Gaurav Ghodnadikar Innovates Automation Processes to Create Better Owner/User Experiences in the Hospitality Industry

Better Owner/User Experiences in the Hospitality Industry

Gaurav Ghodnadikar is Technical Manager for Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, where he designs and deploys innovative business solutions using Artificial Intelligence (AI), Generative AI, Machine Learning (ML), Robotic Process Automation (RPA), Optical Character Recognition (OCR), Integrations, Chatbots, Power Platform, and other advanced technologies.  As an IT leader, Gaurav applies more than 15 years of technology and business experience in sectors including Hospitality, Micro-Finance, Insurance, Accounts, Travel, and Retail, to enhancing profitability and improving user experiences for hotel operators and customers.  

Prior to joining Wyndham in 2013, Gaurav was a Team Lead for a global technology consulting company, where he collaborated with stakeholders and IT teams to design consumer-facing site architecture, automation processes, policies, and RPA governance for prominent retail brands. He previously worked as a Software Engineer in India, where he led diverse projects including a web-based solution for India’s top Microfinance company. He received his bachelor’s degree in Master of Computer Management from MIT College of Engineering – Pune University. 

TechBullion spoke with Gaurav about how he is using AI and automation to develop and implement process improvement strategies that create efficiencies and reduces costs in various operational areas for hotel owners, while ensuring customer satisfaction across multiple platforms, and how these tech strategies could be leveraged by business owners in other sectors. 

Q: Gaurav, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts is the world’s largest hotel company, with a portfolio of more than 9,000 properties across 24 brands in 95 countries. What does being the Technical Manager of such a large and diverse enterprise encompass? Tell us about your current role and your operational focus. 

A: As a Technical Manager for Automation, we use technology to enhance efficiency and accuracy by automating Wyndham business processes. This involves identifying repetitive tasks that can be automated, selecting the right AI tools, and integrating them into the existing systems. It’s about creating workflows that not only automate tasks, but also learn and improve over time.

We have established a Center of Excellence (CoE) within Wyndham, which is developing a dedicated team with deep expertise in AI and RPA. CoE comes up with best practices, innovation, and knowledge sharing, ensuring that the benefits of automation and AI are leveraged across the entire enterprise. CoE also empowers team members to become low code developers by providing them with the tools and training to build applications with minimal coding.

Q: Your career in Software Engineering has taken you from Pune, India, to Parsippany, New Jersey (US), where Wyndham is based. How did your prior business and IT experiences prepare you for your current role? And how do you use these experiences to lead complex projects that have a global business impact? 

A: My prior business and IT experiences have provided a solid foundation for my current role at Wyndham Hotels & Resorts. Before joining Wyndham, my work across various domains including Hospitality, Micro-Finance, Insurance, Accounts, Travel, and Retail equipped me with a broad understanding of different business processes and customer needs, enabling me to tailor IT solutions effectively. Additionally, my expertise in .Net Projects, Power Platform Suite, RPA, SharePoint, and AI tools allows me to lead complex projects by integrating modern technologies that streamline operations and enhance outcomes. Leveraging AI and automation skills, I’ve implemented solutions like rate parity checks, billing automation, and stay posting automation, which improve efficiency and ensure compliance and accuracy on a global scale.

With the ability to succeed in fast-paced projects and volatile requirements, I guide my team with operational expertise, ensuring that personal and business goals align with Wyndham’s global business impact. My role involves automating initiatives, managing migrations, and creating governance documents, all of which contribute to the company’s innovation and growth. These experiences allow me to oversee projects that require coordination across different time zones and cultures, ensuring that Wyndham’s IT infrastructure supports its worldwide operations.

Q: In the decade that you have been with Wyndham, new technologies have been introduced at a revolutionary pace. How has AI and RPA, for example, changed the way you approach business challenges? When did you start integrating sophisticated automation into your solutions? 

A: AI and RPA have significantly transformed the approach to business challenges at Wyndham. For example, I have leveraged AI tools to streamline processes and enhance outcomes, using technologies such as OCR, chatbots, and AI models to deliver innovative solutions. My expertise includes automating initiatives with unattended RPA, which has  greatly improved efficiency in areas such as rate parity checks, billing automation, and stay posting automation, among others. 

The integration of sophisticated automation into solutions began with initiatives like billing automation using AI tools, and rate parity process automation with AI + Power Automate RPA. I have and continue to consistently seek innovative ways to improve operational efficiency. For example, a solution I proposed to streamline data entry for the Wyndham rewards team reduced completion time from days to a few hours, thereby freeing personnel to work on other tasks.

 Q: You have written about how you and other hotel owner/operators are using automated processes to reduce power consumption and energy bills. Can you briefly describe this solution? And is this transferable to other businesses? What lessons can retailers and restaurant/franchise owners, for example, learn from this process improvement?

A: The process involves properties sending power usage reports (Electricity/Gas/Water) via email. An AI Bot reads the attachments using AI Models, extracts the information, and then uploads it to a centralized location, using REST API. This ensures accurate tracking and management of power usage, and can help in efficient resource management and cost reduction. 

This automation solution is highly transferable to other businesses that require regular monitoring and reporting of resource consumption. As a process improvement solution, it showcases the potential of AI and automation in streamlining operations and enhancing business efficiency across various industries.

Q: In the hospitality industry, you are also using advanced automation tools to ensure rate parity across online platforms. What was the problem you identified, and how is innovation in this situation improving profitability and user experiences? 

A: The problem identified in the hospitality industry was the challenge of maintaining rate parity across 6,000+ properties, ensuring that room rates are consistent across all online platforms. This is crucial for both profitability and user experience, as discrepancies can lead to customer dissatisfaction and lost revenue.

The innovative solution implemented involves a combination of AI and RPA (Robotic Process Automation) to automate rate parity checks. This improves profitability and user experiences in a number of ways. First, using automation to streamline the process significantly reduces the manual effort required to monitor and maintain rate parity, which allows staff to focus on other critical tasks. Second, AI tools ensure that rate information is consistently and accurately updated across platforms, reducing the risk of errors. Third, automated email reminders to property owners and escalation to regional managers help in proactively managing rate discrepancies. Fourth, the use of AI and RPA for auto-cancellation of promotions that violate rate parity rules leads to more efficient operations.

Overall, this automation initiative enhances operational efficiency, ensures customer satisfaction with consistent pricing, and ultimately contributes to increased profitability.

Q: What are some of the other ways that the hospitality industry is using AI for back-office and predictive functions, as well as front line, customer-facing applications? Where do you think new AI tools will continue to transform manual and other tasks? And how will this impact jobs?

A: AI is significantly transforming the hospitality industry in various ways. In the back-office, AI makes it possible to streamline functions such as billing, data entry, and inventory management. For example, AI models can read invoices and automatically update financial systems. For predictive purposes, AI helps in forecasting customer behavior, managing revenue, and setting dynamic pricing strategies. Predictive analytics enable data-driven decision-making for better market trend analysis.

Customer-facing applications represent another way that AI is changing the industry. Chatbots and virtual assistants now enhance guest experiences by providing 24/7 customer service, handling reservations, and responding to inquiries. Additionally, AI-powered concierge services offer personalized recommendations and assistance.  But this does not necessarily mean that hotels will no longer need human concierges. While AI can automate repetitive tasks, it also creates opportunities for more strategic human roles focused on guest relations and personalized services. The integration of AI may lead to job displacement in some areas, but also the creation of new roles in others.

The future of AI in hospitality looks promising, with potential advancements in personalization, seamless guest experiences, and operational efficiency. As AI continues to evolve, it will likely transform manual tasks into more efficient automated processes, and thus impact the nature of jobs within the industry.

Q: What led you to develop special expertise in AI and automation? How do you use innovation to drive ROI (Return on Investment) in hospitality and other industries? 

A: As a child I was always interested in puzzles and chess. Puzzles taught me to dissect complex challenges into manageable pieces. Whether it was fitting irregularly shaped puzzle pieces together or deciphering cryptic clues, I honed my problem-solving skills. 

Chess is a game of strategy. Each move has consequences, and planning ahead is crucial. When I was young, I visualized the chessboard, considering various scenarios. In IT, anticipating system behavior, planning for scalability, and designing robust architectures follow a similar pattern. Chess taught me to think beyond the immediate move—to envision the entire game.

Fast forward to my IT career—debugging code, optimizing algorithms, and troubleshooting network issues all require the same mindset. I learned to approach problems methodically, identifying patterns and gradually piecing together solutions.

Now, with over 15 years in IT, I have developed a deep understanding of technology solutions, including AI and automation, to streamline business processes. All of the solutions I have described leverage new technologies in different ways, but with the same shared goal of delivering better financial outcomes. These initiatives reflect a strategic approach to using technology for cost savings, efficiency gains, and ultimately, a stronger bottom line in the hospitality industry and beyond.

Q: You have advised business owners to identify optimal use cases and areas for maximum ROI before diving into AI implementation. Can you explain the possible pitfalls? Are there particular challenges related to the use of AI that you foresee in the near and evolving future? 

A: Without clear goals, companies can have misaligned objectives, or suffer from a lack of data quality and/or expertise. Jumping into AI can lead to solutions in search of problems, rather than strategically using AI to address specific business needs. AI systems require high-quality data. Poor data can lead to inaccurate models and unreliable outcomes. 

Implementing AI also requires a certain level of expertise. Without knowledgeable personnel, projects can fail to deliver expected results. Finally, as AI evolves, so do regulations. Staying compliant with data privacy and ethical standards is an ongoing challenge. Together, these issues  underscore the importance of strategic planning and continuous learning in the field of AI.

Q: How do you train your IT teams to use AI tools strategically in problem solving? 

A: I train my IT teams by following a structured approach. This begins with an evaluation of each individual’s existing skills, and identifying areas where AI can augment their capabilities. To better facilitate this, I have developed training modules focused on AI tools relevant to our business processes, such as OCR, chatbots, and AI models for automation.

I also encourage learning by doing, by assigning my team members real-world projects that require the use of AI tools to automate tasks and solve problems. Above all, I foster an environment of continuous improvement and learning that encourages everyone to keep up with the latest AI advancements and integrate them into our workflows. By implementing these steps, I strive to  empower our IT teams to leverage AI tools effectively and drive innovation within our organization.

Q: What would you say to younger engineers about the importance of integrating IT with leadership and business skills in building a career? 

A: Leadership, communication, and business skills are crucial for building a successful career in engineering. Understanding both the technical and business aspects of projects allows for a more comprehensive approach to problem-solving and innovation, and effective communication with both technical and non-technical stakeholders is essential for translating complex ideas and ensuring alignment with business goals.

In any workplace, I have found that cultivating leadership skills can lead to better team management, and the ability to drive projects forward more effectively. Combining IT expertise with business acumen can open up opportunities for higher-level positions and broader career prospects. I advise young engineers and engineering students that these “soft” skills complement technical knowledge and are increasingly valued in the modern workplace, where interdisciplinary collaboration is key to success.

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