Having an app is becoming increasingly important for businesses across every industry. However, the process of building one can still be prohibitively expensive and intimidatingly complex. Criton offers a solution for the hotel industry: an easy app building platform that allows hotels and businesses in the hospitality and tourism sectors to create beautiful branded apps providing an array of functionalities such as mobile booking, requests and recommendations.

Criton was born out of founder Julie Grieve’s struggle in her previous role to create a guestbook for a luxury serviced apartment development in Edinburgh. She says that as soon as the book was created, it was out of date.

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That wasn’t the only issue. “There would be things like, you’d walk in and a sock would be sticking out of it, or someone had written ‘Betty this is the wifi password’ on it, or there were crumbs and coffee stains - it was just really hard to keep it on-brand,” explains Grieve.

She said she quickly settled on the next best option - creating an app. However, the quote she received was eight and a half thousand pounds - outside her budget, and for a service that sounded disappointing: old-fashioned web infrastructure for which she’d have to pay each time Google or Apple came out with a new operating system.

She decided to bite the bullet and simply build her own app, seeking out a ‘Wordpress for apps’, only to find that it didn’t exist. She left her job at the property development company, sold her house and founded Criton.

That was in June 2016. Since then, the company has won clients such as The Scotsman Hotel in Edinburgh and the Cheval Residences, expanded its staff to 30 team members, and opened a London office in addition to the Edinburgh HQ.

Grieve says when they launched, they were the only company to offer an intuitive app builder for the hospitality and tourism sector and even today, there is no other company offering quite what they are. Where they face competition is at a modular level, with different apps catering to different aspects of the hotel experience.

“There's multiple guests facing technology options from ordering in the room to digital keys, checking in online to the internet of things, but they all come with different guest interfaces,” says Grieve. Of course, this detracts from a smooth guest experience where everything is encapsulated in one branded app.

However, Grieve predicts that this area will be heating up in the coming years. “There's definitely a lot happening in the sector because it's an issue that hotels are having to deal with,” she says. “Guests want the benefits that technology brings and hotels want the operational efficiencies that technology brings.”

Has this type of technology been slow to take off? Grieve says that there are still a lot of legacy systems used in the hotel industry. But she says the lure of technology that will allow hotels to achieve a greater volume of work with the same number of staff will prove too appealing to resist.

“I think you'll see it significantly improving over the next few years, as startups like mine that are here to disrupt come together and really give the legacy companies a run for their money,” says Grieve.   

In terms of emerging technologies, she says that there are plenty of opportunities within the technology stack that Criton’s built: “I see us as a marketplace for all guest-focused technologies.” In terms of the future, voice, facial recognition and internet of things technologies are particularly exciting areas for Criton.

But Grieve’s drive right now is to democratise app technology in the hospitality industry. “We want to help independents and groups have the same technologies as big chains,” she says, noting that Hilton and Marriott  both spent a billion on their apps.

“The technology is there - it’s just about how we help them implement it.”

Criton won Techworld’s small business innovation award in association with Dell Small Business for their impressive growth since their 2016 launch, as well as the vast potential of their technology within the hospitality and tourism sector.

Dell Small Business said they were delighted to partner with Techworld, and to sponsor this award: “The innovation shown in the submissions, were truly inspiring. Businesses that break the mould and disrupt the norm – exactly like Criton; show the industry that you can’t stand still, especially in today’s ever-changing transformative digital world. Criton’s offerings and thinking, also show a great attitude to not settling for less or a sub-par product, matching their customers’ expectations and greater transparency with their solutions.”