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How COVID-19 will impact the future of hotel technology

Enseo CEO Vanessa Ogle joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the latest hotel and hospitality tech trends heading into 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Video Transcript

- I want to turn to the hotel industry now. Everything, obviously, still slammed as travel remains locked with those COVID cases around the country continuing to surge, and Vanessa Ogle has an amazing bird's eye view of this. She's the CEO of Enseo. That's a tech company that has really built a space for itself, specifically in the hotel industry.

So if you've dealt with things, like virtual front desks, or smartphone enabled light, or thermostat controls, this company may have been behind that. Vanessa, great to speak with you. I want to ask, what kind of specific demands and asks have you seen from some of your clients over the course of time about adapting hotels to the COVID age with these kind of troubles still lingering in this country?

VANESSA OGLE: Well, the hotel industry has been very aggressive in trying to see what they can do to make the hotels as safe as possible for not only travelers to return to traveling, but also, for their associates who are working in those hotels to continue coming back to work and feel safe doing so. So between their organizations, The American Hotel, and Lodging Association, and HTNG, they worked with all the major brands to come back and say, what can we do to make sure that we are cleaning these rooms appropriately? And what technology can we bring in to make sure that we are allowing the hotels to be as safe as possible for these guests and owners?

This includes touchless technology, such as a remote control that can be used to control the television, the lights, the thermostat, anything that we can do to give the power of control in that room back into that guest and them only touching their own device. That can be using the phone for the door entry. It can be using it for anything that we could possibly do, and also, communication. How do we communicate to guests and associates that these rooms have been cleaned, are cleaned, and our safe place for those guests to enjoy their time and a safe place for the associates to be working?

SEANA SMITH: Vanessa, you're in contact with these hotel chains or technologies that is used in almost 2,000 hotels here. Some of your clients are Hilton, Marriott, so you're in contact with these biggest names is what I'm getting at here. So what are you hearing from them just in terms of what they are seeing now compared to what they were seeing six months ago? Are we on that road to recovery when it comes to some of these big travel names?

VANESSA OGLE: Well, there's no doubt that at the end of 2019, we were at an all time high as it relates to occupancy. So the travel industry was growing at a pace that it had never grown before, and in COVID, it's absolutely been devastated without a doubt. We had some significant recovery over the summer. A lot of that recovery had shifted in how traveling was happening.

Prior to the summer, there was a significant amount of travel of the business travelers in the Monday to Friday timeframe. Now, it's shifted. So without all of that business travel, we have more leisure travel happening on the weekends. Now, some of the gains that we had made through the weekend time through the summertime, we've lost a little bit of that in November and a little bit more of that in December. So we'll be waiting to see what January brings us as it looks to occupancy.

- Vanessa, I want to ask about the infrastructure for some of these services that you were just laying out before COVID. So one example is I recently stayed at a hotel that had promised that they had a robot concierge that could take, let's say, like a Pop Tart from the downstairs kind of little store and bring it up to your hotel room with no contact at all whatsoever. And guess what? The robot was broken. They had that in place well before COVID, but it wasn't working at a time when arguably you needed it the most. So did hotels already have some sort of working infrastructure for some of the tech that you were talking about, or was it that you had to help them figure out how to implement these ideas that they had already had for many years before this whole issue?

VANESSA OGLE: Well, certainly, we've been assisting in bringing in this infrastructure into place, but the hotels have been working on contactless technology for quite some time. You mentioned an example. One of the things that you need for those to work is you need a network that works in every single one of the rooms, and the hallways, and the elevators.

So it's part of safety initiatives to keep housekeepers safe and rooms. There was already a rollout in place to bring IoT controllable devices, these panic buttons that we make with Made Safe, and other companies make them to keep associates safe. So the infrastructure for these technologies, smart rooms, smart thermostats, all of these have been in play. But now, certainly, the interest in investing in these technologies is accelerating as we have occupancy lower, which means, for example, anything we can do to lower the cost of running the operations of that hotel room, like watching the thermostat, watching the water usage, those are more important now than ever before. Because occupancy is lower.

SEANA SMITH: Vanessa, I want to ask you just about your role as CEO, a business leader during this time. It's been very tumultuous, especially for your industry specifically. And your business is still relatively small when we take into account some of those bigger competitors out there. What has the past year been like for you, and how have you been able to weather a lot of the uncertainty that you still face here going into 2021?

VANESSA OGLE: Well, that's a great question. There's no doubt that being a small minority owned business in this time has not been easy, but I have an incredible team. And they have pivoted in literally creating new products from scratch.

The hotel companies, like Marriott, is a strong partner of ours. They've been incredible to us in allowing us to support their hotels and giving us some flexibility in how we offer services and support in this difficult time. Also, critical has been our vendor support.

Dish Network is a vendor that we work with on content, and they have just linked arms with us so quickly to allow us to support these hotel customers and still stay financially solvent. But without those big companies helping in enabling us to be successful, it would have been incredibly difficult. Of course, we were also a participant or a recipient of the PPP loan, and that really facilitated us being able to get our team back to work. And when they got back to work, I used all those engineers and all those brilliant minds that I have at the business to launch these new initiatives, like checkpoint, a product that takes temperatures and makes sure that someone is safe as they walk in the door to that building, the touchless remote connect that allows people to control the room from your mobile phone, Vera, which is a virtual enhanced remote agent. So that you can check into your hotel just with a screen, just like we're doing this interview today.

So those people being able to come back sponsored by the PPP program in large part and our customers, Mariott and our vendor partners, that really allowed us to stay alive in this very, very difficult time. But we're bullish for 2021. All of these products will be-- they will do very well for us. And we think that more people will be able to roll out the technology as occupancy starts to improve, and fingers crossed that the vaccine gives us what we need to accelerate that rollout.

- And then, Vanessa, last question, but really quickly. I mean, is there a difference between working with those larger clients, like Mariott, and those small mom and pop hotels? Do you have any clients like that, that maybe themselves took PPP loans, but are also trying to beef up their tech to adapt to these times?

VANESSA OGLE: You know, I think the interesting thing is that the big brands are made up of small mom and pop owners of hotels. So, yes, while we work a lot with big brands, many of those hotels are small owners, small companies, small businesses, just like we are. And we do see those small businesses eager to invest in technology, so that they can bring their people back to work. But they have to be careful, because it's harder to invest lots of extra money when you don't have the revenue coming in the door. So it's a balance.

- All right, well, Vanessa Ogle, she is the CEO of Enseo. Sorry for messing up that pronunciation at first, but thank you so much for joining us here on Yahoo Finance today.

VANESSA OGLE: Thanks for having me.