Executives from world’s largest hotel group seek hi-tech in Tel Aviv

60 general managers and hotel executives visit Israel for their annual conference to hear from Israeli start-ups.

June 23, 2015 21:56
3 minute read.
COMPANY EXECUTIVES attend the InterContinental Hotels Group conference opening ceremony in Tel Aviv

COMPANY EXECUTIVES attend the InterContinental Hotels Group conference opening ceremony in Tel Aviv earlier this week. From left: Didier Boidin, IHG’s vice president Europe for luxury and boutique hotels; Henry Taic, owner of the David InterContinental in Tel Aviv; Angela Brav, IHG’s regional CEO fo. (photo credit: FABIAN KOLDORFF)

A group of 60 general managers, executives and operational leaders from the InterContinental Hotels Group, the world’s largest, gathered in Tel Aviv for the first time this week for their annual InterContinental Hotels & Resorts conference and, among other things, to learn about hotel-friendly hi-tech.

Getting the hotel group, which owns the Crowne Plaza, Indigo and Holiday Inn brands, to hold the conference in Tel Aviv took some convincing because it is usually held in cities such as London or Paris, according to Didier Boidin, IHG’s vice president Europe for luxury and boutique hotels.

“For some of the people in Europe, the question was, ‘Am I going to be safe?’ he said. “And they were shocked positively.

It’s a big eye-opener. They didn’t expect everything to be so nice.”

The three-day conference, which included a visit to Jerusalem and Yad Vashem, made a lasting impression, Boidin said.

“When we’re done you’ll probably have 60 ambassadors for your country,” he said.

At Tel Aviv’s David InterContinental, the group heard pitches from six Israeli start-ups of interest to hoteliers.

“Technology is getting more and more important,” Boidin said. “People of this generation are only booking online.

When I was young it was picking up the phone and calling.” Last year, website bookings accounted for $4 billion of revenue for the group, he said.

The six start-ups that pitched to the hoteliers included products for monitoring pool safety (EyeOnn), hosting conferences (Bizzabo) and helping foreign business clients track and get refunds on VAT (Vatbox). But others were more focused on guest experiences.

Howazit, for example, sends guests short surveys to ensure everything is satisfactory. If it’s not, the app notifies the hotel about what’s wrong. If it is, it directs guests to TripAdvisor or other relevant ratings sites, which helps boost the hotel’s image.

Another app, SevenPop (which the David InterContinental has adopted) lets hotel guests request and vote on what music they want playing in common areas, and they can even chat and meet one another.

EatWith, a popular app that connects users to people hosting home-cooked meals, offers to give tourists a more personal experience in countries they are visiting, although some of the executives grumbled that it would likely pull business away from their restaurants.

“I know when I was a kid I used to go to hotels and say ‘whoa!’ because the hotel was more advanced than my home,” David InterContinental general manager David Cohen said. “Now that’s changed, and homes are more advanced.

We have to get back there.”

The search for new technology also comes as websites such as Airbnb, which helps people rent out their rooms or apartments to tourists, give hotels serious competition. The Israel Hotel Association, of which Cohen is a director, has recently demanded that Tel Aviv crack down on such practices.

While the fierce competition and the lingering effects of Operation Protective Edge, the 2014 summer war in Gaza, have not harmed the InterContinental – its occupancy rate was 80 percent this month – Cohen said other hotels are feeling the pinch, and the situation is far more dire in Jerusalem than Tel Aviv.

New data released by the Central Bureau of Statistics on Tuesday showed a 10% drop in tourism in the first five months of this year compared with the same period last year, with national hotel-room occupancy falling from 64% to 58%. The number of tourist nights in hotels fell 26%.

Eilat had the biggest drop (41%), followed by Jerusalem (32%), which compared to a much smaller 14% drop in Tel Aviv and even a 2% increase in Herzliya.

IHG is still looking for further investments in Israel, including opening another branch of its Hotel Indigo in Tel Aviv and other options for Jerusalem, where there is already a Crowne Plaza.

Didier said he had not even heard whispers of BDS regarding IHG’s activities here.

IHG expects that whatever the ups and downs brought by the security situation, the investment will be necessary to stay ahead in the Israeli market.

“The hotel business is a marathon, not a sprint,” Cohen said.

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