THE PALACE Restaurant at the Waldorf Astoria in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: SARKA BABICKA)
Travel agents beware. Technology is revolutionizing the tourism industry in general and the hotel industry in particular.
A further takeover by technology will make tourist agents obsolete.
Although not stated specifically by speakers at the annual meeting of the Israel Hotel Association at the Jerusalem Waldorf Astoria on Tuesday, it was very clear from their “world in your pocket” remarks that anyone with a smart phone and the savvy with which to make use of online data bases has no need to consult a travel agent. Anyone can plan a customized business trip or buy a vacation package by surfing the net, reading guest comments and deciding for themselves what is good value for money and where they will have the best experience.
Technology is so advanced that hotel guests with an iPhone can use it to open the door of their room, check out menus, get directions within the hotel and even check in and out without going to the reception desk.
But just as technology can be one’s best friend, it can also be one’s worst enemy.
The cyber threat hovers everywhere, and last year, according to Assaf Aviv, Senior Cyber Security Consultant at Deloitte Israel, security was breached in 250 hotels in fifty countries.
There are five kinds of cyber threats, he explained. Hackers are making a statement. Corporate companies are gaining a competitive advantage. Government driven operators are into espionage.
Terrorists are creating disruption and criminals are breaching data control systems for financial gain.
For years people were told that technology would make their lives easier, but Roy Weiner, the global President of Sales for Howazit, demonstrated that if hoteliers want to protect their online reputations and avert negative publicity, they have to be available 24/7, and must be alert and aware of what goes on in every department of the hotel.
“Be pro-active. Be available and be informative,” Weiner said, emphasizing that hoteliers must establish contact with the guest before arrival, show the guest an on-screen view of everything the hotel has to offer, greet the guest at check-in, during the stay and after the stay to foster guest loyalty and to get them to return. All these factors combined, he said, reduce negative user reviews by 73 percent.
“You have to automatically handle customer responses. You have to have your finger on the pulse of everything that happens in the hotel. You have to be Big Brother,” he said.
While technology and its impact on the industry was the main subject of the day, it was not the only subject. Noaz Bar- Nir, a former director-general of the Ministry of Tourism and the current director-general of the Israel Hotel Association, said that Israel had gone through a difficult year in terms of incoming tourism and that there was a drastic need to be more competitive.
But the government is not doing enough to make competition feasible, he said. “It’s sending us to compete against our neighbors and Western Europe as if we were dragging an iron ball and chain.”
Although Germany is one of the most expensive tourist destinations in Europe, Bar-Nir said, for an Israeli hotel to earn what a German hotel earns by charging 100 euro a night, the Israeli hotel would have to charge 160 euro.
Moreover, in Germany, he continued, people who come to work in hotels have been fully trained.
In Israel they are trained on the job.
The rate of unemployment in Israel notwithstanding, the hotel industry finds it difficult to recruit local staff. As a result, there are 2,500 Jordanians working in Eilat and in the Dead Sea region.