As a Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer at Hilton Grand Vacations (HGV), Rich Jackson leads HGV’s global technology team, responsible for application development, infrastructure, operations, cybersecurity, enterprise architecture and enterprise delivery. He has led strategic efforts in applying technology toward the reinvention of key operational units within the company and has directed many of HGV’s enablement initiatives, including sales technology, contracts automation, mobile, and digital.

Following is the conversation that Travel and Hospitality Tech Outlook Magazine had with Rich.

What are the technology-specific challenges that the travel and hospitality industry is facing, and how can they combat these challenges? 

I think the industry is facing the same challenges that many industries are facing today.   How do you continue to evolve and innovate as your customer change while providing great service.Customers should be at the center of your approach and play a vital role in shaping and guiding your businesses’ innovation strategy. I think a key to that is ‘actively listening’ to your customers and having a feedback loop to action the information. For example, what amenities they use or don’t use and what are the activities they’re interested in or enjoy doing. Like a lot of companies we have focused on an a personalization strategy but it is critical to have a feedback loop in place to adapt to your customers needs.

I believe actively listening to customers enables us to chart the course for innovations. Also, innovation happens at the edge of companies. Businesses need to ensure that their team members, especially those who are working on a property, have the ability to incorporate their feedback to help drive innovation overall as a company. 

Many hotel properties cannot truly benefit from the enhanced functionality of new technology due to a lack of integration with their existing software. What are your views on this?

Technology architecture is such a critical discipline for companies, but they don’t need multimillion-dollar technology budget to follow an architectural approach. They can build a flexible, agile technology platform by following a few key principles. In a case they are in a situation where they have systems that don’t integrate, they can look at cost effective middleware option that can link their existing technology to enhance the functionality of their systems while they work on a longer term integration strategy and roadmap. One key tenant when selecting any new technology today is ensuring that is based on a standard that will enable multipoints of integrations in the future providing the business flexibility and agility moving forward. It is important to focus on selecting platforms that give you flexibility.  Technology devices and how customers use them will also involve but if you have a solid platform that allows multi-point integrations, it can evolve as your business evolves. 

According to you, what does the future look like for the hospitality industry in the coming years? 

People love to travel, and after the pandemic, the desire to go on vacation and spend time with family and friends is greater than ever. Technology can play a vital role in helping hotels better serve their customers.

“Actively listening to customers enables us to chart the course for innovation”

People want simplicity and frictionless travel. We are going to continue to see an increase in technologies that improve customers experience and streamline processes such as the check-in processes, using your phone to access your rooms and other guest interactions where technology can improve the experience. The industry will focus on improving the stay and traveling experience, making it more convenient leveraging technology with an emphasis on and personalization.  At the end of the day, we are a people business so I think it’s a blend of high-tech and high-touch.

What would be a piece of advice for your fellow peers and leaders?

The CIO role has evolved, and it continues to evolve. Today, you not only need to be a technologist, but you also have to be a business strategist and digital leader.

On top of those skills, I think a CIO needs to be a servant leader with a clear vision that can be articulated and understood by your team, peers and other stakeholders. Building a strong culture and taking care of your team members is critical to your success. Employees are looking for an inclusive culture where they can learn and grow and be a part of something. As we are in the hospitality business, which is all about putting people first, my advice is to take care of your team members as they’re the most valuable resource. 

The other thing I would mention is innovation. Sometimes people think about innovation too broadly, that it needs to be a wholesale change to the way you operate. They just need to sometime think and start small with innovation

You can start small and then scale depending on customer demands. They don’t need to think about innovation as totally disruptive. Think about it incrementally. You can experiment and fail small and if it is a great idea and works then you can scale it.