For as long as he can remember, Holland native Willem Both has been fascinated by the hospitality industry. “When I was a teenager, I think my mum tried to dissuade me from the industry by finding me a job washing dishes at a Dutch pancake house,” he jokes. “If anything, it had the exact opposite effect – I loved it. I love the energy and the comradery and I’ve been in the hospitality industry ever since.”
A few years later, Both earned a Hotel Management degree from an esteemed hotel management school and began working across the globe for some of the industry’s most prestigious hotel brands like Marriott, Sheraton and Starwood. He worked his way from hotel operations towards hotel IT and corporate IT project management, and in doing so has carved a unique career path as a life-long hospitality professional.
Then, Both was ready for a new challenge and, when an opportunity came knocking, Kerzner International seemed to be a perfect fit. Kerzner sought a way to digitally transform its operations and, with an impressive 26 years of hospitality experience, Both had the necessary know-how to take on the challenge as Executive Vice President of Information Technology, leading IT for Kerzner globally.
“Kerzner is a pioneering luxury hospitality business and we’re constantly redefining what ultra-luxury and entertainment mean,” Both explains. “Our guests and colleagues are using technology every day. Whether it’s mobiles, laptops or smart appliances, technology has permeated throughout society. Our guest experience is at the centre of everything we do and we want to support their needs into the future. With the creation of my role over two and a half years ago, we realised that we needed a global head of IT to focus on the group’s strategy and direction.”
With 11 resorts under its umbrella and more in the pipeline, Kerzner International has a portfolio that packs a punch. It’s responsible for renowned brands like One&Only Resorts, Atlantis and Mazagan Beach & Golf Resort, with properties spanning Mexico, Mauritius, the Maldives, South Africa, Rwanda, Dubai and Australia. Regardless of the location, one thing is certain: creating a world-class guest experience, detail by detail, is in the company’s DNA. Technology and data have been valuable tools in making this vision a reality and perhaps this can be best seen by the company’s innovative guest service system. Currently under development, Both says this bespoke application will use a wealth of data “to allow our colleagues to optimally serve our guests”.
“Our guests consistently have an incredible experience at our resorts and we want to make sure that we extend that experience beyond any single resort , so that if a guest were to visit another one of our properties, then we would know how best to serve them,” he explains. This data may allow the team to know how guests prefer their coffee or if they would like to read a newspaper on a Sunday, for example. “A lot of it is based on relationships that we’ve built over the years and guests feel comfortable. We are actually in the process of building a custom application rather than using an off the shelf one, because we want to make sure we translate all these personal relationships that have been solidified and that we are able to capture that information properly and securely.”
Executive Vice President, Information Technology, at Kerzner International
Yet, Both doesn’t take the task of handling data lightly. “With data comes responsibility,” he asserts. “Security is on our minds 24 hours a day.” As such, Kerzner International has put its weight behind security investment, whether it’s in the areas of central infrastructure, communications or at the hotels. Additionally, the company is also planning migrations to cloud in a bid to bolster security while creating disaster recovery and meet the peaks and troughs of demand on its website. All of this has culminated in a robust security footprint, however Both also highlights that education has been an important linchpin in the company’s security strategy. “It’s really about creating layers of defense to prevent and mitigate attacks and a lot of that comes with education,” he adds.
On top of this, Kerzner International has recently introduced a new intranet, is currently completely rewriting its central reservation systems, and revamping its websites and content management systems. This root-and-branch transformation has not only had an impact on the guest experience, it’s revolutionised the employee experience too. For instance, Both outlines how Kerzner has reorganised its team and increasingly adopted collaboration tools which allow the business to better communicate with its global properties, shortening geographical distances and driving efficiency. “There are no more regular telephones; instead everyone uses collaboration tools,” notes Both. “Our properties are all around the globe –these tools have been invaluable.”
Any technology professional will tell you that forging the right partnerships is critical to any successful business transformation. This rings true at Kerzner too; the company has worked shoulder to shoulder with several technology businesses such as Hexaware, which Both describes as a “critical partnership”. “Having trusted partners like Hexaware is very important, especially for a company like us which isn’t a cookie cutter business,” he says. “We’ve worked very closely with companies like Hexaware to develop and maintain our customer applications. It’s been an incredible journey so far and we couldn’t have done it without them.”
Whilst the journey may be far from over, Both says Kerzner is already beginning to reap the fruits of its labor. “We strongly feel that we've been providing much better service to our internal customers, our resorts, and our guests,” he says. “We’ve drawn insights from our data and empowered colleagues by giving them the information that they need to deliver an incredible experience whereby guests immediately feel like they’re coming home.”
Personalisation in the hospitality industry is nothing new, but the data age has taken the idea to new heights. Both predicts that this trend will continue, but while technology will become more pervasive in the hospitality industry it won’t be able to replace that human touch. “I think guests are going to continue to expect more and more personalisation and automation, but Kerzner will still focus on delivering a personal guest service through people as well as technology. I feel my role is to enable our colleagues as much as possible to provide the most amazing customised service to our guests.”
Having just opened two more resorts – One&Only Nyungwe House in Rwanda, and Atlantis in Sanya – it seems Kerzner International is set to continue on its upward trajectory, powered by both people and technology. The business has been selective when choosing resort locations, technologies and even partners, and it’s clear that this thoughtful, guest-centric approach has distinguished it from the pack.