Editor’s note: Based in Singapore, Andrew Cox is a managing director for Agilysys, a provider of hospitality software and solutions for hotels, resorts and restaurants to manage property, inventory and process payments.
He studied economics at La Trobe University in Melbourne in Victoria, Australia, and has developed into a senior executive with 20 plus years’ experience in managing all aspects of online, distribution, sales and marketing, digital experience, solutions consulting, global distribution systems and business development in travel and tourism, online/e-commerce and hospitality across the Asia Pacific.
Q. What initially attracted you to the hospitality and tourism industry? And how did you get your start?
A. After I finished university, I wanted to travel and went to Europe (as many Aussies do) and spent four years there. I landed a job with a fledgling start-up called lastminute.com and the rest was history — I was hooked on the travel and tourism industry. I moved home to Sydney and spent another six years with a joint venture between travel.com.au and lastminute.com until it was sold to wotif (a large Australian online travel agent, which is now owned by Expedia). This really was the start of the dot-com boom, and it was a heady time to be involved. Nothing was off limits, and the industry took some time to catch on.
Q. Advances in technology often move at a breakneck speed. Describe the evolution of software and tech in your industry and how businesses have been adopting to this evolution.
A. The pace of technology advancements is no longer a once in a decade move. Things change consistently and are in constant motion now. You need to ensure you are partnered with a company that is spending on R&D and tech development. We recently added another 600-person development team in Chennai, India, and also have started an Ideas Lab in our Alpharetta, Ga, office to look at and develop new technologies. You need to be on top of the latest coding languages, latest breakthroughs and, of course, at the same time, be looking for the next game changer.
Q. What are some recent global trends with hospitality software and other services? What about trends specific to the Pacific region market?
A. We are seeing a fast adoption of SaaS or cloud based systems. It really does allow the property to become less heavily dependent on expensive hardware and focus on mobile solutions (tablets and handhelds).
We recently launched our mobile-only focused PMS product at a property in North America that did not want a front desk at all, but wanted associates in a less formal, more social setting, checking guests in. It really does become more of a conversation with each and every guest rather than a credit card transaction. It’s always amazed me how long it can take to check-in and/or check-out. It can also be often very impersonal, and I am always looking for self check-in/check-out options.
Back to mobile solution, we have recently deployed at one of the largest resorts in Hawaii a pool ordering system whereby the customer uses a QR code to bring up a pool menu on their mobile device (which will change by time of day — lunch, drinks, snacks, etc). The order can be made from the guest’s own device, and the location recorded, without any server interaction. Drinks or food can be delivered directly to the guest location. There is both a payment and room charge option. This has been a game changer for this customer. Their [food and beverage] spend has doubled in the short time this system has been in use, and we expect that to grow as their operations further enhance and hone their offerings.
Q. You visited Guam to meet with industry leaders and players in November. What are some of the big takeaways from that trip?
A. Firstly, it was my first trip to Guam, and I was knocked over with the beauty of the place, a really gem and it reminded me a lot of Hawaii but a lot closer. I will certainly be back for both business and pleasure. My biggest take away from that trip was the dedication and enthusiasm for the industry and Guam as a destination — I saw a lot of passion for responsible tourism and to keeping Guam the special place it is for future generations. I also saw a lot of philanthropic endeavors by the industry for the industry. It was a wonderful trip.
One last takeaway was that it felt like from a hospitality technology point of view that for too long there have been very few choices for the local industry in what technology partner they could use. This isn’t great, as you are not seeing the latest technologies and aren’t able to think outside the square at how technology can benefit your property. We look forward to working with the industry in Guam to change that and look at ways we can tailor our solutions to be even better for the Guam tourism sector.
Q. What areas or opportunities with technology or other services do you think businesses on Guam could take more advantage of?
A. Think outside the square. Don’t look at the way your current technology operates to dictate your processes and procedures. Think about ways you can streamline your operations, adopt cloud-based technologies, deploy mobile solutions. Your technology partner should work with you to develop and deploy a technology solution that works for you.
I am certain in the next five to 10 years most businesses globally will be operating cloud systems, placing the [capital expenditure] burdens on their vendors and freeing themselves from local servers, VPN networks and the like. This is the same for hoteliers, and I know customers who are deploying now are already reaping the rewards.
Look to mobility. Look to untether your associates from front desks and restaurant terminals. It will take a shift in thinking, but those that offer their customers a more personalized service are seeing the rewards, building better connections with guests and seeing an upswing in repeat business. Don’t get me wrong, fixed terminals and front desks are still needed in many operations but adopting a hybrid mix and offering customers a choice is the key.
Q. To that end, what do you recommend is the best way for members in the industry to begin to transition from their traditional products and services to newer approaches?
A. Take your time and discuss your ideas with us. That is where we shine, in developing bespoke solutions for each customer. Looking at new technologies can be daunting and the idea of deploying new tech in business-critical areas often can be overwhelming and therefore technology gets pushed to the side.
Partner with a vendor that puts new products through its paces before deployment to ensure there are no surprises. Our products and services are world class; our cloud solutions are used by some of the largest hospitality names in the business because it works and because we are the only vendor 100% dedicated to developing technology for the industry.
Q. This is all about the guest experience. What does hospitality market research tell us about guest expectations and desires today?
A. Every guest is different. Technology of the past has, in a way, made us treat guests all the same way. Check-in options have not really changed for a long time. Guests expect options. They expect a level of individuality with their interactions with a property. I honestly believe choice is the key, offering many ways to interact with your property is paramount in our tech driven world.
Q. You’ve been in this business for over 20 years. What’s the best piece of advice to younger professionals looking to get into the hospitality tech space and who strive to be leaders?
A. Never, ever think you know everything. Learn every day. I surround myself with people who know way more than me and help me every day. This is the key to being part of a team, enjoying your work and being a part of a daily discussion on technology, its direction and how we can help our customers drive their business in a more tech agnostic way.
Youngsters these days are very driven — they thrive on being given additional responsibility, special projects and doing different things every day. Look for companies that offer this flexibility to cross train in different areas of the business and who are forward-looking companies that embrace change and technology in their DNA.
Advice for employers: listen to your teams, ask them regularly for their feedback, input, ways to make their jobs better. You will be surprised what feedback they have, and it keeps you on top of your game. mbj