A leader in the hospitality industry in Portugal for five decades, Pestana has been consistently expanding internationally, with locations now in 16 regions including Africa, the Americas and Europe.

What have you noticed about digitalisation in the hotel industry?

Gonçalo Oliveira: Digital services are key, but it’s not going to entirely replace face-to-face offerings. Our front desks are trained to recognise our customers’ preferences and tend to remember people when they return.

Part of our success has been meeting the customer where they’re at, with both digital and face-to-face interactions for those who crave it. A seamless offering is essential for a great experience, which includes understanding that sometimes a single customer’s preferences will change throughout the day, depending on their mood and circumstances. Successful hotels will accommodate this.

In terms of digital transformation, what trends are you currently seeing?

I’m seeing a clear trend for ‘bleisure’ – the combination of business and leisure. Younger people staying longer by using Madeira as a location for work and pleasure. This is an interesting development that necessitates adjusting our offering.

The industry has always been quite involved with OTAs and e-commerce – that’s a given. We’ve also seen an exploration in the wider experience – customers looking for activities and experiences, rather than simply hotels or locations. There are also fewer standard travel dates, as customers combine work with leisure and have more freedom with flexible working.

What consumer demand trends do these include?

People are making more last-minute reservations, which requires more technologically precise revenue management. The pricing for these types of reservation needs to be really sharp, so we’re investing a lot to ensure the right price for our audience at that moment in time. Creating multiple service touchpoints also helps keep consumers engaged with their trip. Beyond reminders, this includes experiences, local tips and ideas on how to make the most of their stay. This creates a bond that can lead to fewer cancellations and a better guest experience. From a technology point of view, there is now no room for mistakes. Many are travelling for the first time since the pandemic. It’s crucial we provide a seamless experience that is supported on digital systems, integrating each element of their stay, including travelling, hotel, spa, restaurants and more. The tolerance for failure is much lower, be it your Wi-Fi connection, restaurant bookings, apps and more. However, people still need to be there to provide a smile and the comfort of the human touch.

What do you consider significant technology themes over the next three years?

I’ll give you three that we’re currently seeing. The first is the need for open architectures. We’ve spoken about APIs and integration platforms, for example, but there is still a way to go. The industry has been based on a strong vertical approach from big names in the reservation systems. We cannot provide the kind of service that we are discussing with customer data, access to different platforms that integrate with a restaurant or spa that you don’t own, if that architecture is not open.

The second is the ability to push cloud environments and this is linked to cybersecurity. As we speak I’m driving a push to include the option of virtual front desk environments, while ensuring that it doesn’t have permissions on local machines. That would be a huge cybersecurity risk across the industry. We’re investing in a safe environment and that includes cloud solutions to increase cybersecurity.

The third is more to do with the use of analytics. I prefer not to call it artificial intelligence because that is such a broad concept, but we’re pushing analytics, namely machine learning, to improve some of the operations mentioned earlier.

This includes revenue management and other dimensions, such as improving scores and hotel reviews. Understanding and improving guest experience enhances our reviews and reputation. We’re using machine learning to seek that guidance.

Gonçalo Oliveira will be presenting at the International Hotel Technology Forum conference.