Made in Louise is a Brusells-based independent hotel where guests can enjoy the charm of living in a typical townhouse from the 20th century. The property offers 48 comfortable rooms with a contemporary & authentic style.
After another year, we had a chat with the owner and general manager, Martin Duchateau, to hear about how Apaleo and his software setup allowed him to navigate the COVID-19 crisis, a sneak peek into his new hotel project, and a prediction of the future of hotel technology.
Hi Martin, for our new readers, can you tell us about yourself and your background?
I have been in the hotel industry for 20 years, having worked for Hilton, Design Hotels, and Radisson in several senior positions, mainly in revenue management. This journey started in Brussels, then Dublin, Singapore, Berlin and back to Brussels. It really helped me to explore and learn different ways of working and systems. Since returning to Brussels, I decided to work as a hospitality consultant and at the same time manage our family hotel, the Made in Louise. This hotel is my "lab" where I can test, try and fail, always trying to find the perfect ecosystem with the right approach in a world where behaviours, needs, and practices change every day. We need quick and continuous adaptability.
Have you seen big changes in your role as a hotelier over the course of the past 5 years?
The past 5 years have been very interesting for an independent hotelier with a passion for tech. We have seen plenty of new cloud systems and hospitality startups try to connect to each other. By choosing the right partners in the ecosystem, it made a huge impact on our guest services and journeys. All the systems that support us are always under evaluation, which is really important, as we can see now, adaptability is key to survival. Now, we have the tools to compete with hotel chains and can offer similar services thanks to our tech partners, all experts in their specific fields. We have no idea what the needs of tomorrow will be, the only thing we have to ensure is to have a resilient structure that we can adapt at all times.
Perhaps you could tell us a little more about Made in Louise, how was it conceived, what is your role in the business, and what are your future plans/aspirations for the hotel?
Made in Louise is a charming boutique hotel that opened in 2012. I opened the hotel with my sister who is also in the hospitality business. Very quickly, we saw that we had a "match" with our guest. We did things simply with honest and real hospitality. Our strategy was based on 3 pillars: recruitment (hiring & keeping the best people), continuous investment in the product and technology.
My role in the business is trying to always be a step ahead of the competition; by travelling, researching, reading, talking to colleagues and attending fairs. It is the most difficult part of my job but, on the other hand, the most exciting one. I need to take time to do that, it's not easy to sit back and think when you have a hotel running and you are just following the flow. My future plans for Made in Louise and my new hotel project will definitely be more local (using local providers), more eco-oriented, and more tech (improving the digital journey) with a feeling of slowing down. I really want to remove all negative touch points with our guests (credit cards, payments, registration cards, check-in, check-out) and focus only on the experience and the human approach.
The importance you've placed on integrating technology into your customer's journey is clear. What role does technology play in the success of your brand?
I spent a lot of energy on my IT strategy as I believe it has a dominant impact on the guest experience. It helps us to do our jobs much better and at the same time to show professionalism to our guests. I would not be able to achieve my goals without it. When I say "goals", it is e-reputation, check-in/check-out efficiencies, guest services, revenue management (RMS), direct booking strategies, etc...
How has your staff adjusted to using Apaleo now that more time has passed?
It is very exciting for the staff. They are very motivated by seeing all the systems work together, especially when it supports them in being efficient. They can finally focus on their main job which is spending time with the guest. Thanks to Apaleo, I have been able to build an ecosystem that suits exactly what I need in order to deliver upon guest & staff expectations. It is crucial for the business today to have the right tools and it will be even more important in the years to come. The hotel tech industry is evolving very quickly with startups all over the place, which is why we need to be resilient and be prepared to change partners much more than before. Apaleo understands this very well.
What is one of your favourite things about working with Apaleo?
Aside from the product being ultra-connected to all systems that I want to use, the team, hands down, has the best support and is constantly improving the product based on our feedback. We receive weekly updates with new features, and someone is always available when we have questions. This is the kind of service that we expect from a company working in hospitality, but it isn’t the norm with most tech providers.
Let's just dive into the hard questions and talk about the impact of COVID-19 on your business. It was evident that you had to react by closing the hotel to survive the crisis with minimal loss. Maybe you can explain the role technology played in your response.
I had to decide within 24 hours to close, it was very fast. The fact that our IT was cloud-based meant that we could relocate quickly, keep the same service standards and still be very reactive to market changes. Even though the hotel was closed, we offered multiple communication channels to the guest and we're adapting our IT strategy to the "new normal”. We decided to enhance our digital guest journey by adding a new partner that offers self check-in & check-out, adapted our website in order to reassure our guests and improved our revenue management practices to be even more reactive to market changes. We also explored changing our door locks provider to avoid any physical contact with key cards.
All those changes were possible with connected partners offering quick and easy setup. This crisis showed us again that we need a resilient structure that needs to be re-evaluated continuously, which Apaleo makes possible.
Earlier, you hinted that you're also working on a new project. Are there any specific lessons learned that you are taking with you?
I opened Made in Louise 9 years ago and I clearly did not have all the IT options I have today. We were operating the hotel with a legacy PMS that was linked to a channel manager and that was it. In the past years, we jumped into a digital approach that really helped us to be more productive and thus, more competitive. For my new hotel project, the idea is to go even further, offering a fully digital journey with no reception. We plan to have a host welcome you, just as if you're at home with a nice local coffee, but have their focus be on the goal of ensuring that you live the best experiences as a "local". This is only possible for independent hotels today, which wasn't the case 10 years ago, due to the lack in modern property management systems, like the Apaleo Open PMS.
Where do you see the biggest potential for improvement in hotel technology?
I think the biggest improvement will come from the CRM world, it seems that there is still a lack of performant products in this field. It is clearly very challenging but at this point as hoteliers, we should know our guests better. It would be more beneficial for all partners and the ecosystem would be stronger if systems would improve their connections to each other with 2-way feeds.
On that note, do you have a prediction for what will be the next big thing?
Looking a few years ahead, I really hope we will have more and better integrations with companies outside the hospitality world (restaurants, airports, taxis, concierges, tourism boards, etc...). The idea would be to provide more information to the guest and a seamless guest journey, thanks to "Big Data". These will finally connect in order to draw "a real" personalised service, a journey that would be unique and specific to each guest. We will, as well, see more connected devices in the room. The guest will choose the atmosphere, the music, the lighting, the temperature, etc... and of course, these would be stored for his next stay. Guest loyalty will also be a big topic for the years to come and it will need to completely rethink the model since millennials are changing what it means to be loyal. There is still so much to do in hotel technology!
It is especially interesting to hear your perspective on this last question: what is your personal favourite hotel to stay in and why?
I love staying in hotels that will surprise me in some way, where I learn something that I can take back with me. Most of the time, I search for small independent hotels. I look at reviews, their website, their social media, and if all the elements show consistency and emotions, I will go for it. Price comes in after that (it has to stay reasonable). One of my best stays was at Hotel 41 in London, a small boutique hotel (part of Red Carnation Hotels). I was very touched by the level of comfort and service, everything was perfectly balanced without being too much. You could feel they had a strong digital focus which helped them enhance the guest experience.
Until next time, do you have any words of wisdom to pass along to other hoteliers like yourself?
Most of the time what ends up making a place somebody's favourite is just a feeling you get when you enter the place, there is a lot you cannot explain. Hotels have to make the best impression with the right amount of energy and positive vibes. Nevertheless, it is vital that we don't forget that the guest journey starts upon booking, primarily digital by today's standards, so it's important to consider the guest journey, before, during and after the stay. Thanks to our digital companions, this is possible!
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