We interviewed Simon Bullingham, Founder and CEO of Journey to discover what’s changing our industry in 2024

How can online booking technology support the current staff shortages being experienced within the hospitality industry?

Simon Bullingham: The hospitality industry as we know is struggling to fill roles, with staff shortages across departments. There is a need for operations to become more efficient and for hotels to use technology to fill the gaps. We’ve seen online booking technology playing a pivotal role in streamlining the guest booking process and reducing the reliance on the front desk. This enables staff to prioritise the guest experience in-person. Hotels should choose technology solutions that focus on immediate wins, easy deployment, and nothing too complicated.

Despite concerns about technology replacing human jobs, why should hotels embrace technology?

Simon Bullingham: Hotels are currently characterised by being low tech, high touch – meaning that they heavily rely on human interaction. The future will be characterised by by high tech, high touch. By embracing technology, hotels can reduce paperwork and administrative tasks, and ultimately free up time for staff to focus on connecting with guests, adding value, and enhancing the overall guest experience. In this way, technology can actually enhance the art of hospitality in hotels.

Where do you think AI will take us five years from now?

Simon Bullingham: The biggest impact will be a general productivity improvement across most office based jobs. We are seeing an increased adoption of people behind desks leveraging AI to make them more effcient. AI is not replacing them, it’s making them more productive. Whether it be using GenAI tools such as ChatGTP to automate a web search, provide the bare bones of a job description, produce some original imagery for marketing or record and document meetings are all huge time savers. Jobs including administration or computer activity, whether they be in hotels, finance or any other industry will become easier and our talent can focus on those things AI cannot achieve and arguably may never achieve.

In the coming years, how do you anticipate the overall guest journey to evolve?

Simon Bullingham: According to PWC, a significant majority of travellers, 81%, are seeking greater digital services from hotel brands. This indicates a shift towards immediacy and convenience in the future of the guest journey. Contactless engagement is rapidly becoming the new standard, and seamless digital experiences are highly valued – actually expected – by guests. Online booking platforms have to capture attention within seconds, and innovative payment methods such as Buy Now, Pay Later (BNPL) and mobile wallets will redefine the payment processes.

Guest expectations are evolving rapidly. How can technology address the increasing demands from guests?

Simon Bullingham: Guests today expect more personalised and seamless experiences. Hotels have a wealth of facilities, amenities, and services to personalise any stay. Technology can help hotels meet these heightened expectations by providing guests with the option to curate a tailored stay.

An Experience Management System (EMS) is a breakthrough for hoteliers otherwise accustomed to managing multiple systems simultaneously across their operations. Spa, golf, memberships, leisure activities (such as yoga classes, art workshops, and cooking experiences), and facilities (including bike rentals, tennis court hire, and hot tub bookings) can be managed in a single solution, integrated with a hotel’s Property Management System (PMS). The driving forces behind a more personalised and immersive guest experience will be the hoteliers themselves, who will act as experience makers. In addition, they of course will be rewarded with greater profitability. We see from our hotel partner data up to 60% increases in revenue when you allow guests to curate their own booking – choosing to buy multiple experiences at the point of purchase.

What emerging trends will shape travel and hospitality?

Simon Bullingham: The future hotel experience will be characterised by personalisation, offering a diverse range of services and products to cater to each guest’s unique preferences. The growth in wellness services is a testament to this trend. Latest figures from GWI’s 2024 report predict a 50% increase in wellness revenue in the next three years so hoteliers will need to harness this. Which at Journey we think is pretty exciting.

And then of course from a tech perspective, automated booking and payment processes, driven by AI tools, will become standard. This will contribute to a more connected and efficient ecosystem. Hotels must embrace technology as a means to elevate the guest experience, creating a seamless, personalised and memorable stay.