“Hospitality industry is challenged to come up with the resources it needs to build out the technologies its customers are looking for…” Tobias Ragge, CEO at HRS Group

In our latest “Influencer in the spotlight” segment, we interview one of hospitality’s finest Leader. Tobias Ragge, CEO at HRS Group, discusses his professional insights, opinions, and views on current trends in the hospitality industry. 

We are privileged to have had the opportunity to engage Tobias for an exclusive interview. Tobias discusses with us his professional opinion on hospitality technology, and his personal journey in the industry. Aside from spearheading HRS, a company with rich history founded in 1972, he loves to spend his time with his son. He is a football enthusiast and a fan of FC Shalke 04.

Advanced Hospitality Technologies: Tobias Ragge, you are the CEO of the HRS Group, a global travel and technology company based in Germany. It is an honor for me to interview you. We are interested in learning about your career journey, about your company and why you chose to pursue your career in hospitality and travel industries.

Tobias: From an early age, as I completed my studies and early professional work with Lufthansa, my goal was to join the family business. My father Robert Ragge started HRS in Cologne back in 1972; he saw the need to help business travelers find appropriate lodging options when they came to the city for trade fairs. Under his leadership, HRS forged its reputation for driving innovation in the lodging industry via technology. 

HRS was a leader in bringing hotel options online in the mid 1990s. HRS also began its expansion out of Germany in those years, highlighted by the opening of our first office in China in 2000.

Today, 35 percent of the global Fortune 500 work with HRS on some element of their hotel program. HRS has consultants working with corporations and hoteliers on-the-ground in the world’s top 60 business city centers. Known for its expertise in hotel procurement, HRS is now cultivating a new leadership position in the realm of automated corporate payment with its focus on spend management.

As for my decision to join HRS, the choice was a simple one for me. I had been fascinated by the travel industry from a young age, as it was a regular topic in my household. Looking back, other reasons that remain true today include: 

– It’s an interesting industry, buffeted by changes and trends that are both easy to predict and stunningly unforeseen. It’s never boring!

 – Our industry is global in nature, which presents a never-ending procession of both challenges and opportunities. 

– What industries are more diverse than hospitality and technology? 

– So much of our effort is driven by the universal goal of optimizing travel experiences via expertise and technology. Happy travelers are typically a vital element in winning and retaining satisfied clients.

 – Working hard is part of our culture at HRS. We couldn’t have achieved our success without having a unique collection of smart and motivated colleagues. Best of all, we have fun together as we take steps to reinvent our industry every day. That was true decades ago, and remains true today. 

Advanced Hospitality Technologies: What challenges did you face in your early days as the CEO of HRS Group? Share your thoughts with our readers.

Tobias: The years leading up to my appointment as CEO made those first early days more functional than challenging. Before becoming CEO, I had a hand in running all the company’s various departments, gaining insights on what worked well, where improvements could be made, and what future steps made the most sense as HRS aimed to stake its claim in the global business travel industry. During the seven years before I became CEO, I gained credibility with the workforce by engaging deeply on these relevant issues. 

When I assumed the role, it was a natural transition for the company. I was able to focus on building our team, focusing our developmental efforts on the right technologies and services, and successfully growing the business.

Advanced Hospitality Technologies: In your opinion, how important is technology for travelers and hoteliers? 

Tobias: Technology is everything as we look to properly serve an evolving audience of customers, regardless if they are traveling on business or on holiday. Everything needs to be digitized process-wise – this keeps costs down for resource-challenged suppliers and intermediaries, while also making the journey easier for travelers.

Increasingly, travelers will demand intuitive technologies for convenience, informational and payment reasons. Companies in our industry that fail to continue innovating and leveraging the newest technologies have little to no future, especially as the hospitality industry strives to recover from the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Advanced Hospitality Technologies: What recommendations would you like to offer to hotels? What factors should they keep in mind while contracting with a technology company?

Tobias: Technology is going to be the core of your operational future. The people shortages in our industry today are real, and we’re all adjusting to the reality that many trained staff will not be coming back.

 Digitalization is the only means of overcoming this shortage of labor. Outsourcing is the only avenue that can really work for a growing number of processes. Hoteliers need to be very clear about the scope of what they want to do, and what expertise and options they have within their organization to do it. 

Beyond that, hoteliers also need to overlay the commercial model behind technology investments and choices. Can you afford to productionize a function internally vs externally? Are you working in an open-source ecosystem that is scalable? If it is a closed shop, what are the limitations? These are just a few of the questions to consider. 

Advanced Hospitality Technologies: Advanced Hospitality Technologies always focuses on contributing to a community. We believe collaboration is the key to unlocking the growth in today’s business. Do you believe that communities are the breeding ground of business opportunities?

Tobias: On this question, I have a different point of view. I think business opportunities start as simple individual ideas to solve problems that one comes across in their everyday lives. Once you’ve demonstrated that a new solution works … and is scalable …. then the next big thing to solve bigger problems is to find the right partners and leverage all of this for targeted growth. When partners collaborate – in full transparency – with each other on customer-centric solutions, it creates a win / win result for all parties.

Advanced Hospitality Technologies: Have you attended any hospitality events recently and which event or conference do you prefer to attend the most and in which country?

Tobias: The pandemic dramatically curtailed the number of annual events I go to. Thankfully, I’ve been able to get back on the road in recent months. I typically attend events that are more focused on travel technology, payment and business travel. In June I spoke at a conference held by a global financial services provider, discussing trends in automated payment and the purchasing habits of corporate employees. Just last month I attended the Global Business Travel Association conference in San Diego, meeting with global hoteliers, corporate clients and other business partners. Later this year, I’ll attend another finance-focused event in Portugal, and the prestigious Innovate conference in New York City.

Advanced Hospitality Technologies: What technology gaps do you still see in the Hospitality industry? 

Tobias: Unfortunately, there is no concise answer to this question. There are many technology gaps, and the hospitality industry is challenged to come up with the resources it needs to build out the technologies its customers are looking for. The two biggest areas of need from my perspective: the capability to efficiently list new co-working and meeting spaces in hotels for online shopping and booking….and the ability to process digital payments for all types of hotel transactions, including transient bookings, meetings and long stays. 

At HRS, we’re refining technologies that can help digitize and optimize the process chains tied to these two opportunities. Hotels that can advance with seamless technologies in these areas will immediately have increased appeal to the high-volume, recurring corporate travel programs that are historically the foundation of annual revenues for hotel groups of any size. 

Advanced Hospitality Technologies: What is your advice to young professionals who want to start their careers in the Hospitality industry?

Tobias: First off, be clear-eyed about WHY you want to join the hospitality industry. Take some time to consider what kind of role you’d like to play. Front-line guest engagement? On-site staff management? Behind-the-scenes technology? It’s a broad industry that is rich in variety; it’s important to have an idea of where you want to focus.

After going through that process, I recommend that young people get truly educated on their specialty, using every option available (job experience / university / etc.). 

Advanced Hospitality Technologies: Let us put aside work and discuss your interests. What are your hobbies? How do you enjoy your spare time? How do you balance your work and family life?

Tobias: To be honest, my work-life balance is not as balanced as it could be. When I don’t work, I’m usually with my family – spending time with my wife and three kids. Lately I find myself spending more time with my son on the soccer field. I carry a strong competitive mindset; that naturally flows into my enjoyments of sports, particularly soccer and my support of FC Schalke 04. Of course, I’m particularly looking forward to the FIFA World Cup in Qatar this coming November.

Advanced Hospitality Technologies: We all have some influencers who inspire us to push ourselves in our daily lives. Can you name the 5 influencers who inspired you?

Tobias: As I consider the people who have inspired me the most, there are three familiar names and one that is most personal. In no particular order: 

– Jeff Bezos of Amazon for building the best holistic management system for running organizations, with principles applying to companies big and small; 

– Elon Musk for his capacity to think very, very big and daring to try and bring new ideas to life with his various companies; 

– The late Steve Jobs of Apple, who understood the need to bring out the beauty of consumer products while also relentlessly refining the integrated value chains that powered his creations; and 

– My father Robert Ragge, who still inspires me today. Quite simply, he is an entrepreneur at heart, and I’m so grateful that trait has been passed on to me. He worked hard every day to bring HRS to life and position it for the future; I’m excited to carry that torch forward and continue the journey he started.