Interview with Zaplox New CEO
Even Frydenberg stepped down as Chairman of the Board of Zaplox to take on the CEO role in October 2020, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has not only turned out to hit the hotel industry very hard but perhaps unexpectedly also brought to light highly needed industry improvements. We met up with Even to discuss the industry’s growing need for digitalization and to learn more about how he sees 2021 play out for the hotels recovering from the pandemic.
Even, you personally have a history of being a very frequent traveler, why are new digital improvements in the hotel industry of value to you?
As a frequent traveler, I appreciate having the option of choosing how much time and effort I want to spend on the different parts of my travel. If I’m on a hectic business trip where I arrive at the hotel at 10 pm and depart again at 6 am I want to have an as effective guest experience as possible where I can check in long before I even arrive at the hotel. I want to have access to the key to my hotel room without even talking to anyone and be able to go directly to my room so I can prepare for the next day.
However, if I’m on a leisure trip at a resort and have more time available I would like to have easy access to offers, experiences or maybe spa treatments and to be able to communicate with the hotel without standing in line to the front desk. Depending on your “trip persona” you want to use technology for different reasons. Nonetheless, it’s clear that people in general look for things that make things easier for them. We are already used to booking our flights, checking in at the airport, and order transportation via our own phone. However, when we arrive at the actual hotel we have to stand in a line – that doesn’t make any sense to me. Regardless of what your trip persona is, you’re going to lean much more on technology now than you ever did before. I see no reason why I, whether I am on my business or leisure trips, should not have access to everything through my phone.
Historically the hospitality industry has been fairly spared from external pressure and has been able to operate in its own ingrained traditional way without any substantial disruptions. However, 2020 became a tipping point that changed many of these prerequisites. What new guest expectations and demands did the year bring?
Well, you can’t really discuss 2020 without mentioning the covid-19 pandemic in some way. The year has been a very traumatic experience for the whole hospitality industry and has had far-reaching implications on the hotel guests, the hotel operators, the hotel staff, the local communities, and of course the real estate owners. Having said that, it strangely enough also turned out to be a catalyst for the very conservative hotel industry to finally embrace technology and digitalization and make it into a natural tool in their toolkit. What we have seen lately is that hotel guests actually demand options. Guests want to choose how they book their stay, check-in and check-out and how they access their room keys. Guests want to maintain social distancing but still want the good personal service that you expect to get from a hotel. The hotels, on the other hand, are now turning to technology to provide not only safety for their guests and staff but also to reduce operational costs and keep them down when the more normal business level starts to return.
As we expected, the research also shows that in 2021 and beyond the demand for these types of touchless mobile solutions that Zaplox offers, will continue to increase and increase quite dramatically, a clear continuation of the trend that we already saw in 2020. The guest demand for safety and a mobile-friendly guest journey has actually already changed the way the industry looks at these types of solutions. What once was nice to have is now something everybody needs to have.
During the last months of 2020, bookings through the direct channels of hotels increased dramatically, and with the appropriate focus from the hotels they are expected to increase even more during 2021. What implications does this have for hoteliers?
This is a really interesting trend. Over the last decade, hotels have been faced with the reality of having more and more of their bookings coming through expensive online travel agencies (OTA:s). However, there’s been a change to this trend. As a result of the pandemic, the OTA:s have been struck not only by very low business levels, but they have also been heavily criticized for their very poor and lacking refund policies as well as their complete absence of customer service. Therefore, if hoteliers become more knowledgeable and active on social media for example, and if they introduce easy to use online travel platforms and apps like the one we offer at Zaplox they now have a golden opportunity to capture and drive more direct bookings through these types of personal digital offering services.
With vaccinations in place and a world that is slowly preparing to adjust to the new normal, peoples’ eagerness to start traveling again are recommencing. What part do hoteliers play in enabling and resuming safe travels again?
It is clear that a giant joint responsibility lies across the different travel sectors to provide one safe end-to-end guest journey and meet the new expectations for travelers. The hotels themselves will without a doubt play a critical role in ensuring and stimulating the return of the business. One of the studies we just reviewed actually found that the most important changes that need to be made in order for travelers to be confident and have confidence in traveling again are purely in the hands of the hotels themselves:
- Cleaning and cleanness
- Contact-free payments.
- Mobile keys.
- Kiosk solutions.
- The ability to communicate digitally.
You stepped in as the new interim CEO of Zaplox in October 2020 and became the permanent CEO in February, what are your top priorities for 2021?
My main priority is to ensure that our different teams and team members have the right focus and the tools and resources that they need to help us continue on our growth story. 2020 was a record year for us, with the second, third, and fourth quarter being the best in Zaplox history. We will continue this growth in 2021 and beyond and in order to achieve this my focus will be on four very critical things.
- Ensure that the product and services that we are offering are competitive in the market and that they are scalable, we are in a business that needs to be scalable.
- Our business model, a SaaS model, is based on recurring revenues. We are therefore also heavily impacted by our different sales partners. We want to continue to deepen the already good relationships we have with our existing partners, while we continuously look for the right new partners that share our values and customer focus.
- By us being so customer-focused, we need to stay really close with our partners, the customers, and the end-users in order to ensure that we continue to improve and expand on the features of our products. We need to innovate, not for innovation’s sake but to innovate when appropriate.
Lastly, with the hospitality industry changing and the digital transformation accelerating, will traveling ever go back to what it once was?
That is an easy question – absolutely! I’m a born and bred hotelier and a very frequent traveler and it’s clear in my mind that eventually we will be back where we once were. The question is only how long it will take. Last summer when the restrictions were lifted people were back traveling in a second and the most recent research shows that the vaccinations will speed up everyone’s desire to travel even more. Having said that, I believe that the travel patterns will not be the same as 14 months ago. The way people travel and what is important in order to stimulate travel has changed. Hotels that embrace these types of changes and adapt to the new environment and the technology that guests now expect, will return faster to former occupancy levels and to a healthy business.