Operto Guest Technology offers a complete set of software solutions for short-term rentals and hotels that automates all in-unit devices. For example, intelligently controlled locks allow managers operational best practices around keyless guest check-in and check-out. Since COVID-19, providing hospitality with less ‘human touch’ through Smart Stay technology is increasingly looking like the ‘smart’ choice. We caught up with Operto co-founder and CEO, Michael Driedger to find out more about Operto, its solution for the industry and what’s changed since the global pandemic crisis.

PTM – Tell us about Operto’s start-up story? What’s your background and what was the problem that you spotted in the vacation rental industry that Operto was created to solve? 

MD- My background is as a green building consultant. I started my own building consulting company in 2012 and Operto was born of a consulting problem to reduce energy consumption in some hotels I was working on at the time. The idea centred around using the door lock to determine if someone was coming or going from the space. That turned out to be a great way to also manage guest access. The best locks, the most advanced booking technology (PMSs etc), and strongest need ended up being in the vacation rental industry. 

We’ve partnered with some great companies like Yale/Assa Abloy (for locks), compliance monitoring hardware (to monitor noise and occupancy), and market-leading thermostats and AC controllers. Additionally, amazing financing and strategic partners like ex-Booking.com CEO Darren Huston’s BlackPines Capital Partners to increase our reach around the world to help solve a myriad of problems for STR managers. Darren, as Executive Chairman, was also critical in bringing a strategic vision to how we could assist clients in creating a level of operational excellence with regards to smart stays. 

We now offer a complete set of software solutions that automates all in-unit devices. For example, intelligently controlled locks allows managers operational best practices around keyless guest check-in and check-out. More efficient turnovers and more time for cleaning because you know when the cleaner arrives and leaves. It’s all automated as well through the manager’s PMS to save as much time as possible while also offering the best guest experience. 

PTM – Prior to COVID-19, what was the business trajectory looking like? What types of customers and partners were you working with and how were property managers and hotels using your product/services? Where were you seeing growth? 

MD- We have and continue to grow with clients across the lodging spectrum. We have homes, masterlease clients, multifamily, leisure vacation rentals, boutique hotels, hostels, capsule hotels, treehouses and any other accommodation type you could imagine. 

For the longest time, most clients came to us for keyless access automation. Because we had solved apartment building intercoms we grew in urban environments the fastest. Over time our boutique hotel portfolio has probably grown the fastest as many hotels are looking to reduce reliance on the front desk (even more so now). 

We have also seen a major interest in our monitoring solution. The sensor we use monitors compliance for noise and over occupancy (we measure occupancy through CO2, which all humans breathe out). There’s now increased interest in the air quality aspects of this sensor since it also monitors humidity and there is lots of science around 40-60% relative humidity being ideal for cold and flu viruses not spreading inside. 

PTM – What’s changing for your customers since the pandemic and global lockdown? What’s the number one priority for your customers for the next 6 months? How has this changed since February 2020 and what has stayed the same?

MD – Certainly, those potential customers contemplating keyless entry as a “nice to have” now see it as a necessity to regain customer confidence. 

Their top priority, however, is instilling confidence so as to bring back bookings. Most are focusing on potential guests within driving distance (whereas before they had focused on a more international audience) and last-minute bookings for quick getaways. There are also longer term stays for people looking for a place to shelter in place. We’ve seen a lot of clients offering their properties to healthcare workers since it’s safer and easier for many of them instead of exposing family members. 

We expect that once travel restrictions begin to lift, our clients will have increased confidence in their ability to grow out strong strategies started during this difficult time. Most will continue to look very closely at anything they can automate to reduce their operating costs moving forward. 

PTM – What have you done to support your customers in this difficult time? Are you planning on adapting Operto Guest Technology to meet changing needs in our changing world?

MD – In March we announced that all our clients would have their monthly billing reduced by 50% for 3 months. We are also working with many of them on a day-to-day basis to let them know lessons learned from other clients who have had success with repositioning themselves for domestic tourism and long-stay guests.

In terms of adapting our technology, we were pretty well equipped to allow our client base to stand out during a time when guests are really focused on reducing human contact. We’ve been focused recently on working with our cleaning software partners on standards for a post-COVID world (like VRScheduler). Our system already allowed a property manager to maximize their turnover times and now we are focused on making the most of that time to sanitize a unit.

PTM – Post COVID-19, and once lockdowns are eased, building back the confidence of travellers will be paramount.  How can property managers win back the confidence of guests and ease the inevitable post-COVID anxiety?

MD – Reducing human interactions, through things like self check-in, has gone from “bad hospitality” to a required amenity. The cleaning regime and disinfecting procedures have also changed dramatically. It’s very likely that the time spent cleaning between guests will double as regular deep cleans become standard practice. Highlighting these factors will be key for all accommodation operators.

PTM – And finally, no one can reliably predict what the future holds, but in your view, what does a ‘good scenario’ for the short term rental industry look like in the next 3-9 months?

MD – I’ve adopted the Stockdale Paradox mentality that it’s important to be realistic about how hard the next year will be while staying positive that the end will eventually come. Balancing realism with optimism isn’t an easy thing to do. The silver lining is that those able to stay the strongest, adapt and respond to these times will likely grow the fastest once international travel comes back and people begin to forget about the pandemic. Luckily we have short memories when it comes to events like this, but it seems that this one is around to stay for at least another 3-9 months and its best to build your business for a longer term social distancing strategy until a widely available vaccine comes next year. 

Michael will be taking part in the next AJL Profitability Hub and joining the panel, ‘Rebuilding trust in the STR space.’

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