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Hoteliers Struggle to Keep Up with Tech

Hoteliers Struggle to Keep Up with Tech
By David W. Myers | Los Angeles
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Noble’s private-equity funds have invested more than $2 billion in hotels that include Hyatt, Hilton, Starwood and Marriott.
(Save the date: RealShare L.A.comes to the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Los Angeles, CA on March 27, 2013)

LOS ANGELES-Hotel owners and operators are lagging when it comes to making their services more “computer-friendly,” experts at the annual Americas Lodging Investment Summit say, and those who fail to bring their systems up-to-date will rapidly lose business as travelers increasingly use their cell phones and other hand-held devices to make reservations or even order a meal delivered to their room.

“Our property-management systems, as an industry, are very archaic,” says Mit Shah, CEO of Atlanta-based Noble Investment Group. Noble’s private-equity funds have invested more than $2 billion in hotels that include Hyatt, Hilton, Starwood and Marriott.

Shah, who also serves on Marriott’s franchising board, bluntly admitted that Marriott International has “perhaps the most archaic system because it was created the longest time ago.”

Marriott was a pioneer in integrating computers into its reservation and in-house management systems years ago, Shah says, but now the company and competing hoteliers must catch-up with trends that find consumers more willing to make a reservation or even order a room-service meal over the internet or by using an iPhone or other hand-held device.

Accomplishing the task won’t be easy, Shah says, in part because such technological improvements must usually be funded by the hotel’s individual owner or operator.

“But if you don’t do it, those customers are going to continue to be dissatisfied, much like they’re dissatisfied if they can’t stream [internet feeds] into their rooms or have to pay extra for it,” he says. “It’s something as an industry that we have to deal with quickly, but the brands are going to have a very difficult time to push this forward.”

Changes in computer-related technology have been a prime topic here, the second day of the three-day investment conference.

Yet, while most major hoteliers are working to upgrade the computer accessibility for their customers, a small but growing number are actually trying to “disconnect” them.

The Westin Dublin Hotel in Ireland, notes researchers at consultant and tourism promoter Wellness Tourism Worldwide, began offering a “digital-detox” vacation plan last year that requires guests to surrender their cell phones and laptop computers at the check-in counter. And here in the U.S., the boutique Hotel Monaco in Chicago offers a “black-out” option that allows visitors to do the same.

In a report released near the start of ALIS, Wellness Tourism cited the tech-no movement as one of the “Top Ten Trends” to watch in the hospitality business this year. It’s growing particularly fast in rustic areas, where guests would rather commune which nature than communicate on a cell phone, the group says.

Check back with for more coverage from the ALIS event.

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