Juan A. Sanmiguel, founder and CEO of Hotelbird
Photo: Hotelbird

Hotelbird CEO Juan A. Sanmiguel: “The Market is Straight-Out Demanding Digitization”

Hotelbird digitizes typical processes in hotels, like checking in. After the industry was hit particularly hard by the corona crisis, we spoke with Juan A. Sanmiguel, CEO and one of the two founders of the Munich startup, about his company and future plans.

Munich Startup: For those who don’t know you yet: Please let us briefly know what Hotelbird does.

Juan A. Sanmiguel: Hi, my name is Juan and I’m a co-founder and the CEO of Hotelbird. With Hotelbird, we’re digitizing the hotel industry and making the customer journey for hotel guests easier than ever. Our technology makes it possible for hoteliers to digitize repetitive and time-consuming reception tasks. With our products, guests conveniently check in and out of a hotel without contact, digitally fill out registration forms, open the door to their room with their smartphone and pay their bill at the end of their stay on the go. We’re the digital reception desk for every host!

Munich Startup: The corona crisis has really hit the hotel industry hard. How have you fared?

Juan A. Sanmiguel: The hotel business is in a major crisis. That is made painfully evident by the many temporary or permanent closures of hotels. At the moment, it’s difficult to predict how things will develop in the hotel industry in light of further restrictions and travel warnings. Hotels are still suffering from a serious decline in guests.

Nevertheless, we’ve still managed to increase the demand for our digital solutions in this a difficult time. There are several reasons for this. Hoteliers are now called upon more than ever before to offer a contactless, hygienic check-in/out process to guarantee their guests a safe stay. This can be easily and quickly implemented with our products. The crisis has also put hotels under enormous cost pressure. They have had to drastically reduce their expenses to remain competitive. Here too, we can make a major contribution to cutting costs.

With constant high operating costs coupled with a low occupancy rate, the market is straight-out demanding digitization. We’ve noticed a profound change in mindset in the industry. Before the corona pandemic, digital reception services were nice to have, but now they’ve become a must have. That has also been substantiated by the current funding program “Digital Jetzt” that the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy just launched. Small and medium sized companies receive support for their investments in digital technologies in the form state grants of up to 50,000 euros. That is a major opportunity and also an important signal for the hotel industry in Germany. The industry is at a turning point. Hotels should use this government financial aid to make their hotel viable for the future and to digitize it using that support. We will be by your side to offer competent assistance from applying for the aid until it is paid out. As the market leader in Europe in the field of digital check-in/out services, we see it as our responsibility to help advance our industry and support hotels in the process of digitization.

“Extreme situations call for reflection

Munich Startup: A good three months before the crisis began, you were able to complete a 3.5 million euro round of financing. In retrospect, how important was that financial injection for Hotelbird?

Juan A. Sanmiguel: The support from our investors was and is extremely important for our company and our continued growth. The financial injection gave us security, particularly in such turbulent times. We were able, for example, to strengthen our team with new, experienced employees.

The possibility of a pandemic breaking out is something no company or startup can allow for in their budget planning. Which is why several well-known startups in the tourism sector also struggled with serious cash-flow problems or weren’t in a position to complete new financing rounds during the crisis. The precarious situation meant that most investors held back to see how things would develop in the market. Completing seed financing meant for us that we didn’t have to worry about management’s liquidity, but could instead fully concentrate on crisis management.

In retrospect, liquidity is obviously an important factor, but what’s even more important are the investors who stood by our side during such a difficult time with their expertise and experience. They always provided professional advice and supported us in being able to successfully overcome the crisis and come out of it even stronger.

These kinds of extreme situations always call for reflection. In the crisis, we learned which partners and investors we can really count on. In collaboration with our investors Apeiron, BayBG, Bitstone Capital and Hannoverfinanz, we form a strong team that makes us stand apart from other market players.

Munich Startup: A hotel stay becomes a bit less personal with digitization solutions like yours – guests check themselves in and the contact with hotel staff is reduced. Do you think technical progress means some cultural aspects end up getting lost?

Juan A. Sanmiguel: We can emphatically negate that. A hotel stay remains or is even more personal than before! With our technology, hoteliers are able to offer much better service than was customary at reception. Employees are finally able to concentrate on guests again and are able to let technology take care of repetitive, error-prone and costly reception tasks. Long lines for checking in and stressful discussions with guests become a thing of the past. Our solutions make daily business easier and guarantee hotels a new planning capability. If you look at airlines, car sharing or restaurant reservations, you realize how digitization liberates us from tiresome everyday tasks in our fast-paced lives.

And digitizing these complex processes is just the beginning. Our technology opens up many more possibilities. With the developed interfaces, for example, we’re able to generate a great deal of data. We analyze and evaluate this data using intelligent methods to get to know our users better. As a result, hotels can offer much better and more personalized service, because we learn from our users’ behavior.

In that sense, digital check-in/out is just the beginning of a long and exciting journey. We’re excited to be able to help shape the future of the hotel industry!

Hotelbird wants to “expand market leadership in Europe”

Munich Startup: What do you have planned next?

Juan A. Sanmiguel: Our list of plans and targets is quite a long one. First, we want to further expand our market leadership in Europe in the field of digital check-in/out. We’re definitely well on our way.

Our focus until now has been predominantly on hotel chains. Major brands such as Achat Hotels, Best Western, Deutsche Hospitality, Intercontinental Hotels Group, Lindner Hotels or Novum Hospitality speak for themselves. With additional general agreements with large hotel chains, we want to expand our position in the market even further. We also want to tap into a market that is new for us, individual hotels, by offering a new, simple and cost-effective product suite.

We’re very pleased that we’ll soon be able to deliver the first series of our self-service terminals to all customers who pre-ordered them. We were completely sold out within just a few weeks. At the same time, we’re producing a new series of our self-service terminal, which is a simple yet elegant and cost-effective option for hoteliers to offer contactless and digital check-in services.

We’re driven by the desire to continuously improve our product while constantly finding new ways to make the customer journey for hotel guests even simpler and more convenient. That also means that we’re constantly expanding our team and enhancing it with experienced specialists and managers.

And because that’s not enough, we also want to go international with Hotelbird. That will be a whole new, exciting chapter in our journey. The entry point for internationalization is our product listing as an official “Digital Check-in/out Partner” with the Intercontinental Hotel Group (IHG). With the product listing with IHG, we’re looking forward to tapping into further markets and expanding our market leadership in Europe.

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