Talking Tech: Aaron Turner, BridgeStreet Global Hospitality

George Sell By George Sell
Uploaded 26 January 2017

SAN talks to BridgeStreet's chief technology officer about the company's plans to improve the customer experience through technology.

• Could you give us a brief career history to date?

"I spent the first five years of my career as a software engineer in the environmental, health and safety industry. In March 2000, I had an opportunity to start an online reverse logistics company at absolutely the worst time.  We built a product to automate the online returns process for consumers at a time where Amazon and ecommerce was in its infancy stage.  It taught me a lot about consumer experience, consumer emotion and integrating systems to make a seamless consumer experience."

"We were later acquired by Manhattan Associates, the leader in warehouse and transportation management solutions and I became a road warrior for many years.  I left Manhattan Associates in 2006 to work for eBay. I spent nine years at eBay in a variety of leadership roles leading digital transformation. I focused on globalising our technology stack, client e-commerce growth for eBay's largest enterprise client, and various omni-channel initiatives.  I left eBay in 2014 after leading digital campaign marketing services for eBay's enterprise clients.  In 2014, I became COO/CTO at BrandShop digital commerce.  I led operations, digital marketing and technology teams who provided end-to-end commerce and digital marketing operations for branded manufacturers like Coca Cola and Ford Motor Company. That brings us to present."

• How aware were you of the serviced apartment sector before you joined BridgeStreet, and what were your perceptions of it?

"I wasn't aware of the serviced apartment industry. Being a global road warrior for many years it was very surprising that I never stayed at a serviced apartment."

• What are your initial thoughts on the level of - and potential for - adoption of new technology in the sector?

"There aren't a lot of serviced apartment companies in our space leveraging technology to meet the needs of all of the constituents involved (guests, travel managers, relocation specialists, suppliers, etc).  Most serviced apartments and homes in our sector have internal systems that have been customised over time to meet the needs of certain constituents, but not all. The entire industry has an opportunity to utilise technology to make it easier for suppliers to access markets, corporate travel managers to be compliant with their travel guidelines and of course be everything, everywhere that a guest needs and wants. This is a huge opportunity which BridgeStreet is pursuing aggressively. I would say if this was a baseball game, technology within the serviced apartment industry is in the top of the second inning."

• Do you have any specific tech-related plans for BridgeStreet you can share with us?

"We have a lot of exciting programs within our three-year technology roadmap. In 2016, we launched our real-time booking commerce site to allow guests to book reservations for serviced apartments and home in real time. We also launched a supplier portal to allow suppliers to access markets through our site. In 2017, we are focused on our guests, corporate travel managers and suppliers. You will see BridgeStreet launching technology solutions that will allow our guests to live locally while traveling globally."

"BridgeStreet will make it easier for guests to book, give them amenities to make their business travel easier, amenities to make their BridgeStreet stay feel like home. We are also making it easier for corporate travel managers to book. It starts with understanding the tools they use on a daily basis and providing APIs and other technology solutions to streamline the booking process. Likewise for suppliers, providing tools to automate inventory and rate management, so suppliers can focus more on their business and less on administrative tasks."

• Distribution is a key area for new tech in the sector - how can operators use tech in an attempt to win direct business from the OTAs?

"Operators need to focus on where the guests find properties. The more places operators can push their properties, the bigger chance of their property being booked, because being connected and visible is the only way to be successful.  Once they solve the occupancy dilemma they can focus their effort on higher yielding channels including their own site.  Once the guest is within the four walls of the property, then online and offline branding, amenities, and the in-stay experience make a huge impact on winning the guest over in the long term, no matter the original booking channel.  Bringing technology to the guests in each of these experiences is key. BridgeStreet has already launched these partnerships and they are available to any supplier on our platform."

• And how can they best attempt to compete with the sharing economy platforms and OTAs when it comes to short-term inventory?

"Operators need more technology. It needs to be easier to publish their rates and availability in real time to wherever they want to market their property. Today, too much time is spent managing inventory and rates versus marketing. Brands will never be able to spend as much money on marketing, especially digital marketing, as the OTAs, but what the OTAs can't provide is excellent service and all of the amenities guests need and want at pre-arrival, check-in, during their stay and at check-out. Operators need to use these to their advantage to deliver world class services and market them throughout the guest journey to have them begin booking direct. BridgeStreet's digital platform, will give business travellers a wealth of options at their fingertips and streamline travel arrangements for individuals and companies with diverse extended-stay needs to book in real time."

• If we fast forward three years, how do think technology will have changed the way companies such as BridgeStreet do business?

"Technology will force more transparency in the ecosystem. It will force operators to focus on quality of service and amenities because guest reviews, quality rankings, availability and real time pricing will be transparent to guests, corporate travel managers and relocation specialists. Travel managers will need more data on their guests and travel policy compliance. Guests will need more options and amenities, including digital amenities. This is why so much of our job is to try and be ahead of the needs of our guests. This makes it easy for them and thus easier for travel managers, relocation specialists and operators."

"Companies like BridgeStreet will have to continue to listen to the changing needs of customers, and look at the trends and unique service offerings that will drive the hospitality industry forward. BridgeStreet is already disrupting the extended-stay hospitality experience by sweeping away the outdated, one-size-fits-all mindset of the traditional extended-stay category. We are committed to providing the services, the duty of care, and bringing choice, control, flexibility, and the assurance of peace of mind to extended stay experiences,  and we will continue to lead this thought the transformation."

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