When the COVID crisis fell upon the world, we watched with devastation the effects on our customers, our fellow vendors and our industry as a whole. We knew that we were at a moment where our next actions would define us for many years to come.
Our first executive meetings were mostly concerned with ensuring the safety of our employees and putting our disaster recovery plans in effect as we transitioned the entire company to home office. Thankfully, both went well – all were safe; employees and customers alike.
Very early on, we initiated a transparent internal communication plan where all teams were frequently informed of the company’s decisions and our position on the avalanche of topics that had to be addressed. You will all remember, the beginning, when nobody really knew what was going on or what would happen next. As the executive team met daily, our HR team did a magnificent job in channeling out information, making sure that all team members had clarity on the practical aspects of what was going to be the new normal.
At the end of March, we held our first COVID Town Hall meeting during which we spoke directly to all employees and distribution partners about our revised 2020 strategy. The meeting ended with this sentence:
“You must always remember that we will not let you down, we will fight for protel and all that is part of it”
During this year, we have all heard different versions of the Darwinian “adapt or die” statement and we have seen adaption happening in hospitality at such impressive speed. But we have not heard much of the different version by George Bernard Shaw, the one that goes:
“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man”
Some may say that what we decided to do next was entirely unreasonable. For sure, there were a few within our own ranks that expressed a quite reasonable fear of our decision. But it is in times of adversity, that one must make brave decisions. When it is more important than ever to act with integrity. When one must ask only one question; what will be my contribution to the solution?
We decided to do what we do best. Hotel technology. Because the crisis is going to end, and when it ends – we have the capability to make sure that “our” hotels shine like sparkling tech-stars.
So instead of the well planned out, staged rollout of protel Air…… we mobilized the entire company to 1) reinvent how we would rollout an entirely new tech stack, UI, workflows and much more, 2) create a range of new assets like project communication cycles, videos, tutorials, FAQs etc and 3) execute the shift of our entire protel Air customer base. Remotely. With all our teams separated in their home locations.
Only six weeks after the decision, we started shifting hundreds of hotels per week to the new tech stack. All around the world. For free. Our customers had the most unwanted, longest period of low occupancy ever. When would have been a better time to introduce such a significant system change?
Needless to say, it’s been a journey for everyone involved. Our customers were at different stages of their own crisis management when the new generation of protel Air descended on them, for some it was not the best timing. For most, it was the best thing since sliced bread.
The unreasonableness of the project has brought our teams closer together, their ability to communicate across departments with greater speed and precision has transformed in front of our eyes. The deeper meaning of our goal and the seriousness of the situation motivated everyone to work at unreasonable speed as we got country after country ready (we temporarily moved from bi-weekly releases to multiple releases per week). We knew we had to turn around fixes and unexpected customer requests much faster than usual to accomplish our mission and ensure our customers were happy. After all, we understood that in their experience, this shift was almost like getting an entirely new PMS.
As we reach the end of 2020, we are proud to say that we did it. There is an estate of sparkling tech-star hotels out there, and they are “ours”!
Of course that’s not all. We have a long list of new integrations, a range of new functionality in our on-premise PMS, release of several new legal requirements. The imminent launch of our new vendor-partner program. A bunch of new colleagues. What a remarkable year it has been.
Reflecting on 2020, it is unavoidable to not take note of the large number of colleagues in hospitality, and in the hotel-tech industry specifically, that have lost their jobs. Like with marriages, it is impossible to know what happens behind the closed doors of executive meetings. One can only imagine that many terribly difficult decisions have been made this year.
Behind our closed executive doors, there was never any doubt that our employees are our most valuable treasure, the one worth fighting for. They are the ones that develop, support and care for our customers. It is their passion and commitment that is protel.
Because of the financial stability and long term investment strategies that have prevailed at protel, we have been fortunate enough to increase our headcount in 2020, rather than reducing it. Of course, we have had to look at our costs like everyone else. We have done some trimming. For example, we have cut down on the number of protel parking spaces around our office. But the teams don’t know yet, gosh they will be mad – parking spaces is a real issue at protel.
Let’s hope they forgive us. After all, 2020 is almost over. Spring is around the corner, it will bring us sunshine, health and a chance to travel again. It might seem unbelievable, but in spite of the terrible downturn we have seen a significant continued demand from hotels to switch to protel this year. We have observed how thousands of our existing customers have invested in contactless technology, such as kiosks. To us, it is the most reliable sign of a strong belief in the future.
We just need to hold on a little longer, miss each other just a little longer. Our industry is so close to recovery. Soon, the world will see travel like it has never seen before. Certainly, there will be new travel habits. There will be new technology. But there will be nothing that we can’t manage together.
As we welcome 2021, we would like to share with you our end of year Town Hall toast. On the 16 December, on Zoom, hundreds of protel peeps raised their glasses:
- to all families that are keeping it together under such hard circumstances
- to everyone who is overcoming feelings of loneliness
- to all hotels who are reinventing themselves so brilliantly
- to our fellow vendors that fight for the industry recovery just like we do
- and finally, to everyone who are making the future of protel happen
Thank you to all our customers and partners, who journeyed through 2020 with us. We won’t let you down.
protel Executive Team