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Binu Mathews: Contactless solutions will be the norm and not a differentiator any more

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IDS Next is a global hotel technology solutions provider with decades of domain expertise. Being pioneers in hotel ERP architecture, its USP lies in creating solutions that help hotels increase revenues, optimise costs and above all provide enhanced guest experience. As the CEO, Binu Mathews aims to drive IDS Next towards achieving the ultimate goal – to become the global leader and most preferred hospitality technology vendor globally. In an exclusive interview with Express Food & Hospitality, he speaks about tech enabling the post Covid-19 hospitality sector and why the culture and expectations of guests in this part of the world, drives technology adoption in our hotels

A tech enabled hospitality industry in the post Covid 19 era. Your insights?

Technology plays a huge role in the hospitality industry. Most of the time the role of technology is not visible to our guests. Rate management is a very technology driven algorithm that improves ARR for hotels. Marketing of experiences which is another extremely technology driven area includes packages and activities that are personalised. Rewarding loyalty and capturing return guests directly through programmes completely depend on technology.

I can see technology adoption jumping manifold post Covid-19. One area would be contactless solutions throughout the guest journey. Another would be on the revenue side that includes AI based personalisation.

How soon will the industry take to recover?

The hospitality industry is closely related to the travel industry. That being so, it is extremely difficult to predict a date for the recovery of the hospitality industry as we are unable to foresee a date for the travel industry to resume under the current global scenario. Also, there is no predictable date for a global rollout of any credible cure or vaccine.

However the most innovative and agile hotel leaders will work towards helping the hospitality industry recover faster. I know that many of my hotel partners have started offering their fixed investments beyond the four walls of their property. Specialised laundry services, food delivery or even sanitisation of homes by specialist housekeepers are all additional revenue opportunities that can help the industry stay afloat. Having said that, serious thoughts are on in promoting staycations and workcations. Work from home which is expected to be around for several quarters can be carried out from the comfort of hotels. That’s innovation and I am sure that many more opportunities will be come out of experiences, stay, location and food.

What solutions can IDS offer for a contactless guest experience in hotels?

Our product development team has conceived, designed and developed FX GeM which is a comprehensive contactless solution that covers all the touch points of a guest’s journey. The interesting part is that this product has been developed, marketed and rolled out during the lockdown period, working entirely from our homes. FX GeM includes contactless check-in and check-out functions, during stay functionalities such as housekeeping requests, concierge services, room service ordering and restaurant ordering solutions. The entire solution is activated on guest phones using a text message, email web link or QR code tent cards. We also have an API to connect to mobile room-key providers avoiding the use of key cards. All identification documents, photographs, registration cards and statutory declarations can be collected and digitally signed using FX GeM as per government guidelines.

FX GeM seamlessly integrates with FortuneNext Hotel ERP and FX Front Desk PMS solutions. This helps in considerably improving the efficiency of hotel staff  and also eliminates double entry and mistakes. We feel that using the FX GeM solution will completely eliminate any queueing at the front desk and will also help in building trust for the guests all through their stay period.

How beneficial will it be for hotels and restaurants to be on the Cloud/ use Big Data?

It is very important for hotels and restaurants to be Cloud ready. The biggest advantage of cloud solutions is the ability to operate remotely. During the lockdown period, many of our hotel partners who were operational due to long staying guests or which were being utilised as Covid quarantine facilities, used our cloud solutions for many of their operational needs. Having the right cloud partner is extremely important for hotels as they deal with sensitive personal data. Cloud solutions should be compliant in terms of data security, PA DSS for credit card data and GDPR for personal data confidentiality. Smart hoteliers choose the right technology partners who are able to provide private cloud as well as hybrid solutions that work seamlessly with high availability.

Big Data is of no use without the right tools to utilise the same. All hotel partners have large amounts of data that they are storing as part of their many years of operations. This is useful only if that data is utilised to personalise guest experience and increase revenues.

How can hotels balance the use of AI and still maintain the personal touch in guest experiences?

AI can be used in many ways such as during direct contact with the guest or in supporting the staff to deliver a better experience to the guest. The key is to “know your customer.” Personal touch is extremely important in the hospitality industry. AI powered chatbots may be acceptable in the banking industry, however they may be not very welcome in our industry. Having said that, utilisation of AI for improved guest services should be the focus for hoteliers.

Indian hospitality vs its global counterpart in adopting technology in operations?

We are technology providers for both global as well as Indian hotels and chains. We find that Indian hotels are at par with any of their global counterparts in adopting technology. However cultural and behavioural differences do not allow hoteliers to seamlessly adapt all technologies like their global partners. Expectations of the guests also drive technology adoption. A simple example being a McDonalds outlet in India may have watchmen opening the door, however in the West, it is not expected to have anyone open the door. The culture and expectations of guests in our part of the world, drives technology adoption in our hotels.

Your visualisation of the NextGen guestroom?

The NextGen guestroom is defined by the NextGen traveller. Millennials are tech savvy and BYD and DIY will be the norm. They would look at having entertainment on the go using their own devices and would like to define their space. Experiences will be important than convenience. Contactless solutions will be the norm and not a differentiator any more .

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