Discussing Travel Technology with Ira Vouk

Behind the Scenes of Hospitality Tech: An Interview with Ira Vouk

Episode Overview

Episode Topic: In this episode of TravelPreneur, we’re diving into travel technology and automation in the hospitality industry with Ira Vouk, the founder of the hospitality consulting company, Hospitality 2.0 Consulting. We will explore how travel technology is reshaping the hospitality landscape, from optimizing revenue and profits to addressing the challenges hotel companies and tech vendors face.

Lessons You’ll Learn: Explore the impact of travel technology and automation in hospitality with Ira Vouk, founder of Hospitality 2.0 Consulting. Discover how Ira’s passion drove the creation of the company and learn about overcoming industry hurdles in adopting technology. Understand the role of aligned incentives and metrics in driving profit optimization. Also, delve into the influence of COVID-19 on travel technology adoption and industry evolution.

About Our Guest: Our guest for this episode, Ira Vouk, is a thought leader and consultant in the hospitality industry. With a background in operations, revenue management, and technology, Ira has an in-depth understanding of the complexities faced by hotel companies and tech vendors. As the founder of Hospitality 2.0 Consulting, Ira has been instrumental in guiding businesses to navigate the dynamic world of technology and automation in the hospitality sector.

Topics Covered: In this episode of TravelPreneur, we’re focusing on travel technology and automation in the hospitality industry with Ira Vouk, founder of Hospitality 2.0 Consulting. Explore Ira’s journey from hospitality roles to co-founding a successful revenue management tech company. Learn how Hospitality 2.0 bridges the gap between hotel firms and tech vendors, tackling adoption challenges. Discover how Ira’s insights assist businesses in selecting fitting tech solutions, and delve into key metrics driving profit optimization in hotel operations.

Let’s uncover Ira’s transformative impact on hotels’ profitability through holistic consulting. Explore the future of Hospitality 2.0 as Ira empowers tech and hotel sectors for success. Discover shifts, efficiency, and new growth opportunities. Delve into technology’s role in reshaping hospitality’s future.

Our Guest: Ira Vouk, Founder and Principal at Hospitality 2.0 Consulting

Joining us today is Ira Vouk, a visionary leader in the hospitality industry with a profound passion for automation and travel technology. She works as a hospitality technology and revenue management consultant. As the founder of Hospitality 2.0 Consulting, Ira has dedicated the past several years to bridging the gap between cutting-edge technology and the world of hotels and hospitality tech vendors.

Ira’s journey into the realm of hospitality technology began over a decade ago, with a deep-rooted interest in revenue management and profit optimization. With a diverse background that spans from property-level operations to co-founding a groundbreaking RMS company, Ira has honed an unparalleled understanding of the intricate complexities within the industry.

With the evolving landscape of technology over the past seven to eight years, Ira has maintained a pulse on the dynamic shifts within the industry. Her commitment to enhancing technology adoption in hospitality has been unwavering, and her insights have proven invaluable in guiding hotels and tech vendors toward prosperous collaborations.

Exploring Travel Technology and Hospitality Industry with Ira Vouk

We are delighted to have Ira Vouk join us today to delve into her journey, passion for technology, and the transformative role Hospitality 2.0 Consulting plays in shaping the future of the hospitality industry. Stay tuned for an enlightening conversation on how innovation is reshaping the way hotels operate and engage with technology.

Episode Transcript

Ira Vouk: We are all targeted at aiming at the power optimization without really accounting for distribution expenses or operating expenses. They ignore the bottom line part of the optimization, which can be going in absolutely different direction from Rafah and don’t know how much you’re familiar with those terms. It’s the top line versus the bottom line. The direction of those metrics can actually be opposite. What I always talk about with them when I do these consulting projects is that you can’t ignore the expenses. When you do the optimization, you have to ensure that your expenses are minimized and your revenues are maximized.

Megha McSwain: Welcome to TravelPreneur, the weekly business show for the travel industry. I’m your host, Houston-based travel journalist Megha McSwain. Each episode, we’ll be exploring what it takes to thrive as a business owner in the travel industry. From conversations with leading travel business executives and industry-focused venture capitalists to exploring the innovations that are shaping the next generation of travel business, if it impacts the travel industry, we cover it here on TravelPreneur. 

Welcome to TravelPreneur. I’m your host, Megha McSwain. Today we’re speaking with Ira of Hospitality 2.0 Consulting, which offers consulting and coaching services for both hotel companies and hospitality tech vendors. Hello Ira. Thanks for joining us today.

Ira Vouk: Hello. Thanks so much for having me. Really happy to be here. Excited about our conversation.

Megha McSwain: Yes. Well, let’s dive right in. So tell me about the founding of Hospitality 2.0 Consulting and what sort of shaped your passion for automation and technology in the hospitality industry.

Ira Vouk: Sure. As you rightly noted, I am very passionate about automation in our industry, and the main reason is because the adoption levels of technology in our industry are suffering a lot. They have improved slightly with the pandemic and other things that have happened in our industry, but we’re still way behind other various sectors of economy and different industries when it comes to the sophistication of our technologies and adoption rates.

And this was one of the reasons, but probably not the main reason, because the hospitality consulting company, Hospitality 2.0, it started, I would say about 7 or 8 years ago when I realized that I have knowledge and experience from many years in the industry that I can share with others. And many companies in our industry don’t always understand how to maneuver in our complex reality and I already had that knowledge. So I was.

Megha McSwain: What were you doing before in the travel industry? What was your experience or field?

Ira Vouk: I’ve tried it all. I started on the operations level at the property level, different operations roles, then got into revenue management. That was my biggest passion and has been and still is, helping hotels improve revenues and profits, which is much more important than just top-line revenues and not about profit optimization. And about 13, 14 years ago, I got into technology by co-founding a RMS company, revenue management technology company. It was the first RMS that had machine learning built in and AI.

Before everybody started talking about, I started a company and it was a relatively successful business. We sold it to a PMS provider some number of years later, and that’s how I fell in love with technology and I realized that it’s just so much more efficient if you use technology to achieve anything. Efficiency of your operations, profitability. That’s the turn into technology that I took. And recently I’ve been mostly devoted to consulting, but I’ve been doing that for quite a few years already.

Megha McSwain: So the distinctive value of Hospitality 2.0 Consulting. What does it offer businesses in this sector?

Ira Vouk: Great question. So as you noted in the beginning, I have there’s two different streams of consulting that I do. One stream is consulting for hospitality companies, for hotel companies mostly, and that revolves around either technology adoption, helping them pick best vendors because our ecosystem of vendors is very convoluted. So help them understand how to select the most optimal tech stack that will work for their use cases and then also around revenue management and profit optimization.

So when it comes to hotel companies, the value that I bring is understanding how to function efficiently and most optimally in our today’s complex reality of technology solutions that are very diverse and complicated and convoluted, and there are a lot of them. And then also how to optimize operations from the standpoint of profit optimization, not just top-line revenue, and how to actually have this connected together because it’s really easier to achieve profit optimization with the right technology in place. And then the second stream is I consult vendors, mainly tech vendors, hotel companies, not hotel companies, technology companies that sell to hotels.

So on the other side of the equation, I explain to them how to properly scale their businesses or enter the market of hospitality, because our industry is very fragmented and also very complex. So many times these vendors, these companies don’t understand how to deal with how to navigate in this environment, how to understand who the decision maker is, who the end user will be of their technology, what the use cases are going to be when they build this technology, who even to approach when they’re trying to scale in the industry what this different segments of customers would be of types of hotels. So explained to them how to speak the language of hotels. So essentially I tried to connect the two and talk to each other because they speak different languages and I’m the interpreter between the two and help them get married and live happily ever after.

Megha McSwain: And you mentioned this started 7 or 8 years ago.

Ira Vouk: The consulting company. Yeah, about seven, eight, nine. I lost track of time because it’s exciting.

Megha McSwain: So even in just these past few years, so much has changed and progressed in technology, as you know. So how has Hospitality 2.0 Consulting adapted to the just bounty of technological advancements, and how have you leveraged that for the growth and success of these companies?

Ira Vouk: Yeah, I wrote a book. It’s titled Hospitality 2.0, which essentially, and that’s when I actually renamed my consulting company, from Ira Vouk Consulting to Hospitality to 2.0 because we do live in a completely different reality right now. And that’s really the book is devoted to that notion of a whole new reality for the hospitality industry, hence the 2.0 term. And many things have changed, and not just because of the pandemic, but there are factors that have influenced the evolution, even revolution in our industry, digital revolution, including the pandemic, of course, that resulted in a lot of digitization of our industry and higher adoption rates of tech, but also the alternative accommodation sector, how that has been evolving and how it’s affecting our industry because it’s an elephant in the room that we can’t ignore.

And then also advancements in cloud technology, in AI technology, those things that have made adoption of technology in our industry and others just easier and much less expensive, which also is factored into the equation when it comes to the trends of adoption of the technology in our industry. So all of those things are outlined in my book and I use those concepts that I have derived based on my analysis and multiple years of research in the industry and in the field, in the market. I use those concepts to help my clients right now that consult understand better what’s happening with the industry, which is, again, it’s a whole different world. It’s right. The customer expectations have changed. The segments of customer travelers have changed, the competitive sets have changed. Technology that we use have changed.

Megha McSwain: And it’s still changing. Every day there’s something new to learn and figure out. And a lot of that, not all of it, but some of it is in part due to Covid and all the changes that everyone had to make just three years ago.

Ira Vouk: Yeah, that’s a point. And also to that point, just one more note that it’s the market is also very dynamic and that’s what the new characteristic, the new concept is that it’s not really stable anymore. So when you plan for like building your tech stack or plan your revenue management strategy or operation, any type of strategy in your business. You have to also account for the factor of the dynamic nature of our market these days. So when I do my provide my consulting services, I always make sure that this is incorporated into the equation when I help my clients build their strategies for the future.

Megha McSwain: So in the last decade, let’s say a decade. I know you said seven, eight, nine years, but in the last decade, with the exception of Covid, which I’m sure brought upon many challenges, what were some of the sort of speed bumps that you encountered building Hospitality 2.0 Consulting?

Ira Vouk: Yeah. Had a sabbatical for a little bit. I at some point decided that I’m done with everything and don’t want to have anything to do with the industry anymore because it’s frustrating because of all those challenges that we all know about conservatism and refusing to adopt common sense, those things that are that our industry is known for. So I decided that I’m going to just do nothing and retire at some point. That was about two years ago and it took me about two months to realize that it’s not going to happen. I just can’t allow myself to not continue contributing to the evolution of the hospitality industry and the fertility market.

So I went back and started doing consulting, and since then I haven’t really worked for anyone anymore. And this is mainly what I do and I really enjoy it. I also started teaching at San Diego State. I teach hospitality technology as well. That was one of the things that evolved from that sabbatical slash retirement when I tried to give up on the industry. But that was a breaking point, I would say crucial moment in my career and my life and in the history of the business as well, is that bump that happened around during Covid, it actually helped me as a professional and the business evolved to a different level because this is when I started thinking about writing my book.

This is when I published my book. I did a very deep analysis or research of the industry and came up with the concept, the outline of how this new reality, what this new reality looks like and what the characteristics are, and what we can do with it. So that kind of brought me to a whole new level of evolution personally, professionally, because the industry is at a whole new level of evolution right now. So I would say that was a key moment.

Megha McSwain: That’s a common theme. And people have spoken with a lot of them say that because of those really tough years, I feel like we’re still in it. It was only three years ago, but really caused them to look inward and change how they were doing things or of course, pivot, but just really change for the better. So we’re glad you stuck it out and you’re still with us.

Ira Vouk: Yeah, just can’t leave. I’ve tried multiple times. It’s like so much fun to solve these issues. And you of course get frustrated, but when you actually get things done and you help in business get to this next level and you see the results of your work and they see the results of your work and they’re happy, more efficient, more profitable, that’s very rewarding.

Megha McSwain: This episode is brought to you by Travelpayments.com. Travel businesses have unique needs when it comes to credit card processing. From large average ticket sizes and tolerance for higher chargeback ratios to simple integrations with the most popular shopping cart systems. The travel industry specialists at Travelpayments.com have you covered. Unfortunately, many of the most popular credit card processors initially accept travel businesses, but without warning, freeze their merchant accounts and the thousands of dollars in them.

Because these service providers don’t understand or support the unique needs of the travel industry business. Don’t get stuck with one of the big guys who will freeze you out without a moment’s notice. Instead, work with the travel industry specialist who will support your business every step of the way. Visit travelpayments.com to get a free quote today. Well, do you have a client success story that you can share with us? Someone that you’ve worked with in the past that it just sort of all fell into place with the help and guidance that you were able to offer?

Ira Vouk: I have a few. Take, for example, again, the first stream of working with hotel companies. I would say that my favorite success story is when consult, I consulted a hotel company, a relatively large hotel company, on optimizing profits and again, moving from the mindset of top-line room revenue towards actual profit optimization in the process of this consulting project. The main conclusion that they achieved is that their company was working in silos and different departments didn’t really talk to each other a lot, which is very common in our industry.

And I think this is like if you look at any typical hotel company, you can say that that’s the case pretty much anywhere. And they realized while we were discussing this, working on this project that the main reason why they can’t really make a lot of progress towards the profit optimization is because different departments are incentivized using different metrics. None of those metrics are actually profit goals.

So they were all pulling in different directions. Some departments like marketing, for example, they were incentivized by the growing total number of bookings driven through the direct channels. Revenue Management Department was incentivized by driving bar sales, incentivized by other things, operations by other things. So this actually resulted in the company, in departments pulling the business in opposite directions, which contradicted and conflicted with each other.

Ira Vouk: And until we actually sat down and looked at that and saw that, okay, there is nobody is really incentivized to drive profit, like really not a single department, not a single person in the company except for, of course, the investors, the owners, but their bonuses are based on the profit growth. And everybody is like, okay, why shouldn’t we why can’t we revise these incentive metrics and the metrics, the KPIs that we look at to align them with the actual ultimate goal of the business, which is profit growth? And then everything just put was put in place like pieces of the puzzle.

And after that, it just became so much more efficient. And I see that it’s not just one company that actually went through that kind of revelation process. They actually see that a lot when I talk to cocktail companies, and I think that’s something that I talk about it a lot in my public speaking engagements online in my articles. That’s still a problem in the industry. Not all companies realize that that’s the case. A few of them agreed to change anything. So I think it’s going to be years and years before the industry evolves to actually solve this, but many are already doing it.

Megha McSwain: Can you share some of the effects, other effective strategies that you’ve encouraged clients to use to maximize their revenue and profits? Is there something that you can look inward and sort of see, okay, this is I can pinpoint this?

Ira Vouk: Yeah, of course. So the biggest gap in not just hotel space, but hospitality, space, hospitality businesses right now in terms of profit optimization, is that. Well, first of all, not a lot of them actually use technology. So that’s one. But that’s common sense. Basic one. Okay. You should use a system if you want to know what you’re doing and forecast and optimize efficiently. But even with the technology right now, the gap is that the optimization strategies and tactics that these businesses employ, they are not accounting for the expense part of the equation.

So they’re all targeted aiming at the optimization without really accounting for distribution expenses or operating expenses, which means that they ignore the bottom line part of the optimization, which can be going in absolutely different direction from LA, and don’t know how much you’re familiar with those terms, but it’s the top line versus the bottom line. The direction of those metrics can actually be the opposite. So what I always talk about with them when I do these consulting projects is that you can’t ignore the expenses. When you do the optimization, you have to ensure that your expenses are minimized and your revenues are maximized. It’s like basic things, right?

Megha McSwain: It’s like common sense, but right.

Ira Vouk: And that’s how you reach profit optimization. But for some reason, it just hasn’t really been widely adopted among hotel businesses. The concept of, not ignoring your expenses when you drive profits. So most of them are just looking at the wrong metrics and are not really properly driving profit optimization because they just assume that driving top-line revenue will just pull the profit together with it. But that’s unfortunately not the case. Again, it may go they may go in the opposite direction. So that’s the first thing. The first thing I say is, okay, look at the revenue management technology solution if you don’t use one. The second thing I say, is you have to look at your expenses, right?

Megha McSwain: Of course. So speaking of technology solutions, is there a service provider or software that you use in your business and Hospitality 2.0 consulting that you would recommend for other travel businesses? That has just been really like a lifesaver or something very useful to you.

Ira Vouk: So don’t operate a hotel. That’s why don’t really use a revenue management solution. I built two from scratch, so those are great. I probably should refrain from recommending any specific vendor because I want to stay objective. And the main reason is that there are many technology solutions out there when it comes to systems. There are actually around 30, not that many, but it’s better than nothing. But they target different types of segments of our industry and different types of hotel businesses. So they find the right.

Megha McSwain: Fit would be.

Ira Vouk: Correct. And that’s kind of part of my consulting projects also when companies reach out to me, I help them pick a solution that will work for them. Sure, accounting for the factors like the size of the portfolio, the type of the portfolio, limited service versus full service, and how many rooms per building with their specific needs. And then these may be very different. So one solution might be great for one hotel or hotel company, but not for another. So that’s part of the complexity that goes into consulting and navigating our industry. It’s the tech ecosystem is very convoluted and there are many categories and many wonderful vendors, but they’re all different and they all work better for one some, and not really well for others.

Megha McSwain: And knowing that I feel like is so significant because you don’t want to waste money or time on something that you don’t maybe need. So you kind of need someone to guide you into what I need for my business specifically?

Ira Vouk: Of course. Yeah. And this process is pretty in-depth because before you start recommending a specific vendor,  which a lot of vendors reach out to me asking to work on a commission basis, like, okay, you recommend my product, I give you 10% for this deal. I never say yes to those because there is so much that needs to go into the research. When I work with these hotel clients to understand what they need specifically, like a list of hundreds of use cases that this software tool needs to cover, and then map this to the functionality provided by these vendors to see which vendor actually can cover most of those items.

And that’s weeks of research that normally goes into this. If we’re talking about a relatively large hotel company, that’s a pretty complex process. So I would never just say, Hey, you should use this and that without even looking at what they need.

Megha McSwain: So, what is the future of Hospitality 2.0 Consulting? What does say the next ten years hold? I mean, I know that can be sort of hard to answer, not knowing exactly what’s going to happen in the technology realm of things, But what’s your vision? What are your goals?

Ira Vouk: Yeah, that’s a tough one. I don’t know where I’m going to be next year, but for now, I think what I’ll continue doing is I’ll try to continue helping different companies, hotel companies to be up to speed with the 21st century when it comes to technology adoption at least, and other things that I consult on because I think it’s crucial for a modern company to embrace modern technologies and not just cloud, but also things like AI and things like maybe applications of ChatGPT in your operations and tools that are available, numerous wonderful tools that are available that our industry is just ignoring.

And then also to help technology vendors understand the complexities and the specifics of our industry so that they can scale better. Because one of the reasons why technology adoption rates are so low is because, these vendors just don’t know what they’re doing in terms of how to address the market, how to enter the market. And they may have wonderful solutions when they come from different from fintech, from real estate, from other related industries, but they just don’t understand how this industry operates. So my goal for the future is to continue enjoying what I do, and I really enjoy what I do because again, I see the results of my work and also.

Aside from that, I’ll definitely continue teaching because I really enjoy seeing my impact on the younger generation. Our future leaders and opening their eyes, especially to the opportunities in the tech space. There is this misconception that they all have. The students have that if I want to work in tech, I have to have an engineering degree, which is absolutely not the case. Don’t have one. Most of the founders of tech companies don’t have one. And when they see what the salaries look like in the tech space and what the opportunities are there, and they understand that they can actually enter this space with their hospitality degree, it changes their lives. So I really enjoy seeing how I change people’s lives and I’ll continue teaching for sure as kind of a side.

Megha McSwain: It’s wonderful. Thank you so much. This was all so insightful and I feel like there’s I mean, we could discuss so much more because there’s really no end in discussing technology and what the future holds. But if our listeners want to reach out and connect with you, what’s the best way to learn about you and Hospitality 2.0 Consulting?

Ira Vouk: Of course. So there are two main ways. First of all, LinkedIn always works irrevocably on LinkedIn and my website. I have all my information there. Ira, Viacom. Iravogue.com. Easy to remember I have. There is also a way to book an appointment with me on my website. If you would like to book a consultation or just reach out with a question. Again, you can do that through the website or LinkedIn. I’m very active on LinkedIn. Easy, definitely very easy to reach.

Megha McSwain: Wonderful. Thank you so much, Ira. It was wonderful getting this insight from you and we hope to connect again in the future and get an update on everything that you are up to and everything that’s happening with the company. Thanks so much.

Ira Vouk: Thank you so much for reaching out. It was fun.

Megha McSwain: You’ve been listening to TravelPreneur by Travelpayments.com. Make sure to subscribe on your favorite podcast listening platform so you never miss a new episode, and we’ll see you again soon on TravelPreneur.