Implementing the jumble of tools and services needed to raise the bar on the guest experience can feel like untangling spaghetti. A unified platform centered on payments can not only streamline hospitality technology, it can also power data-driven insights that save time, improve operations, reinforce loyalty, and boost revenue.
In order to meet the evolving needs of today’s travelers, hospitality companies must navigate an increasingly complex digital ecosystem. But as hotel executives struggle to integrate a patchwork of applications to support disparate software and payment systems, the guest experience suffers from the ensuing disconnection and friction.
SkiftX spoke with Lennert De Jong, president of hospitality at Planet, a global software and payments services provider, to explore how a unified and connected technology platform can empower hotel employees to deliver better service by supporting them with easy-to-use software and systems that work together more effectively across channels. We also discussed how payments can improve recognition and drive loyalty throughout the guest experience.
SkiftX: You joined Planet in September after a 16-year tenure as chief commercial officer at CitizenM. How did that role prepare you to lead a hospitality technology platform?
Lennert De Jong: Everything is very customer-centric at CitizenM. The company’s founder came from retail, and we centralized everything around the customer. We were hyper-focused on making customer experiences frictionless through extreme investments in technology, which led us to become one of the most innovative hotel chains. But I always wondered what my next challenge would be.
Now that I’m in my mid-40s, I want to make an even bigger impact on the hospitality industry. When Planet’s investors approached me, I realized that payments can be used to solve some of hospitality’s biggest problems. The opportunity to potentially transform the way an entire industry works — not just the way one hotel company operates — is incredibly exciting for me.
SkiftX: Let’s talk about some of those problems. Why has the hospitality sector been slow to adopt technology compared to other industries?
De Jong: Part of the issue is the global nature of the hospitality industry. It’s everywhere, but ownership is local and very fragmented. With most hotels, there’s a triangular relationship: an owner who needs to pay for everything; a management company that comes in with best practices; and a brand. Sometimes the last two are the same, but a lot of times they’re not, and this leads to fragmentation.
For instance, the same hotel chain uses different systems in their Amsterdam and Minnesota properties because they have different technology vendors around them. There are 7 million properties on Booking.com, and they all need to make their own individual supplier choices. Airlines are also global, but it’s different because there are far fewer airlines than hotels in the world.
Many independent hotels are choosing local suppliers, but how well are those local tech companies keeping up with global trends? There’s a myriad of property management systems (PMS) and payments systems, and somehow they all need to be connected. That’s pretty difficult to do.
SkiftX: Speaking of connection, Planet uses the term “connected commerce.” How do you define that, and what are some of the tangible ways it makes a positive impact on the guest experience?
De Jong: Planet is joining forces with several recently acquired companies across the payments and software space, adding more capability to our two main verticals, hospitality and retail. We believe that payments are an undervalued asset in the customer experience for these verticals, which both include online and in-person customer experiences.
There’s a lot more friction with the payment experience at a hotel compared with Uber or Amazon Go, where credit cards are stored on a customer profile. With Uber, payment is invisible and happens on the backend, but if you go to an average three- to five-star hotel and make a reservation, you have to show your credit card — at booking, at check in, and a lot of times at check out. Many hotels are still not capable of taking online payments or tokenizing credit cards.
We believe that hotels should connect the payment experience in a more seamless way. In fact, payments should be invisible. There is a future where hotels should not have to ask if it’s your first time staying with them, but many hotels don’t have the ability to recognize you, even if you’ve been there 20 or 30 times. Guests should be able to simply double-tap their card and be recognized by the hotel, even if they’re staying for the first time and aren’t in a loyalty program.
SkiftX: What’s another new or surprising way hoteliers can leverage payments within the guest journey?
De Jong: It may not be obvious, but the transfer of payments between a website and any hotel property for gift cards can be quite a complicated process, especially for larger hotel chains. If you’re in the U.S. and you buy a gift card for a hotel in Switzerland, you’re paying for the gift card in a different currency than where the value will be applied. This process involves a lot of local banks, which all take cuts from the payment. We offer a solution called dynamic currency conversion with multi-currency processing, an automated solution that allows the hotel to keep more of the revenue instead of the conversion going to local banks.
SkiftX: You’ve been on the job at Planet Hospitality for about six months now. What kind of long-term impact do you intend to make?
De Jong: Planet aims to become a vendor-agnostic hospitality operating system in an industry that is centered around applications such as PMS or central reservation systems (CRS). The idea is to build out technology on our payment rails with much less functionality that we build directly, but more with partners in a marketplace. It’s similar to how iOS users don’t have to use Apple Maps — they can download Google Maps instead, and it’s a frictionless experience to install and use. In the same way, we may provide a light PMS with apps around it, but if a hotel wants to work with another PMS that is completely fine. We can still provide the underlying platform-level support for payments. We want to be agnostic in that way, so we’re building a light PMS with a lot of functionality on a platform where key functions can be interchangeable.
My more immediate mission for 2023 is to explain Planet’s position as a software and payments partner in the hospitality industry and to show hotels they can leverage payments to improve the guest experience with what is already there today.
We want to help the industry envision a world in which you walk into a hotel you’ve never been to before and are immediately recognized by the front desk when you check in, either by tapping your card on a terminal or going straight to the room and tapping your card on the door. The London Underground system has figured this out — let’s follow suit as an industry and embrace technology that solves real problems.
For more information about Planet Hospitality, click here.
This content was created collaboratively by Planet and Skift’s branded content studio, SkiftX.
Tags: hospitality, planet, SkiftX Showcase: Hospitality, travel booking