November 5, 2021

Tisch Center Course Spotlight: Current and Future Hospitality Technologies

Professor Max Starkov teaches Current and Future Hospitality Technologies, an elective course in the MS in Global Hospitality Management at the Tisch Center of Hospitality. Professor Starkov tells us more about his background and the course subject below.

What is your background?

I have a BS and MS in Economics of International Tourism & Hospitality, Sofia University in my native Bulgaria, and an MBA in E- Commerce degree from Fordham University in New York.

I have spent my entire professional career in hospitality and online travel, focusing on hospitality technology, digital transformation strategy and marketing. I have consulted hundreds of major hotel chains, boutique and luxury hotel brands, independent hotels, resorts and casinos on their digital technology and marketing strategies.

Until recently, I was Founder and Board Director, President & CEO at NextGuest (, now merged with Cendyn to form the hospitality industry’s largest digital transformation consulting, technology and marketing firm in the world. I founded NextGuest in 2001 and grew the company to become a 150-employee firm, headquartered in New York City with global offices in Europe and Asia Pacific.

Before NextGuest, I founded and served as CEO of two Internet travel startups: (the first online travel marketplace) and (the first hotel online booking engine).

At the Tisch Center, you will be teaching the revised Current and Future Technologies course. What are the objectives of the course?

The digital transformation is changing hospitality at an unprecedented pace and hoteliers are caught largely unprepared. Even worse, the pandemic accelerated digital transformation by 10 years (McKinsey & Company) and today’s travel consumers have become even more digitally-savvy than ever. 

Today's hospitality is becoming a 100% digital technology-enabled industry powered by online, mobile, cloud, IoT, AI, robotics and blockchain tools and applications. Digital technology is making its way into every aspect of the industry: hotel operations, guest services, communications, revenue management, distribution, CRM and marketing. 

In the near to mid-term, any full-service 3-4-5-star hotel will need over 100 plus APIs (application programming interface) with third-party tech applications and solutions to be able to function and meet the basic needs and wants of today's tech-savvy travelers. These include mobile and contactless guest experience, mobile locks, issue resolution apps, guest messaging, virtual concierge, IoT devices and utility management, smart room technology, entertainment hubs, CRM programs, etc.

I believe that within the next 10 years many hotels will operate at half the pre-coronavirus staff level and we will be seeing more and more examples of semi- and fully automated hotels. 

Who will lead the digital and technology transformation in hospitality? The current hospitality owners and managers are lacking education and proficiency in digital hospitality technology and the latest technology innovations, trends and best practices. Very few hospitality schools today teach hospitality technology courses. New York University’s Tisch Center for Hospitality is a pioneer in this field. 

The objective of the revised Current and Future Technologies course is to teach students about the business applications of hospitality technologies. The objective of the course is not to teach students to become IT specialists or software engineers, but to educate them to become TECHNOLOGISTS i.e. experts on how to understand, evaluate, choose, implement and manage technology applications in hospitality. 

Why is this an important and interesting subject area in our fields?

Next gen technologies like AI, robotics, automation, mobility and IoT are called upon to solve a number of issues in our industry, such as labor shortages, turnover rates, labor costs and productivity issues. Unfortunately, our industry is vastly unprepared for this new digital reality. Most hotels are desperately lagging behind the technology - devices, amenities, mobile and cloud services - customers enjoy at their own homes. Long gone are the days when staying at a hotel meant experiencing better technology and amenities (flat-screen TV? HBO? High-Speed Internet?) compared to the guests' own homes. Unfortunately, many hotels nowadays offer a “sub-par home away from home” experience as far as technology is concerned. 

The main reason for the big gap in hospitality’s technology preparedness and customer tech expectations is the systemic underinvestment in technology due to deeply-rooted tech aversion in our industry. Another important factor that is accelerating the adoption of technology in hospitality: acute labor shortages and rapidly rising labor costs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of unfilled positions in the U.S. reached 10.07 million last month, 1.73 million of which were in hospitality. 

What are the solutions? Changing the business model, hiring more gig workers to do the job, streamlining operations are some of the immediate temporary measures. But the only long-term solution is Investing in technology that can solve the current labor shortages through innovations, automation, mobility, robotization and next gen technology applications. The goal here is to do more with fewer employees by using technology and reducing the property’s staffing needs over the next few years by at least half compared to 2019 levels.

What impact do you hope to have on your students through this course?

I would like to provoke my students into thinking outside the box. For example, is hospitality a real-estate industry? Traditionally, for lending purposes, there are six commonly defined sectors of commercial real estate. These categories are office, retail, industrial, multifamily, hotel, and special purpose. Hotels are considered non-core real estate investments characterized either as value-added or opportunistic real estate from both the equity investor and lender perspectives. 

Why is this important? This classification creates the wrong mindset among many hotel owners and operators who operate the properties like real estate businesses, completely ignoring the realities of the marketplace and the rapidly changing preferences of the tech-savvy travel consumers. 

True, any hotel operates within the physical confines of a real-estate asset, but so do retail stores, colleges, hospitals, manufacturing, etc. Do you consider Target, which owns most of its stores, a real-estate company? Do you consider Amazon a real estate company, since it leases or owns more than 160 million sq.ft. of warehouses out of which the company conducts a big chunk of its business? Or Tesla with its 8 company-owned gigafactory manufacturing plants? Of course not. 

So what kind of industry is hospitality? In my view, hospitality has already become a technology-enabled service industry, not a real estate industry. 

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

The 2022 Spring Semester will be the fourth semester I will be teaching the  Current and Future Hospitality Technologies course. The course is geared toward the widest audience of students with interests in hospitality management, revenue management, marketing, event management, travel and tourism management, etc.

Digital technology is making its way into every aspect of the industry: hotel operations, guest services and communications, revenue management, distribution, CRM and marketing. This necessitates the emergence of a new type of leaders and managers - technologists - who understand the business applications of technology, the latest technology innovations, trends and best practices in hospitality technology. 

The students who take the Current and Future Technologies course will be well prepared to become these future tech-savvy leaders and managers and gain crucial competitive advantage in their career pursuits.

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