Technology is becoming a central part of the hospitality industry, with franchises like the Marriott Group to single property owners all embracing the transformation. Even with mass integrations, software solutions, and high-spec automation, there are technology gaps within hospitality infrastructures that evade the general perspective.
Today we go into conversation with hospitality influencer, revenue & asset management pro, and hotel technology guru, Remko West. Immensely gifted with both industry expertise and experience, West is a devout Brazilian Ju-Jitsu practitioner and a human chess enthusiast.
Remko takes us on a journey through time as he discusses his struggle creating Xotels, his opinions on hotel technology & its applications, and his suggestions for hotel franchises.
Advanced Hospitality: Remko, You are the Co-Founder at Xotels. What is the story behind starting your Hotel Management Company for a new breed of hoteliers?
Remko: After a career in hotel management mainly in Europe and in the States, we had eye-opening experiences both in e-commerce (Hotels.com and Expedia) and technology (RateTiger by eRevMax), the time just felt right to make the big jump.
Spending some fantastic years in start-up environments in fast-growing companies, made me realize what I enjoyed there (taking risks, failing, learning, improving, growing, changing, continuously rethinking everything you do). Simultaneously I also learned what I did not enjoy when working for massive global companies.
Seeing and inventing first hand, how e-commerce changed travel and how technology-enabled hoteliers in many ways to optimize their businesses made it a no-brainer to start a company and become breeze of fresh air. Simultaneously we saw all the big chains fighting all of these changes. So our passion became to generate a new breed of hoteliers.
Obviously, we learned a lot on the way.
We knew a bit about revenue management and e-commerce when we started, but not much on how to build a hotel chain. We simply dared to dream and had the guts to pull off some wicked concepts on our path.
In the end, we simply started the company by organizing seminars on revenue management and online marketing. We secured our first management client in 2007 but did not expand until 2010.
What only a few people know, is that I and my business partner Patrick spent months looking for a suitable name for the company. We were looking for an available URL, which proved to be the biggest sport on planet earth. We couldn’t even find the word “light” in Swahili with the “.com” domain extension.
When I came up with Xotels as a name, my business partner was not convinced. He appreciated Swahili more back in the day. When I explained the joke to him – that we truly are EX-Hotels.com (just pronounce Xotels again, very slowly) – it hit him.
Yes, our company name comes from a practical joke, one we have never stopped enjoying.
Advanced Hospitality: In your opinion how important is technology for hotels?
Remko: Technology is everything nowadays. And then a bit more. It is intertwined with everything we do. An incredibly high percentage of people use technology day in day out. Most people can’t stand being without their smartphone or other portable devices.
Plenty of us show signs of addictive behavior, mostly without realizing it. We use technology for anything and for everything.
I believe it’s important to understand that technology is both disruptive and interruptive. I would even like to say that technology is extremely interruptive. It interrupts everything you do on a daily basis, from work to sports, from love to a friendly conversation.
I am referring to the fact that technology is designed to try and keep users around. More often than not, this leads to all kinds of tricks to lure you in and to keep you in. Built to give you a never-ending dose of dopamine. Personally, I favor other types of technologies, technologies that either solve an actual problem. Or technology that is close to seamless to the user and the user’s experience.
Advanced Hospitality: What suggestions would you offer to hotel technology companies, what to keep in mind while providing services to Hotels?
Remko: My first suggestion to any hotel technology company is to always keep user experience in mind. Because when you get that wrong, users will leave, and they leave fast nowadays. And do note, when I say experience, I refer to the experience of all users. Users as in consumers, as in guests, but also as in property staff.
Thus keep your technology consumers in mind, at all times. Keep in mind what the user should be able to achieve with the technology. The user should be your hero at all times, while technology should not become the leading factor.
Another credible suggestion is to not go for advertising first, as a matter of fact, do it as little as possible with your technology. Thirdly, don’t try to automate everything people do. Not every hotel process & task requires automation. Hotels are a people business first. Experience is incredibly underestimated.
Advanced Hospitality: What challenges did you and Patrick face in early times of Xotels? Share your career journey with our readers.
Remko: We gained our first management client in 2007 but, we also lost that client by the end of 2008. And that was our only management client. On top of that, we we’re finished with almost all of our income from education and consultancy related work.
This very rough time took us all the way to the edge, taught us to focus on what we wanted, to become a hotel management company. We had decided it was now or never. We completely dropped everything we were doing, and we became what we needed to become.
However, with all the other challenges (cash flow, leads, human resources, technology challenges, and sometimes our own knucklehead-like actions every now and then) we were destined to truly hit rock bottom by 2009.
But, we believed that we were onto something very special. So, both the founders and several of our staff took pay cuts, I put in every last bit of my own investment into the company, and we made through the most difficult times.
From there on, I can only describe it as a non-stop roller coaster ride. Very fast and loads of screaming fun! We kept developing and reinventing our business. We had become a complete hotel management company and would launch our own franchise brand for consumers by 2010.
Advanced Hospitality: What technology gaps do you still see in the Hospitality industry?
Remko: As strange as it sounds, I almost only see gaps here.
We are often simply headed in the wrong direction. Do remember, the technology user or guest should be central to the entire tech integration, not the other way around. Just look at how clumsy most on-property and in-room technologies are, and how much space there is to nail most of these technologies. Don’t get me started.
Almost every other industry does this better than hotels. It might be related to the fragmented nature of our industry, but having central operations management including a complete asset management tool to manage a property, would that not be awesome? With the hotel at the center of the technology, and seamless control over all departments that need to be managed from one system.
Advanced Hospitality: What’s your suggestion for Hotel owners looking to make their hotels more guest friendly through technology?
Remko:This may sound crazy, I’d say do not focus on technology to be more guest friendly.
I know this is not what you are looking for as an answer. But think it through for a second. If you want to be guest friendly, then please stop trying to do that through technology. Be human, provide real service. That’s guest friendliness.
However, if you do not want to be friendly, then use technology. 99.99% of hoteliers make the mistake of making technology the purpose, not the means. Now, for the 0.01% left, use technology to make the experience smooth and more personalized.
And believe it or not, an AI-controlled interface, an automated check-in desk, or a servicing robot does not make service smooth, nor personal. And definitely not guest friendly. Only if technology provides a seamless experience are we being more guest friendly.
Advanced Hospitality: Do you feel acquisitions & mergers in hospitality are beneficial? What’s your opinion about the Wyndham-La Quinta acquisition?
Remko: Acquisitions like this, in my opinion, are fascinating. When a massive company like Wyndham acquires another huge company like La Quinta, in order to become the world’s biggest franchise property portfolio it just shows the competitiveness of the industry. And the race is never over.
In all fairness, I would not oppose to participating in such a race myself some day. In 15 years or so, I would probably not ignore a potential end-game like La Quinta had, for at least one of the companies we built.
In the end, we built Xotels from scratch. We are approaching a hundred hotels in management now. So we have a strong B2B brand. As I mentioned earlier we are now adding B2C brands in our portfolio including the customer journey focused Veturi Hotel and Resort brand.
Advanced Hospitality: As the Co-Founder & Managing Director at Hotel Scienz, why did you feel you needed to create this solution? How has Hotel Scienz performed during the last two years?
Remko: I have seen a lot of revenue management technologies during my career. I also needed a solid technology to manage our current revenue management portfolio within Xotels. And, I kept running into similar gaps with all technologies, including:
- No easy and standardized revenue communication/ daily email reports to stakeholders
- No smart dashboard functionalities that make trends clear, and focus on the right information (instead of too much detail)
- Too many screens and granular reports to analyze a complex question as what price should I sell at today.
- No user insight in calculations or algorithms
On top, the hotel industry is constantly evolving and Revenue Management is now essential in the hotel industry which simply cannot be ignored. The first step in any business is to have an active lead generation process. Without sales, there is no need for the business to exist. Revenue Management includes sales actions and analysis. It is also a scientific process.
I always wanted Revenue Management to be comprehensible & easily accessible for hotel management and staff. We created Hotel Scienz with the objective of filling up the necessity of incorporating this concept into hoteliers routines in order to maximize their revenue.
We have always opted for an intuitive, complete and affordable Revenue Management tool accessible to all the hoteliers (from small properties to independent hotels), that gathers all the relevant information in one place and guides them on their price situation, allowing them to anticipate and analyze the opportunities and fluctuate the prices accordingly.
For the past few years, we have been constantly developing and incorporating new features into Hotel Scienz, constantly enhancing its functionality.
Advanced Hospitality: How Has Technology Helped or Bettered Hotels Performance?
Remko: Historically, I have never been in love with technology. And I don’t think I love technology today.
I do think that certain technologies can be extremely helpful and that they solve real challenges. I also think that certain technologies truly offer a unique guest experience. Technology needs to significantly improve user experience or solve a real problem. That is what I aim for as well.
I aim to solve business communication problems. I want non-revenue managers to really understand revenues. I want revenue managers to be able to use technology to make better decisions. My idea is to develop technologies that enable users to do a better and more efficient job while optimizing results to the bottom line, revenue.
Advanced Hospitality: Let’s put technology and hospitality aside for a minute and discuss your personal interests. What are your hobbies? How do you enjoy your spare time?
Remko: I enjoy spending time with my family. My wife and my 2 boys.
I am absolutely addicted to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and the mentally challenging game of human chess. It’s a sport that ensures you keep both feet on the ground whereas, Brazilian jiu-jitsu is a struggle and it’s difficult, always. and it keeps you humble.
Advanced Hospitality: We all have some influencers who inspire us to push ourselves in our daily lives. Who is your inspiration?
Remko: I like inspirational people close to me so that I can exchange ideas often with them, and share in-depth thoughts about hotel management. Christophe Mendjel, for example, is one of my favorite people to have a lively discussion with. You won’t find Christophe easily online though.
Other influential people in my life include my business partner Patrick Landman, hotel management legend Larry Mogelonsky, and iconic hotelier & entrepreneur Ian Schrager.
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