Here there is the inn with telephone and booking management on paper – there the thoroughly digitized hotel. The industry has been dealing with the trend topic of digitalization for a long time, but there are still many construction sites.

Business travelers in particular are becoming increasingly impersonal: When they check into a hotel, many do not want to stand in line at reception and fill out forms.

It should be quick, ideally with just a few clicks on the smartphone. “In the business sector, there is a great desire for digitization and few contact points with the reception,” says Tobias Warnecke, Managing Director of the German Hotel Association.

Different requirements for hotels

Quite different in the five-star resort Der Öschberghof: here visitors are personally welcomed at the door, a concierge accompanies them to their room. A family wants to rent bikes from the reception. Others use the golf course in Donaueschingen – between Freiburg and Lake Constance. Hotel manager Michael Artner says the requirements for hotels are very different.

But a lot is also done digitally at the Öschberghof: from customer acquisition to the questionnaire after the stay. From the duty roster, in which overtime is billed to the second – which is a good argument when looking for specialists. Right down to the smartphone app that employees can use to provide information: if room service discovers a loose towel holder, for example, they can inform the technology department in this way. Around 50 tickets would come together every day. In event rooms, the ventilation is adjusted to the oxygen content.

Digitization has played a role in the industry for years – and according to Warnecke, it is becoming increasingly important: “In five to ten years we will be miles further.” It is true that hotels were the first to have had to deal with reviews from customers on the Internet. “But we still have a lot to do.” The motto of the German Hotel Congress on Tuesday and Wednesday in Europa-Park in Rust near Freiburg is “Hotel of the future – digital. innovative. diverse.”

Typing instead of speaking

Warnecke gives an example with the help of computer programs. Chatbots answer questions about the trip. More and more customers prefer typing their requests to asking them on the phone. Other houses have tried the use of service robots, such as waiters. Devices with voice services such as Alexa, on the other hand, tend to raise the suspicion that people are listening in. “Many hotels are careful.”

It all starts with the preparations for a trip: Many customers look for offers on the Internet. After two years of Corona, the number of searches for hotels in Germany has risen again – and is even above the pre-pandemic level, says Lutz Behrendt, who is responsible for the travel sector at Google Germany. When searching for “last minute holidays”, the plus is even 1075 percent.

Trends resulting from the pandemic are also visible in the queries, as Behrendt says: For example, accommodation is being sought that allows dogs or where you can stay for more than 30 days – keyword staycation. “There are a lot of new niche inquiries,” says the expert, who is also expected to speak at the hotel congress.

Hoteliers can counteract this on Google with company profiles in which they present their offers in great detail. During the pandemic, new attributes on the subject of hygiene were introduced here, and filter options for ecological standards are to follow in the course of the year.

Association: need to catch up in online marketing

Warnecke admits that many in the industry need to get better at online marketing and sales. Basically all houses have a homepage, but by no means all of them have an online booking option.

Artner vom Öschberghof doesn’t think that’s contemporary at all. Five people work there in the marketing and digital office. “Being visible costs money,” says the hotel manager. Sometimes a five-digit sum for a good website, appearances in social media or customer acquisition in new countries. Hiring an e-commerce manager can also be worthwhile. “We have to get away from the idea that someone can do it on the side.”

Artner explains that spending on digitization is a sustainable investment, and the effects are not necessarily immediately noticeable. In the end, they help, for example, to save energy, avoid paperwork and improve customer service.

In addition, the hotels want to reduce their dependency on booking portals. 30, sometimes up to 60 percent of bookings come this way, says Warnecke. Just last year, hotels successfully fought at the Federal Court of Justice to be able to offer their rooms on their own website at lower prices than on, HRS and Expedia, for example, where commissions are due. The cartel senate decided that the platforms should not prevent this via so-called best price clauses in their contracts.

Nevertheless, Warnecke sees construction sites here: “The portals are trying to squeeze in between the hotel and the guest.” Sometimes direct communication is not possible because e-mail addresses are not given out.

Technical difficulties

Hotel manager Artner sees a major deficit in the technical interfaces of the various applications with the management system of the hotel administration. Making this compatible costs several thousand euros and is very dependent on the providers.

From the point of view of the experts, it is also important that the registration form is finally digitized. A handwritten signature is still required by law. And even if WLAN in every room should now be a matter of course, there is still a problem with the Internet supply in many corners of Germany. This is a clear locational disadvantage, says Warnecke. «A hotel cannot simply produce somewhere else.»