The hospitality industry was one of the world’s biggest industries during 2010. In South Africa, tourism accounts for a huge chunk of our GDP – coming in at over R10-billion – and technology is set to drive the industry going forward.

According to Rory Montgomery, in charge of marketing at software developer Hospitality Technology International (HTI), 2011 will witness some key and exciting changes in the hospitality industry.

“For one thing, there will be an increasing demand for more affordable business-focused hotels and rooms, and, with this, amenities such as in-room WiFi will be an absolute must-have,” he says.

“Businessmen are also likely to base their stay on loyalty – and on those hotels they have become accustomed to, who offer the business facilities they require. With regards to the use of technology, more and more hotels are starting to realise the importance of smart phone technology and are now ensuring that guests have access to this new-wave technology, which is poised to become ubiquitous.

“Despite the rigours of the recession there is also a move towards fashion, with hotels and restaurants – the leading ones at least – tending to become more fashionable, in some occasions even hiring designers to gain an edge over competitors,” Montgomery adds. “The mantra here is: ‘you need to spend money to make money’, and the more aesthetically pleasing destinations are likely to be more popular. While look and feel – certainly a business feel – are high up on the agenda, another important consideration is the need for customers to be able to take their own responsibility for their bookings.

“Corporates, even individuals, are increasingly taking responsibility for their own bookings by going online – and statistics show that individuals are also looking to websites for more of their travel information and research.

“If you are not online or linked to popular web-sites which potential customers are going to make use of, then you are pretty much dead in the water.”

Montgomery adds that the old adage “The customer is king”, has never been truer – especially while the economy is in recession.

“Customers want to feel that they are special,” he says. “It is important, now more than ever, for hotels and restaurants to know what their customers want – and to make them feel like kings. While guests might be a little bit tight with their spending money due to the hangover effect of the recession, they are certainly more likely to part with more of their hard-earned money where they feel they are at home – and where they feel like they are treated like a valued guest.”