The Future of Travel: “Voice commands in your hotel room” With Jay Stein, CEO, Dream Hotel Group & Candice Georgiadis

As Google and other partners continue to create new technology solutions, we will want to pilot those programs and offer new solutions that make our brand more compelling to today’s traveler. Our core guests come to us looking for the latest, greatest and most advanced technology, as well as constant innovations across all sectors of our hotels, including dining, nightlife, events, activations and design, with the utmost commitment to service. This is how we stay ahead of our competition.

As part of my series about “exciting developments in the travel industry over the next five years”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jay Stein, CEO, Dream Hotel Group. Jay is Chief Executive Officer of Dream Hotel Group, overseeing the evolution and expansion efforts of the Company and its portfolio of brands: Dream Hotels, Time Hotels, The Chatwal and Unscripted Hotels. With over three decades in the hospitality business and more than 20 years with Dream Hotel Group, Mr. Stein has served in a variety of property and corporate roles with both large and boutique hotel brands, including Hilton Worldwide, Starwood Hotels and Resorts, and Doral Hotels. Mr. Stein began his career in 1983 with Hilton Worldwide at the Vista International Hotel in the World Trade Center in New York City. A veteran of food and beverage management, he turned his sights to general hotel operations in 1987 and quickly rose from the ranks to become Managing Director for three Doral Hotels in New York City. After taking those properties through the transition to Starwood Hotels and Resorts, he joined Dream Hotel Group as Executive Vice President of Operations and was soon promoted to Chief Operating Officer in 1997, overseeing hotel operations and playing a vital role in the Company’s expansion efforts.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I had no idea that I was originally going to lead an international hospitality group, specifically an innovative lifestyle brand such as Dream Hotel Group. I have always enjoyed cooking and after receiving my bachelors degree in political science I went back to school and received a second degree in hospitality management. (Much to my parents chagrin as they wanted me to be a lawyer). My love of food and travel naturally lent itself to my first job with Hilton Worldwide, and I have not looked back since.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Yes. In the hot August summer of 2003 there was a major blackout in New York City. Thousands of people were turned away from their hotels, but we encouraged our guests to stay, and, despite lack of air conditioning or any electricity, we did the best we could to ensure our guests were safe. We made sure everyone had flashlights, we served cold salads and hot pasta using our gas stoves and had plenty of alcohol on hand. The camaraderie of the staff and guests in a potentially stressful situation was managed seamlessly. The most unbelievable aspect of the 2003 blackout was standing in the middle of Times Square in midtown Manhattan in complete darkness, a space and location known for bright blinking lights 24/7. It was a surreal moment. I am beyond proud to have had that experience; to demonstrate our ability as a company to provide the utmost care and service for our guests, even in a crisis, and to make everyone feel welcome, despite the challenging circumstances.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

This isn’t so much a funny mistake but a teachable moment. When I first started working as a teenager, I quickly realized after a meeting with the owner of the company and potential clients that I had offered insights during the meeting that puts us in a weaker position to maximize profits. I learned an important lesson that sometimes it’s more important to listen than speak. Now, even as CEO, I find its best to err on the side of caution in all meetings, listen to my colleagues first and offer input only when I know there is real value. I truly learned the motto “less is more” early on due to this experience.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Dream Hotel Group has a unique culture built on hospitality. Our employee training offers guests the most personal attention. A perfect example is when I was staying at Dream Hollywood last year. After a 14-hour day of meetings wearing a walkable “boot” type cast I came back to my room and was greeted with ice packs and note saying “feel better.” Now they knew I was the CEO, but our staff would do that for any of our guests. They are trained to provide a higher attention to detail to all our guests, one that surprises and delights them and creates customer loyalty for life.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”? Can you share a story about that?

First and foremost, this is a career and not a traditional 9:00 a.m. — 5:00 p.m. job. We work early mornings and late nights. We work holidays and weekends. It’s hospitality and that doesn’t stop when the whistle blows. That said, there is no reason not to have work/life balance, especially now with technology and smart phones. We are all connected. We can take calls, be responsive and then unplug when necessary to recharge. As I came up through management I always found time to coach my daughter’s softball team. I have a great marriage and friendships. Yes, I work hard, but I also make it a priority to enjoy my time out of the office when I can.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I am forever grateful to Bob Boyle, former General Manager of Doral Court in NYC and my mentor growing up in hospitality. Bob gave me the opportunity to launch my management career. I remember once walking the Javits Center with Bob, and I was so impressed to see how many people knew Bob. I was blown away by how he took the time to say hi to everyone and be so well known. Bob is the one person who helped facilitate my growth as a leader in hotel management. At the time I was responsible for the food and beverage department at Doral Court and had expressed my frustration that I was responsible for such a small part of the hotel’s profit. Bob noted that my extensive food and beverage experience was invaluable, but he also encouraged me to take on additional training in operations. If I did took those extra steps, he said he would promote me to Assistant General Manager. It took a year to complete, and he made good on his promise. I was given the promotion that paved the way for where I am now. Bob truly helped me further my career, and I am grateful for his teaching, listening, friendship and ability to show me how to be a strong well-respected leader.

Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to the travel and hospitality industries?

Technology is paramount. Consumers today are living increasingly connected lives online and that doesn’t change when they travel. Our guests want a consistent and seamless experience at every touch point — before, during and after their stay. As such, Dream Hotel Group is proudly investing more than ever in new technology platforms and guestroom entertainment today. We are especially committed to advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Voice Automation. We are currently working with the Google development team to pilot two new programs at Dream Downtown: Google Assistant Interpreter Mode at guest check-in and the concierge desk, and Google Home in the guestrooms by integrating Google Assistant and voice commands for guest service requests. If these pilots are a success, our plan is to roll them out at other Dream Hotel Group locations.

We are also exploring ways to have guests use their mobile device to connect to our hotel WiFi system, and then use the voice automation software on their own phone/Ipad/etc. to engage and interact with our hotel systems. We are looking at Voice Automation as way of enhancing the guest experience outside of the Lighting, HVAC and TV controls that are standard integrations today. Other technology trends and platforms that Dream Hotel Group is exploring, include BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) which is also called “casting” via Apple TV, Roku, Chrome Cast, etc. We want to simplify this process of giving guests access to their own content. Our goal is to allow the guest to use their own technology and make it a seamless and frictionless experience during their stay. In addition, we believe that Remote Keyless Entry and an increased commitment to Wi-Fi will be vital. Wi-Fi is like air and water for our guests, and that is how we look at it.

Which “pain point” are you trying to address by introducing this innovation?

​We want our guests to experience a seamless transition from home to travel, utilizing the latest technology available. The pain point for us as an industry is to commit to this premise and have the wherewithal to follow through on the promise of always being ahead of the curve. It can be very costly, as we are not a technology company. However, our core guests demand a higher level of bandwidth. Our clientele works in the technology, entertainment, publishing, fashion and finance sectors, and they demand that the technology is seamless to accomplish their tasks. We always cater to our guests needs and will continue to look for the latest technology advancements, despite investment costs to provide new innovations and specialized hi-tech offerings with a personal touch.

How do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?

As Google and other partners continue to create new technology solutions, we will want to pilot those programs and offer new solutions that make our brand more compelling to today’s traveler. Our core guests come to us looking for the latest, greatest and most advanced technology, as well as constant innovations across all sectors of our hotels, including dining, nightlife, events, activations and design, with the utmost commitment to service. This is how we stay ahead of our competition.

Can you share 5 examples of how travel and hospitality companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers like to travel?

1. Health Conscious Travelers: The health conscious guest will drive food and beverage and experiences that enable them to stay healthy while traveling. We see this growing into more of a brand standard than a trend and will continue to provide sustainable healthy menu options across all food and beverage outlets in all our properties.

2. Artificial Intelligence (AI): This technology provides new allows for personalization and ways for us to offer guests a more personalized stay. When used alongside the human touch, travelers get the best of both worlds. Personalized service with the benefit of technology innovation.

3. Self Service: While some guests want personalized experiences, many are happy being more self-reliant. Self-service check-in is definitely growing in popularity.

4. Investment Marketing: The travel industry is already experiencing increased engagement on social media. Guest interactions with our brand and sharing those experiences with their peer group will only become more important. Our hotels’ social media channels offers a visual experience that add value for our guests before they even arrive. Social media will continue to remain an important tool before, during and after a guest’s stay.

5. Off-Premise Experiences: More and more of our hotels are offering coordinated, tailored experiences to guests that may be only accessible through the hotel’s personal and professional relationships. For example: an invitation to a private shopping experience where we ask a store to stay open after hours, access to an intimate invite-only concert, private after-party or sold out sporting event that can be all handled seamlessly through our guest services.

You are a “travel insider”. How would you describe your “perfect vacation experience”?

A perfect vacation is one where I can unplug and experience something that energizes me. I tend to choose a destination that is athletic and is fully invigorating. Cold crisp air on my face as I ski down a triple black diamond with friends and family, followed by great wining and dining for a few days offers ideal respite and relaxation from my busy work responsibilities.

Can you share with our readers how have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I am thrilled that as CEO, working for our Chairman Mr. Sant Chatwal for the last 26 years, we have been able to improve the lives of those who work for Dream Hotel Group and support their families and loved ones. I work with thousands of people worldwide and have had the opportunity to connect with team members in such a positive way. I also taught as an adjust professor at New York University’s Hospitality program and New York City College of Technology’s Hospitality program and continued to coach and mentor many of my students beyond the classroom. I know that my own positive attitude and appreciation for my career and position as CEO is present in my everyday life. I am grateful to have a wonderful place to work and thrive, and I always try to bring that energy to the office and to all our hotels worldwide.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Today young people need to learn to be more self-reliant and have the opportunity to work hard and fail. It is better to have made a mistake and learn from it, than to be fearful to try something new. I would love to see more kids choosing to go out of their comfort zones, and not feel like they have their parents to fall back on as a safety net. I think challenges are healthy. It forces maturity and responsibility.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Twitter: @dreamhotelgroup — https://twitter.com/dreamhotelgroup

LinkedIn: Dream Hotel Group — https://www.linkedin.com/company/dream-hotel-group/


The Future of Travel: “Voice commands in your hotel room” With Jay Stein, CEO, Dream Hotel Group &… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.