Heiko Rieder, VP of Revenue Management and Reservations at Pentahotels, discusses digital transformation, CSR and the changing nature of the hospitality...
There are many things that make up a truly great hospitality experience: a sense of luxury, peacefulness, access to new and exciting activities – ask someone why they enjoyed their stay or meal somewhere and you could get a different answer every time. From fluffy towels and exquisite room service to eye-catching art on the lobby walls, at the heart of each and every positive experience is, it could be argued, a sense of attentiveness to the needs of the guest. Identifying and providing what will genuinely delight a guest can be the difference between a lifelong customer and a damning TripAdvisor review. This obviously applies to the entire length and breadth of the customer experience, from the moment of booking to check out and beyond. Therefore, if the desires and habits of its customers change, a hotel needs to change with it.
A member of Rosewood Hotel Group, Pentahotels is a global brand of neighbourhood lifestyle hotels serving upper-mid market business and leisure travellers at 29 locations in eight countries on two continents. The brand prides itself on innovative organisational strategies that provide its guests with a comfortable, stylish experience in a laid-back atmosphere. The heart of each Pentahotel is the Pentalounge, a combination of lounge, bar, café and reception area designed to cultivate the lifestyle impression that the company believes is key to securing the loyalty of the ever-shifting preferences of travellers.
“We’re monitoring a significant shift in behaviour driven by younger generations of business and leisure travellers,” explains Heiko Rieder, Vice President of Revenue Management and Reservations at Pentahotels, noting that Millennials and members of Generation Z expect a greater degree of flexibility in terms of business travel. We sat down with Rieder to explore the ways in which Pentahotels is harnessing innovative technologies, embracing a new ideology centred around corporate social responsibility and forging new collaborative partnerships with companies dedicated to digitally transforming the guest experience in response to changing demographics and customer priorities.
“We’re actually seeing talent choose their employer based on the flexibility of the company’s travel policy,” he says. “Also, it’s very important to them that, at the beginning or end of a business trip, they can add a night or two, which brings together the business and leisure components of their trip.” The rise in “bleisure” travel is well documented: global technology company Expedia found that, of the approximately 400mn Americans that travelled long-distance for business in 2018, approximately 60% of them extended their trip by at least a day. “We’re seeing more and more business travellers, who would previously have been gone by Friday, stay through the weekend,” observes Rieder. “It’s a good business opportunity for us, and one we need to be properly equipped for.” Sustainability and social responsibility are also becoming key decision-making factors in the minds of younger travellers.
Rieder, who has worked for Pentahotels since the opening of its first modernised location in Eisenach, Germany 12 years ago, has been a fundamental part of the company’s guest experience since the beginning. He created, developed and deployed the concept for centralised commercial services at Pentahotels and, as the Vice President of Revenue Management and Reservations, oversees a team of 35 employees that handles in excess of $120mn in bookings annually and is at the heart of the company’s ongoing initiatives to respond to changing customer priorities and demographics.
One of the major trends in the hotel space (alongside almost every other space) that has emerged in recent years is the increased emphasis that customers place on sustainability. Last year, The Shelton Group reported that, in the US workforce, 79% of Millennials consider a company’s social and environmental commitments when deciding where to work, a statistic with clear implications for a hotel brand looking to attract guests. Pentahotels has been actively pursuing a CSR-centric strategy for several years. “We had a change of senior management here and our president, Mr Eugène Staal, has changed the way we think and act regarding CSR,” says Rieder. “He has fully incorporated CSR into our culture and we believe that it’s something the target group that visits our hotels feels is important. We have launched several very creative campaigns focusing on contributing to our hotels’ surrounding neighbourhoods and the environment as a whole.”
“We have launched several very creative campaigns focusing on contributing to our hotels’ surrounding neighborhoods and the environment as a whole” - Heiko Rieder, VP, Revenue Management and Reservations, Pentahotels
This year, Pentahotels has partnered with Cornish music and arts festival Boardmasters to organise a beach clean-up at four locations across the UK and Belgium: Felixstowe Beach in Ipswich, Crosby Beach near Liverpool, Fistral Beach (beside the festival grounds in Newquay) and Ostend Beach in Belgium. The program encourages the audience to join the cleanup crews and, even though the 2019 festival was cancelled due to a storm warning, the cleanup went ahead as planned. In 2018, prior to Christmas, Pentahotels also launched a campaign where social media engagement was used to rack up hours that were then donated to “support social work in our hotels and neighbourhoods,” explains Rieder. “Overall we accumulated more than 62 days’ worth of time to give back to our communities. There were teams raising funds to donate to children’s hospices, helping in shelters, refugee camps and animal rescues. The management team in Frankfurt went to deliver gifts to a refugee shelter on Christmas. It was an amazing experience to give back to our neighbourhoods together with all colleagues around the world.”
In addition to aligning itself with a sustainability-conscious public, Pentahotels is harnessing new technologies intended to both ensure that its guests have the sort of experience that creates a lifetime customer while increasing efficiency. “In the long run it's about gaining time for our guests, of course, but in our industry we must never forget that the guest experience is crucial,” explains Rieder.
In order to increase flexibility and agility when dealing with changes in customer behavioural patterns and improve guest experience, Rieder is currently overseeing the development of a new partnership between Pentahotels and TravelClick. A subsidiary of Amadeus Americas, Inc, TravelClick is a one-stop shop for digital solutions relating to the bookings and hotel space. “We went through a very long, selective RFP process of sourcing a technology partner that can provide, not just CRM technology, but technology that enables us to capture client information and also integrates with our booking engine,” Rieder explains.
“You can accomplish what we need with 30 different vendors that each provide a single piece of technology that you then have to figure out how to connect to the rest of the infrastructure, but with TravelClick, we found that all of what we need is already incorporated into their offering. It includes CRM functionality, allows us to capture data to store it – all according to GDPR law – and then also allows us to invite people to provide us with information and to sign up into our marketing program as part of the booking process.” The new software, which has been implemented in record time, will grant Pentahotels a level of integration and back end capability that Rieder sees as instrumental to achieving the company’s goals moving forward. “We’ve already doubled the number of people who are opting in to our marketing program, which is very important to us,” Rieder enthuses.
With this back end functionality in place, Rieder’s eyes are now set on harnessing technology to transform the front end elements of customer experience. “We are very modernised on the back office side of things, but we feel that we need to further improve on the guest experience when it comes to digitalization. We’re very close to launching technology that facilitates the self-check-in/check-out process at one of our hotels” he explains. “We want to engage with our customers less on a transactional level and more in terms of a qualitative interaction. We believe that this is what our customers want to experience. They want to check in while they're in the taxi on the way to the hotel, have a digital key and want to walk straight through to their room, without having to stop by the reception and wait in line to check in.” Soon, the company will also enrich its ‘Pentafriends’ guest membership program with further benefits and a more digitalised experience, again designed to increase qualitative engagement with guests.
Looking to the future, Pentahotels will continue to focus on its customer facing and internal processes in order to provide the sort of responsive, lifestyle-based guest experience that is the mark of great hospitality.