, how tech can help operators focus on improving the guest experience, and more.

Q: In the grand scheme of all the things you need to know about hotels, how important is understanding hotel operating technology to the education process?

Niser: Everything has changed, yet nothing has changed. When engineers first started building skyscrapers, hoteliers understood they could pile bathrooms on top of each other. That meant they could offer a bathroom for every guestroom. It’s an example of lateral thinking—taking two different things, the cost of construction and engineering, and clicking them together.

That’s exactly what we need to teach students, this idea of lateral thinking. At the same time, they need to have the breadth of mind and curiosity to understand what’s happening in the tech world in addition to taking care of guests. I don’t think people appropriate tools or knowledge today in the same way they did 10 years ago. So, how do educators help them understand the power of tech? They have to understand the guest journey, from the reservation through to the on-property experience. Instead of teaching them how to check in a guest or Introduction to Hospitality, we teach students about personas. Put yourself in the shoes of that persona. What’s your expectation? By turning the problem around like that, you start understanding what the PMS is doing for you as a task. Technology does a job. If you don’t understand the job it’s doing, you’re just rote learning.

Q: How do students benefit when they have access to real-world systems and tools?

Niser: You may ask: Are we just teaching them how to push buttons? I would respond: How did you learn to ride a bike? You had to get on the bike. Yes, we are making them push buttons—but that’s part of what you have to do to ride a bike. You have to go and do it. The next step is to create simulation environments with the software because there is real benefit in letting students play in the sandbox.

From the tech perspective, there’s a really interesting side effect of getting students to comment on the technology. This is the generation of people who are going to be booking hotels. They can really contribute to things like, ‘what if you put that button over there?’ They’re going to come up with new ideas, and some of them may be user-focused that the people designing this tech might not be thinking about.

No one else has really invested the time like Cloudbeds to provide the real-world tools to students to get them started on learning the tech right out of the gate.

Q: What areas of hotel technology can be improved so that hoteliers can focus less on how to operate systems and more on improving the guest experience?

Niser: It’s about getting back to the basics. The biggest thing happening right now is with staff shortage. Hoteliers have learned to live with much less payroll. So, the next big challenge is, what’s left? Amenities and services start being cut. I went to a hotel a few weeks ago, and it was a dreadful experience. The room was bare, and the amenities were scarce and lackluster. There were maybe two front-desk associates total, so guests had to wait in line for 25 minutes. And it was $500 a night.

There’s obviously a problem here, so how can tech help solve it? It’s about understanding what type of interaction the customer really needs. Do they need more concierge service? Because not everyone is completely confident with things like Yelp. You have to ask yourself: Where are we going to put the real people, and where are we going to use tech to automate? You have to balance the two.

However, we have to manage it from a guest perspective. Guests don’t want to have an app for every hotel they’re going to. Just as the tech needs to be seamless for your operations, it also needs to be seamless for the guest experience. Whatever software you’re using needs to be intuitive, easy to use, and consistent for both employees and guests.

Q: How has the hotel industry adapted to a changing world, and how can tech help hoteliers innovate moving forward?

Hotels used to be owned by individuals or small groups, but now they’re really a Wall Street investment. Their language is different. So we’ve had to adapt our KPIs to theirs. That means, from a very basic operational level, you have to rethink how you’re collecting and reporting these indicators, so that everyone understands—from the front desk to the CEO—and everyone’s talking the same language. Right now that’s not the case. People are looking at different variables at different levels and that may not be the best way of operating.

How can tech actually reduce the cost of acquisition? That means at the transactional level—payments, virtual credit cards, and foreign exchange. Every transaction costs money. That cost of the transaction at all levels is in the cost of acquisition. That’s really money left on the table, and disruptors will always find their way in. For instance, OTAs are taking 25% because basically they’ve found a way to do your job better. New tech has to help hoteliers do their jobs better and drive their profitability at the same time.

Empower Hospitality’s Future Leaders through Cloudbeds Horizon

It’s time to empower hospitality’s future leaders with modern technology skills and innovation. Cloudbeds Horizon provides hands-on learning to educate students on the world’s fastest-growing hospitality management platform. Schools can customize the Cloudbeds Hospitality Platform to accommodate their curriculum, complete with specific exercises and activities designed for their class. Cloudbeds also provides educators with special access to the latest product updates and features to share with students.

Through the partnership, schools will also have access to Cloudbeds University for an enhanced learning experience where students can access a free online learning portal with hundreds of on-demand courses, training videos, industry best practice guides, and standard operating procedures for managing a successful hotel business. Thought leadership and industry-leading research also provide students with valuable insights and business acumen. They’ll also get world-class support through our onboarding service that ensures the platform is ready for students on their first day in class. Additionally, our 24/7 email support allows educators to reach out anytime for help or troubleshooting.

Finally, students will be introduced to internship opportunities and career paths with Cloudbeds as a partner in the school’s career fairs and recruitment events.

Let’s talk! Learn more about how your hospitality school can partner with Cloudbeds Horizon.

Published on 09 May, 2022
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About Sebastien Leitner

Sebastien Leitner

Sébastien Leitner, Vice President of Partnerships at Cloudbeds, heads up global partnerships and industry relations. Sébastien’s team partners with solution providers, guest experience and engagement tools, distribution partners, and new technologies that enhance the guest stay. His team also oversees Cloudbeds public relations with industry partners and associations. Prior to Cloudbeds, Sébastien worked at Expedia in various roles managing lodging connectivity for independent and chain hotels as well as vacation rentals. 
Sébastien has been a board member of HEDNA since January 2014, and is currently serving as president of the association. Based in Montreal, Canada, he is fluent in English, German, and French. 

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