Digitalisation is increasingly seen as a key solution to many of the issues experienced in the hotel sector. From tackling staff shortages and dealing with inflation, to garnering more direct bookings and securing deeper relationships with guests, digital solutions have a silver bullet potential for the sector. But what types of digital solutions are hotels focusing on, and what cultural shifts are needed within hotels for digitalisation to flourish?

“Hospitality is a little bit behind the curve in the adoption [of technology]… We come with baggage as an industry,” says Paolo Dona, Chief Information Officer (CIO) of Staycity Group. There’s a certain way things have always been done, and digitalising aspects of hotel operations and processes can seem daunting to many.

Yet it is no secret that the hotel sector has been struggling in recent years. Hundreds of thousands of workers left the sector during the pandemic shutdowns and the majority have not returned. In Europe, according to an analysis by the World Travel and Tourism Council, around one in five positions is currently vacant.

Staff shortages, recession and inflation are all a stark reality for many hotels. “We’re hearing of hotels who can’t fill their bedrooms because they can’t find the staff to clean them,” said Calum McIndoe, Director of Sales UK and Ireland, Infor Hospitality Solutions. “Restaurants shutting for the winter season because they can’t afford to heat the place with the gas prices being so high.” Hotels are looking towards technology and digital solutions to help solve these problems and more.

Although digital solutions can resolve a number of problems for hotels – and help them run more efficiently – there is a significant cultural element that needs to be addressed to ensure they are successful. “Technology is one thing, but if it’s not implemented properly, if it’s not embedded in the culture or the training isn’t good enough, tools can easily be forgotten about,” said Suzie Thompson, VP Commercial at The Red Carnation Hotel Collection.

Done right, however, and digitalisation can leave more space for hospitality staff to ensure guests experience the human touch during their stay, which is vitally important in this industry. Automated processes can also liberate staff and make hotels more attractive to work in, which could eventually help with the recruitment crisis.

So what are some of the key areas hotels are looking towards when it comes to digitalisation? And how can culture and cultural change be factored in to ensure technology in hotels brings success in reality?



Increasing efficiency

A key way that digitalisation is helping hotels is through improving efficiency. Budgeting and marketing tools, forecasting systems, and financial systems for real time budgeting are all crucial to hotels in the current age. These systems enable hotels to account for every minute of financial spend across a whole estate or portfolio, and forecast and reforecast as often as necessary.

These aren’t necessarily things that are seen by hotel guests, but it means hotels can be more certain of the viability of their approach. Last year, Radisson Hotel Group implemented IDeaS RevPlan, a budgeting and forecasting solution, across 147 hotels in its EMEA- region portfolio. “RevPlan has freed up almost one day a week of revenue managers’ time,” said Gianni Di Fede, senior VP revenue management, BI and distribution, EMEA, Radisson Hotel Group. “This gives us more time for strategy, and more time for strategy means more profitability.”


Enhancing the guest experience

Although efficiency is a key driver for many hotels to digitalise aspects of their service in the current climate, technology can also improve the guest experience. Digital check in is one key area of this.

“Our main focus was to put in a lot of staff-less check-in environments, as well as digital dining across the portfolio,” said Vibhu Gaind, CIO of RBH Management, a leading UK hotel management company with a portfolio of more than 45 hotels that includes the branded properties Hilton Hotels and Marriott International. “We identified staff-less check-ins as the key to overcoming operational challenges, especially with the staffing bottleneck we have. We can do more with the staff we have,” he said.

Accor has also implemented digital check ins. “We call it the ‘self check in journey’,” explained Roger Tabbal, VP Global Guest Technology and Innovation at Accor. “It’s mixed between online check in and property assisted check in. The guests are very happy using it.”


System efficiencies

With so much data, hotels need to ensure it is recorded correctly to get value from this information. When systems are not connected it is left to staff to input that data which can lead to mistakes – which is why Louvre Hotels implemented Robotic Process Automation (RPA).

“Data entry means a lot of time, and a lot of human mistakes,” said Mehdi Soua, CIO, Louvre Hotels Group. “We were looking for a solution to avoid these mistakes, to avoid this repetitive task and also to improve our time to market.” This has been particularly important for the group, which is managed centrally, to ensure all the room types and rates are accurate for effective distribution. “With the robot, it’s a few hours. The robot doesn’t sleep, doesn’t make mistakes, and it goes very fast.” For Soua, RPA replaces the need to invest in system integrations which take time and are expensive. It brings efficiencies to the team which will be deployed across departments including Finance and HR.


Staff retention

Given the issues with recruiting at the moment, hotels are also viewing the adoption of technology as a way to retain the members of staff already in place. Falkensteiner introduced RPA across all its hotels.

“It’s more about supporting humans and using our manpower in the right way,” said Sabrina Regner, Falkensteiner’s Director of Guests Engagement and Reservation Management. “It’s also about making it attractive for employees to work with us. If they need to do repetitive daily tasks, they won’t stay long. They need challenging and interesting tasks.”


Staff recruitment

Although there are also wider issues at play, such as staff who do not want to return to the hospitality sector after being laid off during the pandemic, recruiting staff for many hotels involves a lot of time consuming manual aspects.

George Gaag, Manager of myNext, says one of their biggest challenges is hiring staff due to the seasonal nature of operations in Austria. “All properties open on the same day and we have to find receptionists and other staff for all properties. What really helps us is using an applicant tracking system. I highly recommend it for all hotels or hostels as it helps us to streamline the hiring and application process,” he said.


Direct bookings

A significant trend is that hotels are seeking direct bookings from customers, while distancing themselves from online travel agents (OTAs). Paolo Dona explained this trend: “We’ve been heavily reliant on OTAs and they’ve allowed the business to grow. But we’re trying to get a more direct relationship with guests, especially loyal customers,” he said. “There’s no point paying commissions over and over, and we can better serve customers by getting control of the conversation and personalising the experience. To attract more direct business, we’ve had to tackle price disparities, build a great website and introduce access to loyalty schemes and better deals.”

Hotels are seeing significant success with this strategy. Some of the latest figures from Journey Hospitality, which runs the onejourney® platform for this purpose, shows that an ecommerce experience has increased direct revenue for hotels by 40%.


Untapped revenue

Hotels who have not historically made the most of additional revenue streams such as through a spa or F&B are looking towards these areas to maximise revenue across the customer journey. “I call it ‘clean’ revenue, because we don’t have any third parties in between us and our guests,” said Alexandre Pereira, Head of Commercial Strategy at Real Hotels Group. “So this is an excellent opportunity for us to increase profitability and also fulfil a full guest experience.”

Research from Oracle and Skift shows hoteliers strongly agree that non-room revenue will become an increasing share of overall revenue (49% in 2022 versus 23.2% in 2021). Almost one in five now expects to generate more than half their revenue from ancillary sources (up from 11% in 2021).


Digitalisation of the customer journey

Understanding customers in some depth has been key to many aspects of hotels’ efforts to benefit from other aspects of digitalisation. As such, using technology to understand customers is central to the digitalisation plans of many in the hotel sector. For example, Staycity has created a customer data platform with a 360-degree view of customers. From there, the marketing team works out the right messages to send them. And the adoption of a revenue management system by Real Hotels Group is enabling them to get closer to their customers, while freeing up the time of revenue managers to be more strategic. There has also been a drive to make more colleagues at Real Hotels Group literate in interpreting and using customer analytics in their day to day work.


Staff training

Ensuring staff are fully trained in all aspects of their roles is a persistent struggle in the hotel sector, exacerbated by typically high turnover in the industry. Digitalising staff training can totally change this, and this is something myNext has also jumped on board with. The company’s highly technological approach extends to training staff and supporting their day-to-day operations. Although new employees only receive a day’s instruction, this is supplemented by a learning management system (LMS).

“They have to be ready to check in guests and collect money,” said George Gaag. “So before the training day, we send a link to our LMS and they get access to a demo environment of our PMS and can play around with reservations.” Staff can consult the knowledge management system (KMS) any time they like, finding information as broad as how to use systems, to dealing with difficult guests.



Finding the right technologies and digital approaches that suit the particular circumstances of different hotels is the first piece of the puzzle. But ensuring hotels are able to change and adapt their culture to harness the power of digital is equally important. So what cultural aspects do hoteliers need to consider when it comes to digitalisation?


Be transparent

Staff are more likely to be sold on the benefits of digitalisation if they are involved. Enabling a “culture where trying things out is allowed” is a good start, according to Paolo Dona from Staycity. Then “let the data tell you how the results are.” Showing other departments across the business what the gains are by trying different digital approaches helps to nurture the right culture for adoption. Ultimately, it helps hotels become more data driven and gain buy-in for digitalisation.



As well as transparently sharing results about digitalisation, staff should also feed into the technology hotels develop and eventually adopt. “You can’t do it without your people,” said Liutauras Vaitkevicius, Managing Director of Zetter Hotels. Sharing knowledge, listening to needs, and pooling expertise all makes a tangible difference. Automation has the power to revolutionise the day-to-day existence of operational staff in particular, so listening to their needs and prioritising making their lives easier can have a profound knock-on effect on the culture and attitude towards digitalisation.


Let staff shine

A huge benefit of technology is to allow staff to ramp up the human aspect of the hotel sector. In some of its properties, Future Hotels now has roaming staff with iPads for check-ins and other interactions. “It’s quite a big cultural shift for the group to move from traditional reception desks towards an open lobby, which becomes more of a hub, or a mingling area for guests to interact in a more casual manner,” said Sotiris Kopatsaris, CEO and founder of Future Hotels. “But my view is you don’t lose much, but you gain a lot by giving more meaningful service.”


Gain buy-in from the top

Similar to collaboration and transparency with staff is involving board members in the digitalisation process too. This is how Best Western approached their digitalisation strategy. “The main success we’ve had with the board is taking them on the journey with us,” explained Chris Bowling, Head of Digital Marketing and E-Commerce at Best Western Hotels. “Informing them at the early stages about what we’re going to investigate…before coming out with a full paper and asking for their agreement. Taking them on the journey with us has been the biggest change for us, and where we’ve seen the biggest success.”