We talked to Julie Grieve, Founder & CEO of Criton, a guest engagement and integrations platform. This is what she had to say:
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Julie Grieve: Fortunately, we are all well. I have a couple of friends who have had Covid-19 and did quite poorly with it but have both now recovered. We can’t wait to get back to normality!
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Criton.
Julie Grieve: I worked for many years in commercial property, running a serviced apartment business called Abbey Business Centres. Following its sale, I set up Lateral City, a luxury serviced apartment operator in Scotland. It was great to learn all about hospitality, and that’s where I had the idea for Criton. I was frustrated at how static the guest information had become, it was a real chore to update all the time, and it easily got dirty or went missing. It really wasn’t on brand. I also found out how fragmented the technology is in the sector. After 3 years of setting up and stabilising Lateral City, I left to set up Criton.
Criton is a guest engagement and integration platform. Our mission is to bring big chain technology to the independent hotel sector to allow them to compete. Criton simplifies digital transformation in a sector which has a fragmented technology landscape by creating a branded guest app which allows hotels, resorts, serviced apartments, and groups to offer a contactless guest journey using their current technology stack. This is achieved by integrating all of their guest facing technology, including booking, check-in, mobile access, and mobile ordering. Criton digitises the guest journey, reinforcing the brand, driving guest engagement, increasing revenues, and delivering ROI from guest facing technology. Our vision is to empower hotels to make data driven decisions based on guest insight.
How does Criton innovate?
Julie Grieve: In my opinion, innovation must go hand-in-hand with collaboration. In Criton’s early days, we were innovating 24 hours a day, figuring out how to create a system that would empower hotels to offer a digital guest experience, but now the product is launched, it is only through collaboration that our product will become the best in class. Listening to feedback, making minor improvements, and starting the cycle again is the way to continually drive innovation. In a small team, the power is in innovation with collaboration.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Julie Grieve: It has had a significant impact. Most hotels are shut or trading with limited occupancy, and this has meant bills are paid more slowly or not at all.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Julie Grieve: At the beginning of the pandemic, we decided to focus on development and on helping the industry, and we, unfortunately, had to reduce the team size. Letting any team member go is hard, but the team members were all very professional and, thankfully, have all found other roles. In terms of lessons learned, it is around ensuring the rest of the team know that the business is financially stable, so they are not concerned about the future.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Julie Grieve: We did work on this area, we use HubSpot and Jira service desk, and we spent time on the process to really make it as efficient and as customer and user friendly as possible. Onboarding as a whole was reviewed to ensure we were able to speed up our app delivery process as last year our product moved from a nice to have to a must have for hotels as they all looked to reduce touchpoints.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Julie Grieve: We received a grant right at the beginning, which was extremely helpful as we were too busy to access furlough in 2020. This year as lockdown has gone on, we’ve used furlough, and undoubtedly these grants have helped with the businesses finances. Furlough has been a lifeline to businesses that needed to close. It’s been trickier for us as our industry is quiet, but we still have to support our customers who are open, so it’s been a bit harder to access support that is specific to the technology supply chain.
Your final thoughts?
Julie Grieve: The hospitality sector has been devastated by Covid-19 and the extended lockdowns, and that has also had a significant impact on the supply chain, such as ourselves. We now have a roadmap for reopening, but many hotels are hesitant as the media continues to suggest another lockdown will happen and that continued measures will be required to allow the industry to trade. Some of the measures required around social distancing make it impossible for our customers to trade at break even, let alone profitably.
I don’t believe we can all just bounce back to how it was, but I really believe the hospitality industry can play a huge part in re-booting the economy if it is allowed to and is appropriately supported. Technology will support the recovery, and I am optimistic about the part Criton has to play in enabling the industry to embrace technology and offer their guests the choice of a fully digital guest experience.
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