Even Frydenberg, CEO Zaplox tells us how the global provider offers mobile key services to hotels.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Even Frydenberg: Thank you for asking – we are doing fine. My daughters are living in 3 different places around the world, so it is hard not to be able to see each other for over a year, but we are all healthy and safe and grateful for that.
Tell us about you, your career, how you joined Zaplox.
Even Frydenberg: I am an MBA by education and a hotelier by experience. I have spent close to 30 years with hotel companies like Starwood Hotels, Marriott International and Scandic Hotels. Most of the time in regional or corporate functions such as Operations, M&A and Innovation, including Starwoods industry first launch of mobile keys back in 2014. I was invited to join the Board of Zaplox as the hospitality expert back in 2019, became the chairman in 2020 before stepping aside for the exciting opportunity of becoming CEO in October 2020. I am here because I am a firm believer that the inherently concervative hotel industry is overdue for a digital transformation. And I believe Zaplox can play a key role in this transformation with our existing, in-the-market contactless technology and contactless guest journey. We are the experts on mobile keys, and this is our time.
How does Zaplox innovate?
Even Frydenberg: Zaplox is a market innovator of the contactless mobile guest journey and mobile key services. We are on a mission to transform the global hotel industry and to finally make the main core processes of any hotel stay digital – everything from check-in to checkout: mobile keys, communication, marketing, promotions and payment. Zaplox has been one of the leaders in mobile key services for hospitality since 2011, and in cooperation with our partners and customers, we continually enhance and add new functionality to our portfolio of solutions. We don’t innovate just for the sake of innovation, we respond to the actual needs and challenges that both the end-users, i.e. the guests, and the hoteliers face on a daily basis. Ultimately, we innovate when appropriate and are able to do so because of our deep connections to the Industry.
How has the hospitality industry traditionally handled the guest journey/service?
Even Frydenberg: There has been a fixed view of how hospitality should be managed and carried out. However, as similar solutions successfully have been deployed in other areas and industries such as transport, food and beverage and banking, the idea of using technology has become more and more appealing to the hoteliers as they start to understand the value technology could bring them.
Hotels have always strived to offer a personal, engaging service to every guest, and the Industry has viewed technology to be too impersonal and against the traditions of hospitality. Now it has become clear that technology rather complements the personal service by offering the same personal service in the hands of the guests on their own device. The guests have a choice, and what can be more personal than that?
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Even Frydenberg: The covid-19 pandemic actually turned out to be a fundamental turning point for the digitalization of the hospitality industry as a whole. The pandemic has accelerated processes and changes that otherwise would have taken years for the very conservative hotel industry to implement. Today contactless solutions are a necessity for any hotel that wants to recover and welcome guests back. The guest demand has taken a drastic turn, and contactless solutions are now an option the guest demands to have – it’s no longer just a nice to have. The hoteliers, on the other hand, are not only turning to technology to ensure a safer environment for their guests and associates but also to reduce their own operating costs and to be able to offer the same personal service as before but now with less staff. The Zaplox contactless solutions meet the new guest requirements, and at the same time help, hotels maintain and achieve lower cost levels than pre-pandemic. A leading indicator of this industry change is the fact that during 2020 and in the midst of the pandemic, Zaplox customer base actually grew by 160 %, and the company had the best quarters ever in Q2, Q3 and Q4 of 2020.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Even Frydenberg: I think I speak for everyone when I say that the last year brought us many unexpected lessons and a ton of new knowledge. It’s easy now to say we should have thought about these things, but that is also a bit naive. The last 12 months just shows how things, as we know them to be and have known them to be for years, can actually change over a night and completely turn not only certain industries upside down but also significantly change the way we live. If there is something we have learned, it is that nothing should be taken for granted. The pandemic has highlighted the importance of staying inventive and flexible in your business decisions, having an organizational structure and culture that can pivot on short notice, and most importantly, having the ability to quickly adapt to changes in your marketplace. The products and solutions offered need to be scalable and adjustable than ever as the market and the conditions are constantly changing and changing faster. If there is anything that is certain, it is change!
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Even Frydenberg: As I mentioned before, the hotel industry is a very traditional and conservative industry. The way hoteliers have handled the guest stay and the personal guest service has, without any significant changes, stayed the same for decades. One could therefore say that one of our biggest competitors has been the old-fashioned practice and the institutionalized habits of the hoteliers themselves. For Zaplox direct competitors, who offer the same or similar functionality for mobile check-in/check and mobile keys or kiosk solutions, many of them have a more local footprint or limited integrations and deployment experience than Zaplox does. Some of our products have been in commercial use since 2011, and our products have been used at more than 6.5m guest stays so far. We also see several of the larger global hospitality brands developing their own mobile guest journey, and in all honesty, that is something we look at positively. In general, due to the immature nature of the hospitality market when it comes to technology, we welcome this type of competition, as it drives the digitalization in the hotel industry forward and increases market knowledge and demand for Zaplox solutions.
With the hospitality industry changing and the digital transformation accelerating, will travelling ever go back to what it once was?
Even Frydenberg: That is an easy question – absolutely! I’m a born and bred hotelier and a very frequent traveller, and it’s clear in my mind that eventually, we will be back where we once were. The question is only how long it will take. Last summer, when the restrictions were lifted, people were back travelling in a second, and the most recent research shows that the vaccinations will speed up everyone’s desire to travel even more. Having said that, I, however, believe that the travel patterns will not be the same as 14 months ago. The way people travel and what is important in order to stimulate travel has changed. Hotels that embrace these types of changes and adapt to the new environment and the technology that guests now expect will return faster to former occupancy levels and to a healthy business.