Francisco Fabregat – Hoteles City Express
One-hundred and forty-one hotels, from extended-stay suites to economy units, the length and breadth of Mexico. Nearly four thousand employees. An annual revenue in the nine figures.
Hoteles City Express (HCE) is more than a formidable enterprise; it’s one of the fastest-growing hotel chains in Latin America. That, in turn, requires a nimble, two-steps-ahead approach to technology, says Francisco Fabregat, the company’s longtime CIO and IT director.
“The biggest difference in hospitality is, you’re doing service 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year,” says Fabregat, who first joined HCE in 2001. “Other industries have periods of downtime. Not here. And what’s what I find so fascinating about it: there are always ways of providing better service.”
These days, Fabregat is hot on the artificial intelligence (AI) trail, using data from customer service, marketing and so on to analyze internal processes and promote better business decisions.
The idea, Fabregat says, is to have data “touchpoints” at every step of the booking process, from clients researching online deals to clients booking their rooms. Each time a customer stays at an HCE hotel, even more data is collected, including what days they tend to travel, whether they prefer a king or queen bed, and how often they travel.
“The more we know about the customer, the more we can anticipate their needs and demands and what they expect from their experience,” Fabregat says.
On a broader scale, Fabregat and his team are using data collected from HCE properties—together with internal market research—to determine locations that might benefit from additional hotels. In fact, the company’s AI capabilities have become so detailed, it can distinguish the marketability of a particular property on a city-block-by-city-block basis.
Securing the property
As HCE continues to collect data, however, maintaining a sound and sturdy cybersecurity posture has become increasingly critical for Fabregat and his team. Hacking events have been on the rise in Mexico in recent years, and while the hospitality industry hasn’t garnered the attention of its banking and health care peers, Fabregat insists that the best defense is a good offense.
“Data security can’t just be software you buy to avoid bad people,” Fabregat explains. “It has to be a part of the company’s internal governance. Processes are important, but the people you have are even more important.”
To make good on that mantra, Fabregat instituted a two-layer internal security protocol. The first layer involves training the IT department to identify suspicious activity across the HCE ecosystem: emails designed to lure staffers into giving up login information, rogue hackers attempting to access phones on unsecured networks, and the like.
In addition, Fabregat has instituted measures encouraging employees who use computers to be more proactive in relaying potential threats to the IT department, including regular policy updates that must be read and signed.
Even here, AI and machine learning are integrated, with Fabregat and his team working to streamline HCE’s myriad transactions—from credit-card payments to product-ordering—into processes that can be more easily monitored.
“It’s all about evolving our applications to encourage better and easier decision-making, including how we identify and report cybersecurity issues,” Fabregat says. “We’re not only protecting the business, we’re making it more efficient.”
Room to grow
As HCE enters a new era of growth, buoyed by Mexico’s growing economy, Fabregat insists data and analytics will continue to figure heavily into the company’s strategy.
Still, he says, technology has never been his raison d’être. Rather, Fabregat sees IT as “the railway that all departments must be linked on to succeed.” Going forward, he hopes to leverage AI to even more dynamic ends, including using customer profiles to recommend local attractions to hotel guests.
“If we want customers to come back to our properties, we have to know them and understand what they need and when they need it,” Fabregat explains. “To do that, we need to build trust with them. When we have that trust, that’s when you get loyalty.”
When Fabregat joined HCE in 2001, following three years in the financial industry, the company had no operational properties, let alone a codified IT strategy. “Just five people in a meeting room trying to understand how to start a business,” Fabregat recalls.
Today, the publicly-traded HCE operates 141 hotels across four different countries, from Mexico to Chile, with many more on the way. Fabregat’s team, once a one-man-show, is now 45 strong.
And while the company’s footprint has given Fabregat more sleepless nights, the terrain he’s waking up to has never been more exciting.
“There’s treasure inside data,” Fabregat says. “But you have to dig to get it. That’s the part I most enjoy: trying to find that area of ground that hasn’t been dug yet. As we gain more customers, the treasures are only going to grow.”
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