Latest Innovations In Travel Agent Payments, with Richard Valtr of Mews

Latest Innovations In Travel Agent Payments, with Richard Valtr of Mews

Episode Overview

Episode Topic: In this episode of the TravelPreneur Podcast, host Megha McSwain interviews Richard Valtr, the founder of Mews, a cloud-based solution revolutionizing hospitality technology. Richard shares his journey from being a frustrated hotelier to conceptualizing and creating Mews, emphasizing the importance of a human-centric focus in the hospitality technology sector. They discuss how Mews’s cloud solutions reshape the guest experience and day-to-day operations for hotel operators, automating processes and allowing staff to focus more on guest interaction. Richard also talks about Mews’s vision for the future, aiming to be the dominant system used by the best hotels, and how they plan to make a significant impact in the industry.

Lessons You’ll Learn: This episode of the TravelPreneur Podcast featuring Richard Valtr, the founder of Mews, delivers valuable lessons. It demonstrates how innovation can revolutionize the hospitality industry, emphasizing the need for a human-centric approach while leveraging automation. The episode also underscores the adaptability of the sector, particularly in times of crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, where technology played a pivotal role in streamlining operations. Mews’s ambitious goal of market dominance serves as a compelling example of how disruptive innovation can drive industry-wide transformation, encouraging hotels to rethink their operational strategies in the realm of hospitality technology.

About Our Guest: Richard Valtr is the founder of Mews, a tech visionary in the hospitality industry. Starting his journey in the hotel sector, overseeing the creation of Prague’s Emblem Hotel, Richard recognized the lag in hotel management systems’ advancement. Committed to pushing the industry’s boundaries, he founded Mews to redefine how hotels operate, emphasizing automation and enhancing guest engagement. Richard’s innovative approach stems from his fusion of a hospitality technology background, a passion for transforming the sector, and a strong foundation in technology. His goal with Mews is to revolutionize the way hotels are managed, aiming for global market dominance and industry-wide transformation.

Topics Covered: The podcast covers a range of insightful topics related to hospitality technology. Richard Valtr delves into his journey from a frustrated hotelier to founding Mews, sharing his vision of a new kind of operating system for the hospitality industry. He emphasizes the need to shift the focus to excellent guest experiences, leveraging automation to streamline administrative tasks and enable more meaningful human interactions. The discussion touches on the impact of technology on reshaping the guest journey and day-to-day hotel operations, particularly amid the changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. Richard also discusses Mews’s future plans, aiming for market dominance and encouraging a shift in how hotels optimize their operations and revenue in the domain of hospitality technology.

Our Guest: Tech Visionary: Richard Valtr, Founder of Mews

Richard Valtr, an entrepreneur at the intersection of hospitality and technology, has made significant strides in reshaping the industry. Beginning as a frustrated hotelier during his time managing a family-owned hotel, Valtr identified the shortcomings in existing hotel management systems, particularly in leveraging technology to enhance both operational efficiency and guest experiences. This realization fueled his ambition to create Mews, a cloud-based solution that has revolutionized hotel operations by automating mundane administrative tasks. Valtr’s deep-rooted belief in the potential of technology to eliminate barriers between staff and guests has been a driving force behind the innovation Mews brings to the hospitality sector.

With a diverse background encompassing entrepreneurship, real estate, computer programming, and philosophy, Valtr offers a unique perspective on the industry’s evolution. He recognizes that the heart of hospitality lies in genuine human interactions, and Mews reflects this by empowering hotel staff to dedicate more time to meaningful guest engagement. His emphasis on user-centric technology and a relentless pursuit of innovation has positioned Mews as a market leader, disrupting traditional models and paving the way for a more efficient and guest-focused approach to hotel management.

Valtr’s vision extends beyond just optimizing hotel operations; he envisions a fundamental transformation of the industry, where hotels not only operate profitably but also prioritize exceptional guest service as a cornerstone of their business approach.

Richard Valtr: Revolutionizing Hospitality Technology
Mews: Hospitality Technology to make it remarkable.

Episode Transcript

Richard Valtr: The wages in this industry are so depressed, basically because the things that we need humans to do, which is those kind of 2 or 3 hours of really, really dedicated, great human empathy, like all of those things that basically animate hospitality. We’re having to pay people less for that very high-value service because we also need them to function as essentially data processing machines and keep security cameras.

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.

Megha McSwain: Welcome to the TravelPreneur Podcast. I’m your host, Megha McSwain. Today I’m joined by Richard Valtr, the founder of Mews. Richard is on a mission to transform the hospitality industry through cutting-edge cloud solutions and is a pioneer at the intersection of technology and hospitality. Hello, Richard. Thanks for joining us today.

Richard Valtr: Hi, Megha. Great to be here.

Megha McSwain: So let’s talk about Mews. Can you share a little bit about your journey from starting off in the hospitality industry to Founding Mews?

Richard Valtr: Yeah. So I always like to talk about myself as a frustrated hotelier. So my main journey to actually trying to figure out how I could create a completely new kind of operating system for hotels and hospitality really comes from all of the nights that I spent as a night porter or a kind of night receptionist during my summer holidays being 16, 17. So while all of my friends were having the great times, I was basically running the night audit. So and not getting paid for it because it was my family’s family’s hotel. So that’s really like two compounding things. It’s also one of the reasons why news doesn’t have a night audit. And we thought to completely automate that process. But no, I started the company. I’d been thinking about it for a long time, as I say, ever since I was about 16, 17, and how all of this could actually work, how we would have a system that would actually, rather than be somewhere where you just input all of the data that the data collection somehow would happen automatically. So you could really, really just focus on the guest and on the guest experience and all of those things that I think make people really excited about hospitality and the reason why people actually want to work in hotels and restaurants and all of these things, because it’s such a fundamentally human industry that I don’t think anyone gets excited about running lots of reports and typing in all of the different fields that they’ve had instructed by their manager or by printing out basically and stapling all of the credit card receipts and things like that.

Richard Valtr: Those are things that I don’t think get you excited about hospitality. I think it’s the idea of talking to guests, being able to understand where they’re from, being able to show them your town or what’s so great about all of the different things that you could actually do. I think that’s when you get people who are especially young, who are just really excited about hospitality, and I think that’s really where I came at it from. So I started the company in 2012. I didn’t think that I was building a PMS at first. I really thought that I was building something that would sit on top of a PMS and would just be this kind of productivity tool. On the one side, it would help guests personalize their journey on. On the other side, it would work like a kind of super smart, AI-enabled task manager, which would just make sure that all of those personalized journeys were somehow being carried out by the the orchestra of people. And I realized that there was no system that could actually facilitate that. So that’s when we started building it.

Megha McSwain: You’ve clearly been in this industry for a long time. You said you were a teenager when you probably started thinking, God, I wish there was something here that would do this so I didn’t have to do it and I could be out with my friends. So that’s so interesting. But what sparked your passion? I mean, clearly you’ve been doing this because it was your family’s business, but what sparked your passion specifically for technology and service? Because like you said, it is the least fun part of hospitality, right? The fun part is the people and the traveling and the beautiful places. But what made you think, well, this is what I want to do?

Richard Valtr: So there’s. I think three things that somehow came together. So one, so my mother is the entrepreneur of the family. She’s the one who got us or got the family into real estate development and into hotel development. My father was a programmer or a computer programmer, so I’ve always been quite close to technology and I’ve always had those two things. I then decided to go and study philosophy, which to a certain extent, basically if you take all of those things, I think they somehow made me go the direction of wanting to be an entrepreneur who could rethink how these things were done. Basically, maybe from from first principles and the fact that I’d always been close to technology and knew how to code made it seem that technology could actually help with this kind of process and think that we have a concept in Mews, which we call it’s a terrible name, but we call it user disengagement. And it’s this idea that technology should actually be letting us do things in a much, much quicker way so that you don’t have to use a screen so that you don’t actually need to use a mouse or use a keyboard to actually interact with something.

Richard Valtr: The technology should be smart enough to pick up on all of those signals so that you can actually do the kind of the human work which is actually talking to guests, doing all of those things. And somehow all of those things are actually running in the background. And in order to do that, you really need a lot of AI, a lot of really, really smart computing to be able to do that, because those are some of the hardest challenges in technology. That’s how technology within hospitality should be applied. You shouldn’t need a desktop in front of you because if you if you need a desktop, then that means that you always need a barrier between yourselves and the guests. And that’s just the least hospitable thing that you can actually ever do. So that’s true. I’m a huge believer in the fact that that technology can remove those types of barriers and remove those types of borders. And that’s why I’m just so passionate about it.

Megha McSwain: That’s great. And break it down for me. How are Mews’s cloud solutions actually reshaping the guest experience and the day-to-day operations for a hotel operator?

Richard Valtr: Yeah. So we really started off in one of the first products that we ever built was a check-in application for guests, and we’ve now created that. It’s a, it’s part of the PMS basically is this check-in guest journey application. So and it’s a web app. It’s not actually anything that you download, but it’s really where the guest actually configure their journey. They can actually provide all of the things that you need during a check-in process. And in some hotels where they, for example, have a mobile key enabled, that’s the part of the journey that usually happens at a reception desk. You can actually do that prior to arrival the same way that you would if you’re going and boarding a flight or something like that. You can do that with check-in. You can do that with checkout, but you can also, you know, there’s messaging in there built in that we built in straight away where you can actually chat to anyone actually at the hotel so you can start configuring your journey. So the idea for us is that the journey doesn’t actually just start at the moment of check-in. The kind of the moment of check-in is actually basically post that moment of booking and it goes all the way to the time when you want to say goodbye to that guest.

Richard Valtr: So rather than a checkout, you have a welcoming procedure and a goodbye procedure and anything in between is just completely automated. So we think about what are the ways that we can completely automate parts of that journey. For anyone actually working in the hotel. So the idea of user disengagement basically goes all the way through to how do we make sure that we, you know, anyone who manages the hotel, they don’t need to look at thousands of reports. They only really look at the notifications when things are going against plan or things that are basically not going according to the way that they’ve they’ve thought about things. So those are really the ways that we think about reshaping this industry. And what you’ll find is in all of the hotels that use Mews, and it’s roughly about almost a million rooms basically that we have now that are being operated and helped with Mews. Those types of hotels are actually spending much less time with technology, with reporting, with all of these different things, basically performing check-ins and things like that. And they’re spending most of their time actually with guests facilitating that guest journey.

Megha McSwain: Now, does this apply to hotels where there isn’t someone there waiting for you to check in? You just have checked in and you’re you’re good to go. Wow.

Richard Valtr: Well. So I basically always thought that the first application of Mews was at a boutique hotel. And I thought that the way that this would actually work is that you automate every single thing so you can really actually have a really kind of cozy relationship with the guest. That person comes in and you’re talking to them as a friend because you already know them. You’ve already talked to them basically online. And that was really the kind of the vision. But I think the first hotels that really could utilize all of this technology in the way that we architect system were limited service hotels. So there are hotels that run on Mews that that basically just do not have a reception desk. Basically, there’s for example, one of our favorite hotels is one where there’s only one receptionist that basically ever works at the hotel. What you get is a wristband that functions as both your key but also as the main payment that you’re doing. So when you’re, for example, they have, let’s say, a little place where you can actually pull your own beer and things like that in the lobby. And that’s all activated basically by this wristband. So there are concepts that work on Mews that where the people are operate those concepts have basically gone down the direction of we’re going to use this to make sure that the staff that we have are only really there for maybe short periods of time when they’re actually facilitating that that guest journey. And then we’re going to operate this this hotel with as few staff as possible. Now, I don’t think that should be the dominant model for hospitality. And I don’t think that, for example, if you’re operating a kind of luxury experience, that’s the way that you should do it. But it is an application of what you can do with our system.

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Megha McSwain: Do you feel like this sort of self-help model became even more popular after COVID, or was this something that you were already focusing on because, I mean, obviously after COVID, people were just like picking up like self-checkout, picking up food without talking to anybody? All this all this stuff just changed in these last 2 or 3 years. So with this a vision that you had before that or because of that?

Richard Valtr: No, no, no. This was all in 2012. Every single thing that we basically started building was way before that, the pandemic. Kind of just accelerated it. And it’s why we’ve been growing like crazy over the last 2 or 3 years. But if you think about it, basically, if you look at other industries or other other ways that this has happened, I think it’s a natural way to actually operate certain types of businesses. Basically. I think that to my point about being a night receptionist, if you think about the kind of the dominant employment model that you actually see in staffing is the biggest cost that hotels actually have. If you need to actually have a huge amount of people basically in the hotel. So, for example, me as a night receptionist, I would be paid for, let’s say eight hours shift. But my actual work was basically being done in the first two hours when I was actually welcoming people when I was asking them how their night was if there’s anything that I can do basically to to facilitate their experience the next day. Those are the things that I think that’s what a night receptionist basically should be doing. They should be facilitating, that feeling of hospitality. The fact that I was then there and I was just sitting on my own a doing a night audit process for two hours, that’s not value-added work.

Richard Valtr: You don’t need a human to do that, basically, and that’s not great human work. And then me basically sitting there from, let’s say, 2 A.M. to 5 P.M. or 6 P.M. waiting for somebody to actually change a shift with me that also basically just isn’t great human work. But that’s why the wages in this industry are so depressed, basically because the things that we need humans to do, which is those kind of 2 or 3 hours of really, really dedicated, great human empathy, like all of those things are basically animate hospitality. We’re having to pay people less for that very high-value service because we also need them to function as essentially data processing machines and keep security cameras or as cheap as possible. So you end up actually for those two hours of real work, having to employ someone for eight hours, basically. And it’s just not and it’s not just a good kind of business model basically for this industry, because as wages grow, you think, why would somebody choose to have that type of job and think that we can come up with a much better technology assisted way of actually staffing our hotels and think about how you can actually get to better profits?

Megha McSwain: Well, going back to COVID and just how people really had to adapt to the changes, suddenly, I’m sure you encountered challenges in, in building this business in the fact that people probably weren’t I mean, this is a strange model. It’s a new model. So people probably weren’t ready to accept the fact that maybe someone, a human, wasn’t going to be there to do a particular job. Were there challenges like that or were there other challenges that you faced?

Richard Valtr: I think that there’s like always different kind of challenges. I think that most of it is just that people have an idea of how a hotel should be operated. And at the end of the day, like if you want to operate a hotel in a standard way, you can use Mews basically for that. I think that we just like to pride ourselves on actually facilitating the most profitable hotels that actually really, really think about how am I driving the highest amount of profit. So how am I driving the highest amount of revenue? We think that that’s basically by having people that are focused on sales and focused on revenue rather than focused on supplanting basically some kind of administrative function. So when you’re paying people basically like a receptionist, they should be selling, they should be upselling services, they should be really, really focused on the guest experience. That should be their employment method or the reason for why they’re employed. And the same thing with costs. You shouldn’t be spending things, spending money on things that can be really, really easily automated. And I think what’s difficult is that sometimes when people have been this is a fairly old industry and the technology that we use is fairly old in itself.

Richard Valtr: So people have gone their entire lives using specific technology in a specific way for a really long time. And I think that was also the learning that most people actually took out of COVID, is that maybe we do need a different model, Maybe like these are assets with prime real estate, basically, like why were they empty when, for example, service departments were completely full? And why is it that we’re not able to, for example, reuse this prime real estate to facilitate other types of demand? Why is it only when people are basically traveling or when airports are open that we’re able to actually generate revenue? When you look at hotels, there’s there’s ways to actually make money out of the assets that a hotel has that you don’t need to wait for a hotel to actually or an airport to open to actually bring you those guests basically in order for you to actually make money off those assets.

Megha McSwain: So you mean like the other amenities that they would have like? Private events. Or whatever it might be. So do you have any advice for other people, people who might be listening, that want to start in very niche industry like you have?

Richard Valtr: I think this is basically the way of most startups. You focus on a specific niche or specific thing and then you change the entire industry in that way. I think that when you see Mews, basically we have lots of very luxury hotels that operate with Mews, basically, but they operate in a different way. They operate in a way basically that’s much more tied towards revenue and much basically focused on how do they actually make sure that they’re doing the most with the assets that they have. So the actual kind of revenue per square meter that they’re able to get is much higher than if they’re just using a standard PMS and things like that. And the way that I’d probably advise other entrepreneurs to think about it is basically that when you get especially in Europe now we have in certain parts 35% of certain markets basically that we have in terms of the number of rooms that we actually help facilitate and things like that. I think that’s where every single entrepreneur should be thinking about where can I actually start from? What’s the niche that I can start from? But how can that actually then create huge amounts of value over the entire industry? Basically, that’s, I think, the main kind of model of today’s kind of tech entrepreneurship as well.

Megha McSwain: Yeah, you have to really look ahead to the future like the long run and the bigger picture. Can you give us a glimpse into the future plans and the vision that you have for Mews?

Richard Valtr: Yeah, so I think we’re pretty we are at this point the most well-funded technology company basically in the space. I think that in terms of our market dominance, I think especially in Europe, we’re there probably is the most kind of dominant system and we’re hoping to do the same thing basically here in the US as well. So I think that from that perspective, it’s it’s going pretty well. I think for us, we want to reshape the way that people think about the optimal way to actually run hotels. So we want to be known as the system that the best hotels basically run on. And I think with that we see a huge amount of traction now with, for example, some of the kind of bigger brands as well. So not just the SMB kind of segment that I think we dominated really, really well now, especially with the mid-market. But I think we’ve got some really good traction with some of the global brands as well, basically. So the standard thing for most entrepreneurs is world domination.

Megha McSwain: That’s exciting. There’s so much happening every year. It feels like with technology, things are advancing so fast. So I’m sure you’re going to have plenty to sink your teeth into. Let our listeners know where they can read more about Mews and contact you. How can we get in touch with you on the Internet?

Richard Valtr: Basically, you can find me on LinkedIn, you can go through as our website and you can come to any of our events that we host. So we’d like to meet people in person. We like to always stand out from the crowd at any events that that we’re at. So whether it’s high tech or any of these other types of events and pretty soon we’ll be coming to a city near you because we like to make sure that we bring the promise of what the technology can actually do so that everyone can actually experience it as well.

Megha McSwain: Wonderful. That’s exciting. Well, we look forward to having you on again. I feel like things are moving fast for you and we can’t wait to hear more. Thanks for joining us so much today, Richard. And to our listeners, please subscribe, and for future episodes, leave reviews and stay connected with TravelPreneur. Thanks so much for listening.

Richard Valtr: Thanks a lot.

Megha McSwain: You’ve been listening to TravelPreneur by 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.