Hoteliers advised to be more like airlines and charge for ‘add ons’

‘Digitising the guest journey’ can lead to additional revenue streams for room upgrades and room services

Hoteliers have been urged to be more like airlines which annually raise billions in additional revenue from “add ons” such as baggage charges and pricing for seat selection.

Mark Abraham, founder of hotel booking app Shackle, said “digitising the guest journey” could lead to additional revenue streams for room upgrades and room services.

He said the “guest journey” would begin with scrapping the traditional check-in desk. “Nobody has ever said to me they really liked that five-minute wait and the way you handle admin,” he said.

In the future he said customers would be sent a digital room key in the same way they download an airline ticket. Easy to use technology would allow the customer to choose from a range of room upgrades and order beverages from the hotel’s menu, replacing the old-fashioned process of “ticking boxes on a piece of paper and hanging it on your room door”, he said.


The advantage of digital booking is the elimination of queues while extras such as food can be ordered in advance online, for example, from a taxi on the way from the airport. If a range of extras was readily available to book “with two clicks”, substantial additional revenue could be raised, Mr Abraham told the Irish Hotels Federation annual conference in Co Cavan.

Mr Abraham, originally from Co Offaly, has raised €20 million for Shackle’s development. He said the digitisation of booking and check-in services would not make the guest experience impersonal, but would release staff from administration work to “go out and greet their guests”.

Kieran McCorry, national technology officer with Microsoft Ireland, said advances in artificial intelligence would make it possible for hotels to process vast amounts of available data on their customers, including images from social media, ensuring that when a guest arrived, staff knew their name, what they looked like and their preferences.

Meanwhile, the Government’s acquisition of 12 per cent of registered tourism accommodation to house asylum seekers was threatening the viability of businesses in the wider hospitality business, hoteliers warned at the annual conference.

Chief executive of the Irish Hotels Federation Tim Fenn said jobs had already been lost in small towns as the local hotel was taken out of the tourism business. He said visitor attractions, restaurants, pubs, taxi businesses and gift shops that depend on tourists were under severe pressure with some having already closed.

Mr Fenn referred to recent Fáilte Ireland estimates of up to €1.1 billion as the cost to the economy of the closure of hotels and guest houses that were repurposed as accommodation centres. He said the Government, in meeting a legal responsibility to house those seeking international protection, had created “a significant challenge” for the hospitality industry which employs 270,000 people. “There is a cost to that,” he said.

Mr Fenn said increasing VAT from 9 to 13 per cent was an additional burden and many small businesses, particularly in the food and beverage sector, were in jeopardy.

Mr Fenn was supported by a range of speakers at the federation’s annual conference in Co Cavan on Tuesday.

Paul Kelly, chief executive of Fáilte Ireland, said the food and beverage sector was also seeing the impact on payroll costs of increases in the minimum wage. He said this sector was particularly strong in its calls for a return to the 9 per cent vat rate.

Chief executive designate of Tourism Ireland, Alice Mansergh, said this year Dublin’s St Patrick’s Day parade would be broadcast live to up to 50 million viewers on cable television networks in the United States. But she said marketing would not help businesses that were not profitable.

“Ireland is not seen as a low-cost destination,” she said. Ms Mansergh said the acquisition of hotels and guest houses for asylum seekers disproportionately affected the three star hotel sector, taking out more of the mid- and lower cost accommodation from the tourism offering.

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Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien is an Irish Times journalist