James Parsons joined Obvlo at the end of 2023 to lead the commercial side of the business as Chief Revenue Officer. Having started his career in sales at Marriott, James pivoted to the supplier side and has spent a decade working in data and technology companies within the hotel industry. Most recently, James was Strategic Account Director at Lighthouse (formerly OTA Insight). James knows the hotel industry inside out and is passionate about its success. We sat down to dig a bit deeper and hear his thoughts on the future of the sector.
When did you get into the hotel industry and why did you choose it?
I completed a questionnaire at school aged around 16 which is designed to help you determine your career path - hospitality was the number one choice. Little did I know how prescient this was. It was not until I started working at Number 16 aged 18, (Now a rather lovely Firmdale Hotel) in South Kensington as a porter that I really realised it was my calling. I am so fortunate to have worked with some brilliant hotel people, many of whom I am still in touch with today.
Why did you make the jump into the supplier side?
Like many young people in the industry today, I yearned for some normality in my calendar - I worked 40 out of 52 weekends in one year working in banqueting, and missed many social occasions, and my family too.
I worked in Central London sales for Marriott, then went to work outside of the industry. All the while I felt the pull back in, and when an opportunity came up to work with hotels on the other side, I jumped at the chance and moved into the supplier side.
I still miss the buzz of working in hotels though.
How has technology evolved over your time in the industry and what is the biggest impact you’ve seen?
Hospitality technology is a strange beast - since I started working it has come on leaps and bounds in some areas, but is still horribly stuck in others - legacy tech has been a huge barrier to change and still remains so.
The biggest change I have seen is new companies (read Lighthouse, Oaky, and now Obvlo etc.) springing up to compete in every layer of the tech stack, revolutionising and streamlining hoteliers & guest work flows. Whereas before it was 2-3 big companies for each part, now there is competition at last, although some areas still do not have the disruption they need to be pushed forward.
Are there other sectors you are interested in beyond travel?
The hotels' side of hospitality still burns brightly as a passion of mine, but the opportunities for Obvlo stretch way further than just travel - it's so exciting to see how far we can take it.
What do you love most about working with hotels?
There is still a lot of magic left in hospitality - experiencing a new hotel for the first time still gives me a massive buzz. At work, it’s all about client satisfaction - be it a hotel as one of our clients, or as a hotel guest using one of our platforms. Delivering and improving service to these clients and seeing them maximising their opportunities through personalisation is massive for me.
What frustrates you about the industry?
I touched on it earlier, but the legacy technology holding many areas of the industry back still drives me mad. I find some of the recurring themes we all hear about at the shows that are never truly solved (looking at you, Total Hotel Revenue Management, GOPPAR, and true cost of distribution) very frustrating - these are all critical things but neither the industry itself nor the tech providers out there seem to be able to finish the job on these.
Personalisation and content are next, both of which we hear a lot about, but have a long way to go still. Content is static and out of date, and personalisation is all talk and no action.
I believe Obvlo has a fascinating route to getting true, and actually relevant personalisation out into the hands of hotels and their guests. Obvlo's dynamic destination content will be absolutely critical in engaging customers in a more interesting branded experience.
What are your predictions for the future, how do you think technology will continue to change the industry?
AI is a huge buzzword in the industry, but again, despite hearing about it a lot, we are yet to see a game changing implementation of it in hospitality. AI chatbots are great at answering questions, but should guests even be asking these questions in the first place? And when it gets super specific, the AI does not get it, leading to a frustrating experience for the guest.
Obvlo is in the most amazing position to change this, and has a fantastic implementation of AI in our platforms - get in touch to see how we do it!
Get in touch with James on LinkedIn to learn more.