“I believe technology is at its most efficient when it can’t be seen, only the improvements by having it can be felt…” Karen O’Neill, President, Americas at Knowcross

In our latest influencer in the spotlight segment, we interview one of hospitality’s finest marketing talents. Karen O’Neill, President (Americas) at hospitality software solutions provider Knowcross, discusses her professional insights, opinions, and trends for a post COVID19 hospitality industry. 

A BSc in Hospitality, Restaurant & Tourism Management from the University of South Carolina, Karen has been attached to some of the most progressive hospitality technology providers in the world. She began her career with the illustrious MICROS Systems Inc after which began her great journey in the world of hospitality technology management. 

A devoted mother and outdoors enthusiast, Karen also features in our 2020 list of 17 top hospitality influencers

Advanced Hospitality: Hello Karen, your professional profile and experience in the hospitality industry are phenomenal and you are also currently the President (Americas) at Knowcross. What is your perspective on the interest of hoteliers in technology?

Karen: I believe technology is at its most efficient when it can’t be seen, only the improvements by having it can be felt.  Now, with the COVID 19 pandemic, more than ever…. we need to ensure our hoteliers, staff, and guests feel safe as a priority.

Advanced Hospitality: What is your opinion on the importance of technology for hotels? Tell us a bit about Knowcross and how its services help hotels grow their revenue and manage daily operations?

Karen: Embracing and remaining current with technology is critical for today’s hotelier. I believe technology gives hoteliers a competitive edge by limiting information silos, impacting the bottom line, ensure efficiencies while supporting the service initiative so important to all.

There are so many wonderful technology providers servicing the hospitality industry—including service optimization platforms like Knowcross. The common thread in our modules within the platform (i.e. Housekeeping, Guest Request Management, Service disruption, Checklists, and Preventative Maintenance) is that each makes it easier to service the guest more efficiently. 

With the current circumstances, “safety” has become the new “service” and we are focused on ensuring we incorporate the best practices and standards to make this a priority. 

Advanced Hospitality: What are the common queries about technology from hoteliers you have been going through in your daily routine?

Karen: Our daily routine has evolved in the last 10 weeks but now more than ever a common query is how can a service optimization tool help manage the “new normal.”

The Knowcross team is spending a lot of time focusing on what this new normal will look like and where our toolset integrates into these new processes. We know there will be a consideration now on how to re-open properties—most hotels haven’t experienced this since they first opened their doors. 

We also know that housekeeping practices will evolve with cleaning guidelines and regulations—some of which we have started to see being released globally as well as the check-in process to be more frictionless, with a heavier reliance on the service optimization toolset to support the latest information on the room.

Advanced Hospitality: Famous American Author Coretta Scott King  said: “The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.” 

As a ‘Professionally Experienced Marketer’  what’s your view on the quote above? 

What’s your tip for people who are working in the hospitality industry to develop a community around? Do you think Community development is helpful in this industry? 

Karen: The hospitality industry is all about relationships and so am I. Credit to my resilience in the industry is to the relationships I have forged over the past twenty years and four companies I have been privileged to work with.

I also believe very strongly that having a community is imperative to your professional success. A community can evolve over time as you evolve but the importance of having a core set of individuals you are mindful of and rely on and mentors to help guide you are very important. 

In addition to my personal community, I think the strides made in the vendor community in hospitality is very special. Groups like HTNG & HFTP and forums like the vendor summit by hospitality upgrade have really helped open up dialogue and tear down barriers so the hotelier can leverage the shared wisdom and technology at its best.

Advanced Hospitality: HITEC and HFT are two of the biggest events in the Hospitality calendar. What is the significance of these events for the Hospitality Industry? 

Karen: These two events are extremely important because they give the chance to celebrate the accomplishments & contributions companies and individuals have made to the industry. With the addition of a more global perspective and event footprint -I think the show will really evolve and continue to attract a more diverse, global audience.  

Advanced Hospitality: What technology gaps do you still see in Hospitality technology and its implementation in the industry?

Karen: While the hospitality industry has made tremendous strides in the level of products and services offered, it still is a little behind in adoption. I think this is due to many reasons but in my opinion the value proposition around financial cost impact/ROI is a large challenge.

Additionally, there are many startups in our community (some of whom I have worked for) who struggle to compete against the large dominant players (also whom I have worked for)… I think the vendor space, like the hotel space, will explore more consolidation.

Advanced Hospitality: What’s your suggestion for Hotel owners looking to make their hotels more guest-friendly through technology assistance?

Karen: “Leverage technology your guests are familiar with!”

Everyone has at least one or more than one mobile/personal device-utilize this knowledge and familiarity. Provide the power to choose the communication median that is most comfortable for your guest. This could be an Alexa powered device, a tablet in a room or their own tablet, a text message, or the telephone. Give the guests the power of choice.

With the recent events in the world, this “comfort” will be more important than ever as guests venture out to hotels again.

Advanced Hospitality: What’s your advice for young professionals who want to build their career in the Hospitality industry?

Karen: I love mentoring your professionals looking to explore or build their career in hospitality. My advice would be that there are many dimensions to hospitality. Explore technology, the vendor community, emerging and/or growing hospitality markets, or segments. Hospitality is very multi-faceted!

Advanced Hospitality: Hospitality technology management can be a tough profession lets put aside work and discuss your personal interests. What are your hobbies? How do you enjoy your spare time?

Karen: I have three young boys that keep me very busy. Twins who are 5 and a 9-year-old. I love to be outside; boating, hiking, swimming, and the beach. I like to cook and spend most of my time between my house outside of Washington, DC in Maryland, and the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  

Advanced Hospitality: We all have some influencers who inspire us to push ourselves in our daily lives. Can you name some of the people who have motivated you throughout your journey?

Karen: I lost my father at a young age but he taught me so much by example of resilience and dedication to your professional growth and family.  I would also be remiss to not mention the CEO of MICROS, Tom Giannopoulos. He really motivated and pushed me forward to always do better over the 14+years of working together. 

There are a lot of other wonderful men and women who have taken an interest in my professional growth and wellbeing through the years who I am inspired by daily!