General experiences — I believe that the number of people deciding on in-destination experiences after they arrive will stay steady, so hotels really need to think about removing their tour desks and start working with third party providers that can enable seamless experiences when it comes to selecting and booking an experience.
As part of my series about “exciting developments in the travel industry over the next five years”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Deniz Tekerek, a co-founder of Portier Technologies, a technology startup focused on the hotel and hospitality industry. Prior to founding Portier Technologies, Deniz worked in senior positions across the technology sector and also ran a small e-commerce startup, while studying for a master’s degree at the University of Leeds in the UK. While Portier Technologies is US-based, the main focus of the company is Asia, where Deniz spends most of his time and gets to travel across the region on a regular basis.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I was always very interested in the hotel industry, given the involvement of some of my family members in the hotel business. Essentially, I have always believed in the magic of hotels and in the idea that people like a hotel concierge could genuinely “unlock” a city for you. In many ways, a hotel is the most unique entry point to a city. In that sense, I don’t really buy into the idea that a hotel has to feel like home; I think a hotel will always be a special place that provides some of the most intriguing memories. With Portier Technologies, the approach from day one was that we can amplify that magic.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
If I was to pick the most interesting thing that happened to me since running this company, it’s probably something not directly related to the hotel or travel sector, but more to do with fundraising for our startup. One particular week I remember sent me across five countries in five days, just to meet potential investors that showed a strong interest in our company. It’s not so much the work-related element that was interesting, but mostly the power of the mind to digest five different cultures in such a short time period. To note, these were countries spread across Asia and were distinctly different from one another, so I found it fascinating as to how used I really am to “digesting” new places so quickly, that it takes me minutes to work out local transport, food and nuances. At the same time, it was an emotional warning sign to not move too fast.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Not sure if funny is the best way to describe this, but when we first started, we were clearly not the most educated when it comes to fundraising from people, so we randomly met people that “had money”. I personally flew across NYC, LA, SF, Europe and Asia, just to meet people and companies that might be remotely interested in our solution, so we ended up burning a lot of time traveling around the globe for investment. What we learned was that, as in dealing with clients, relationship building is a key factor for success, so we started making geographically focused commitments in fundraising, and things have significantly improved since.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I think that we’re a genuine team that stays grounded, in order to ensure the biggest possible success for ourselves and our partners. While it’s easy to get distracted by big buzzwords in the world of startups, we always want to make sure that we actually deliver value to our clients by producing features that are immediately relevant. As a group of people, our egos are very much parked. To give you an example, we ride around towns in Vietnam in suits on rented scooters, when we’re attending appointments, and we don’t shy away from any type of potential hardship to get things done.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”? Can you share a story about that?
When you work in the hotel industry, likelihood is that you’ll have to but also get to travel a lot. If you focus more on the “have to”, you’ll stop appreciating the amount of work that goes into hotels, in order to make them such special places. You’ll also stop appreciating the beauty of the destinations you get to discover. I’d say that being in this industry allows us to experience places that might be a once-in-a-lifetime event for many, so the focus should always be on the “get to”. This is something I particularly witnessed at The Siam hotel in Bangkok, where every single staff member seems incredibly grateful to be working at a property that is so unique — this is something you feel every time you interact with staff there.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
First of all, I don’t feel as though we’re at a point at which we can talk about achievements yet. Having said that, I am very grateful to my co-founder Mark for being pretty much the same person during highs and lows of our project, which enabled both of us to never give in to any doubts. At the same time, I’m incredibly grateful to my wife, my family and friends for being my personal backbone.
Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to the travel and hospitality industries?
The greatest innovation that we’re striving to bring to the hotel sector is simplicity by grouping. Our solution is designed to look at the guest and hotel staff as a combined entity — we believe that guest-facing products should not be treated as an isolated element. In that sense, via our connected smartphones, we don’t only focus on the guest and his/her needs, but we’re a one-stop-shop for both hotel staff and hotel guests. In practice, one of the features that symbolizes this is our chat — the chat includes a “back-office” portion that enables hotel staff to incorporate any direct engagement with a guest into their daily servicing routine, in order to address issues faster and more effectively.
Which “pain point” are you trying to address by introducing this innovation?
We’re making it easier for the guest to ask for help and we’re simplifying the way in which hotel staff deal with providing such help. However, this is only the tip of the iceberg. Essentially, we’re an engaging combination of all travel and hotel needs in a single place, which removes barriers to entry for people who hate the idea of downloading new apps for a single purpose. In simple terms, our solution addresses any travel pain point, from ordering a cocktail from the pool area to being connected while exploring the city, so travelers can simply focus on arriving at their room and don’t worry about or plan anything else.
How do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?
We’ve already seen some incredible success. Our hotel partners are generating more income from each guest. The guests are more satisfied with their travel and hotel experience, as everything gets done better and faster. I think that our approach “disruption” is consolidation — putting the most critical travel needs in a single place. I think that we’ll see more companies moving in a direction that doesn’t simply do one thing.
Can you share 5 examples of how travel and hospitality companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers like to travel?
1. Chinese millennials — there’s been a global approach to Chinese travelers that focused on spending on luxury goods and very much a mass approach. The Chinese traveler is already a lot more sophisticated than that, and rather than jumping on that bandwagon, travel companies and hotels will have to offer the same special experiences that might be relevant to the American or European millennial.
2. Technology — I think there’s going to be a big reversal in terms of type of technologies that companies will invest in. A robot is cool, but does it really drastically change things at a hotel? AR and VR are buzzwords, and hotel executives are quick to go for it, but the tech’s validity for hotels in particular, is extremely questionable.
3. Feel like home — this might be a more personal view, but more and more hospitality companies promote the idea that travelers want to “feel like home”. Why do they travel then? Isn’t a hotel stay an escape from the day-to-day? I think this area could see some reversal.
4. General experiences — I believe that the number of people deciding on in-destination experiences after they arrive will stay steady, so hotels really need to think about removing their tour desks and start working with third party providers that can enable seamless experiences when it comes to selecting and booking an experience.
5. Payments — this is an area of technology that’s underdeveloped across the likes of the US and Europe. I think hospitality companies will have to invest in mobile payments that have global relevance, so a restaurant experience can become seamless and less frustrating, even across borders and languages.
You are a “travel insider”. How would you describe your “perfect vacation experience”?
My perfect vacation experience would include spending time with locals that are of a similar age and could be seen as my equivalent in the country that I’m visiting. I don’t define a genuinely local experience as something like visiting an old tribe in village. To me, a local experience means to do as the locals do — eat at restaurants that match the local taste buds, go to bars that locals like to go to and more. So in that sense, a great experience would be to be paired up with locals and explore the destination through their eyes.
Can you share with our readers how have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I don’t think that I’m influential enough for something very significant yet. For now, I like the idea of sharing my contacts and experiences with people who are going through the same struggles, so they don’t have to experience the negatives of my steep learning curve.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I would ask company founders to buy and donate a new and usable football (soccer ball) each to a group of kids they saw playing while on holiday. Just go to the nearest sports store and buy these kids a new ball.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I’m mostly active on LinkedIn and occasionally post from my travels on Instagram (dnzteker). You can also look for me on Medium.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!