A little while ago I was at a hotel trade show. You know the type of thing - a huge, bustling venue with vendors displaying everything from bath tubs to telephones, sheets to lamps and smart TVs to safes. We were there, of course, to promote our Welcome Anywhere PMS.
We meet some wonderful people at these events and this one was no exception, with a steady flow of suited and booted buyers from the big chains, general managers, boutique-oriented beardy hipsters and plenty of pubs-with-rooms owners.
The story of Tom and Joan (not their real names…)
Everyone we met was lovely, but perhaps none more so than the independent B&B proprietors who often stopped to peer cautiously at our hotel booking system.
After chatting with many such folk, a certain pattern emerged which troubled me. Although by no means a universal trait, many of these people regarded the property management system as a scary thing best left to others.
“Well,” said Tom (who set up his B&B after a long career in merchant banking), “we don’t need these new-fangled computers”.
His wife, Joan, chimed in: “They’re all so confusing, aren’t they? No, we’ll stick with our big diary.”
We hear this a lot, but what struck me was that Tom and Joan didn’t really mean it. Sure, their big book worked fine, but their jovial assessment was laced with fear.
Frankly I found this rather puzzling and somewhat sad. I had to assume that the couple had adapted to, say, modern cars without too much fear and had not arrived at this show in an Austin 1100 from 1971. Similarly, it’s fair to say that their uptake of other domestic systems (let’s not say “technology” as this stage) has been equally positive, even if gradual.
Tom and Joan did eventually have a little play with Welcome Anywhere, but in a tentative way which suggested the mouse and keyboard might give them an electric shock.
What struck me, and the reason for this blog post, is how much Tom and Joan and countless other B&Bers are missing out because of a fear of technology.
There’s that word!
No one-size-fits-all approach
A B&B may to some be a lifestyle business, but it is a business and it has to be profitable – and that means beating the competition when it comes to occupancy. If the competition has a new-fangled PMS system which increases their occupancy and Tom and Joan don’t, that’s a disadvantage, right?
Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking anyone for being fearful of technology - least of all Tom and Joan. Adoption of new technology is an iterative process; there’s no one-size-fits-all and if it is going to happen it has to happen naturally.
What I’m calling for is a wider support network to help those with this fear; some hand-holding, some reassurance, some comfort.
Where to start? Well, there are some excellent entry-level property management systems out there, often at very low cost (or even free). These tend to have the most basic functionality required, but won’t dazzle technology newbies, which is a perfect start.
Many B&Bs are family run, so let’s call on any fearful owners to seek the guidance of those within who have not only adopted technology, but never known life without it. It seems to me that there are generations out there who can help their elders feel comfortable dipping a toe in technology waters. We should encourage that!
How can the hospitality industry help?
The hospitality industry (and I include us PMS vendors) should offer hand-holding, support and guidance to B&B owners who would genuinely like to digitally transform their business but who are held back by fear of the unknown.
Wouldn’t it be nice if the industry came together with regional taster days – tea & tech, perhaps – to break down that fear and show how easy technology can be?
I can imagine a world where hospitality technology companies are recognised for their work in breaking down this fear, through the clarity of their communications, the time given to explain things and generally understanding potential customers’ anxieties (and coming up with positive ways to gently remove them). For their work in this area, the best would attain a badge of honour to be proudly displayed.
B&Bs are the engine of our hospitality and visitor economy. The sector should be with them every step of the way.
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