Erik-Jan Ginjaar: “Let the computer handle the tasks”

Innovation is not something for a separate innovation department. “No, the need has to be so great that you want to solve a problem,” says Erik-Jan Ginjaar, general manager of Postillion Hotels Holland. “You can often use computers for this. Let them handle the tasks.”

How would such a corporate innovation department fare? Ginjaar wonders in disbelief. “That an employee goes to work and says ‘I have to renew myself today’. As a simple HBO student, I say it doesn’t work like that. For me, you adopt as an organization from three starting points. Or you feel that you as a company are stalling somewhere, or that you have a huge need for something, or a gigantic problem needs to be solved. In short, the need must be high. And yes, as management, you can of course make sure that the pressure is high.”

Creative minds are needed

If you want to renew yourself, you have to have a number of things in order. Ginjaar: “First of all, you need creative minds who want and dare to deviate from the beaten path. You notice if you have too few of these creatives on board when there is a management team that is not very diverse. If they all go for order and safety, then you must be prepared to intervene. There are many methods for evaluating the management team, for example the DISC insight method. They often derive from the work of Carl Gustav Jung. It is the Swiss psychiatrist and psychologist who is the founder of analytical psychology. You need a diverse management team because it needs to be able to tell. Don’t find that grinding scary, because it leads to the next steps in innovation. Innovation always hurts a little, because you as an organization have to change.”

“Employees can take courage if they are allowed to innovate.”

Want to do a little better every day

Ginjaar also mentions corporate culture. “If the culture doesn’t have to make it a little better every day, and if the employees think it’s cool to try new things, then it won’t work. Employees can take courage if they are allowed to innovate. It also gives the feeling of belonging to a front runner. If the culture points to ‘keep everything as it was’, it gets in the way of the creative.”

Not that there was an innovation policy at Postillion Hotels when Ginjaar joined. “No, but we had a huge problem that we wanted to solve. In 2017, we were supposed to make a profit for the first time, but things went wrong just before the port. The owner’s CFO heard this and demanded from us that in 2018 nothing would stand in the way of actually making a profit. He was done with it and called for austerity. Almost at the same time, we had more and more problems in the reservation departments, where we had to handle 10,000 emails a month. The natural reflex is to hire new employees, which would increase costs, but this was not possible. That is why we came up with the idea of ​​an automated reservation manager.”

Robots do not enter

No matter how innovative Ginjaar is, robots won’t get to him. “I know there are countless robots being used in the hospitality industry, but I think this is the bankruptcy of hospitality. You have to experience that hospitality from person to person. Personal contact is important here. That’s not to say I don’t embrace automation. On the contrary. This allows you to free up employees for front-end hospitality tasks. This really helps guests.

Virtual booking agent

His name is Michael. It is Ginjaar’s digital colleague. The virtual, interactive booking assistant. “Innovation occurs when you have a business challenge, and for us it was in fast, error-free booking confirmations. After a five-day Google Business Sprint, a problem became a solution. And that solution is called Michiel. The use of technology ensures that we can work more hospitable than before.” Michiel’s artificial intelligence evaluates the e-mail, sees if it can automatically handle a request, possibly books directly in Postillion Hotel’s systems and sends the customer a booking confirmation. “We developed the software internally at Postillion Hotels, but at some point we put it out there because we saw potential in the market.” In September 2021, Postillion therefore transferred it to the startup Please ask m, which now offers the software to several customers. Co-creator Mark Struik has also been CEO of Please ask m since 2022.

chores

“The solution came about because we wanted to have more time for what people do best,” explains Ginjaar. “Namely to provide hospitality in contact with our customers. Let the computer handle the tasks. I have learned a lot from technicians. They explained to me that in principle everything contained in spreadsheets can be automated. If it is possible, then there are many more options. For example in the administrative department.” Remember that these options require a solid business case. “Because the CFO is watching.”

“You definitely need product owners.”

Ginjaar, for example, also started working with voice-controlled hotel rooms. 252 rooms in the Postillion Hotel Amsterdam to be exact. “I believe that as a hotel chain we have to do things a little differently and therefore constantly have to look for ways to do it. It’s in our DNA. Then you keep inventing new things, such as the voice-controlled hotel rooms. Anyone who wants to order a hamburger with a Heineken as room service or a taxi can now tell the voice assistant. We have recently changed supplier. From Harman, part of Samsung, to Woohoo. We can now also arrange that room service.”

Erik-Jan Ginjaar: “The use of technology ensures that we can work more hospitable than before.” Photo: Ton Kastermans Photography

More bumps than expected

What did Postillion Hotels encounter in this type of innovation project? “An innovation always takes longer than you thought, you encounter more bumps than expected and it is also more expensive than at its starting point. Just see it as a fact. Skeptics are quick to declare the project bankrupt. That’s not a problem, because skeptics should be there too. They just don’t want to get the upper hand. To avoid that effect, you must explain in detail why we choose this path. What will this bring us? Even after three months of initial excitement about the virtual booking agent, I noticed that sjeu went out. It is precisely then that it is important to get energy and necessity back in. We definitely need that.”

Designate Product Owners

Ginjaar calls the failure to appoint product owners simply a mistake. “It is an expression from the world of ICT and technicians. A product owner is a translator between the company and the IT technicians. Because they speak Chinese, so to speak, and we speak German. We thought we didn’t need it. We would take on that role ourselves. It was a mistake. In this case, cheap was expensive for us. We could have saved a ton on the project because, for example, we had written pieces of software that were not applicable to our business case or ultimately did not belong in it. In short, you definitely need the translators called Product Owners.”

be sharp

Finally, the conversation ends on an app for the employees. “To be honest, I wouldn’t describe it as innovation in the first place. We have developed a Postillion Hotel app where employees can view their schedule, view payslips, but also follow e-learning courses. From the e-learning platform GoodHabitz, but also own videos. For example, how to make a good cappuccino. This is also because the employees often do not stand on the benches to follow physical training courses. This is more accessible. Why do I think this is less of an innovation? I already see that as a hygiene factor if you want to be an employer. Just as public, readily available Wi-Fi in a hotel room is no longer special. Which brings me to another lesson. As a day-to-day manager, I always have to assess what a hygiene factor is and where I need to take the next step in innovation. Every now and then I have to trigger the emergency. It requires me to keep a close eye on developments, also in technology.”

About Erik-Jan Ginjaar

Erik-Jan Ginjaar, general manager of Postillion Hotels Holland, graduated at the age of 22 from Hogere Hotelschool in Maastricht. After a long career in the hotel industry, where he held virtually every position, he started in 2012 as General Manager for Postillion Hotel Utrecht Bunnik. In 2014 he became regional director West and since February 2017 he can call himself general manager of Postillion Hotels Holland.

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