There’s one thing you can be absolutely sure about in the hotel world… There are lots of big ideas. Some will have an impact and be here to stay, many more will come and go, forgotten as quickly as your bank balance if you don’t spend wisely. Technologies, experiences, gadgets, fads and fashion; all potential traps or goldmines if you get it right.
There will certainly be emerging cultural and societal factors which influence change and guest demand that you would be wise to listen to, but how are you supposed to know the difference? How are you supposed to know where to put your time and investment? And how do you know what your customer really cares about?
We have all witnessed the rapid change in pace in which we live and work today. It feels like technology and social media have driven this pace and have the power to escalate topics quickly to reach a far and wide audience. Maybe momentum for change was much slower in the past, but, nevertheless, there has always been an evolving attitude to topics which influence the way we design and operate hotels or the way we deliver guest experience and facilities.
In today’s world, there are quite a few areas for us to think about; in technology, in guest experience and with social responsibility. For me, it all starts with listening. Be a sponge. Soak up the noise until you know who your customer is and what really makes them tick. You cannot rush into the first thing that lights up your eyes. There’s a danger of ‘here today and gone tomorrow’, leaving you a legacy which dates your hotel faster than the corridor carpet.
My advice on how to do this is by doing some of everything. Read the press, follow social media alerts of your brand (and your competitors), review customer attitude surveys, look at market innovations, review similar sectors, look at global trends and societal shifts. Another great way to get rich feedback is to directly engage your guests in conversation and surveys. When you do look at research, ensure you’re hearing the voice of the majority and not the wild inspiration of the minority.
I’m sure we’ve all read about the “next piece of technology which is going to change everything”. How many of us put those cool little MP3 players into our hotel rooms for guests to connect an iPod or an iPhone, only for Apple to change the lightning/charging connection and then strip out the earphone socket? It took a simple innovation and thousands of hotel rooms were rendered out of date instantly. Obviously, this doesn’t happen with everything, but you get the idea.
There are a lot more of these experience and connectivity gadgets around the corner. You could back some in-room tech which just doesn’t have the longevity to stand the test of time (RIP DVD players and 3D TV!)
When it comes to technology, it’s not just the industry which is driving the pace of change. It’s quite often the marketing departments driving the innovation and feeding insights, which find their way into our development cycle, refurbishment processes and capital expenditure plans. The fundamentals of a great hotel room haven’t changed all that much if you look to focus on guest comfort, despite the cyclical nature of fashion and trend.
Put it this way, technology has to work hard to enhance the guest experience in some positive and impactful way, otherwise, what are you buying it for? It doesn’t make sense to invest because it’s new, especially if you’re not sure how it will improve your guest experience (think Virtual Reality apps.)
For our guests’ attitude and preferences, change often comes from pressure in society. I don’t recall seeing too much momentum for change with single-use plastics before Sir David Attenborough drew it to our attention in Blue Planet 2 just over two years ago? The first series was way back in 2001, and, since then, awareness may have grown, but the recent mobilisation of hotels, bars, restaurants and retailers to do something about it, both quickly and publicly has been extraordinary.
It’s really become a societal shift change for all the right reasons. The world is talking about it now from MPs to musicians and businesses. We are collectively trying to solve the puzzle to make a difference to our planet. Plastic straws, disposable cutlery, toiletries and coffee cups; just some of the items now disappearing. It’s taken 16 years for the knowledge and awareness to evolve into action, purpose and a global movement, to influence the way we do things. What next?
Climate change has been a consistent topic for more than 30 years in some form or other. There was a real relevance maybe 10-15 years ago on Corporate Social Responsibility policies, but then the financial crisis of 2008 got in the way and the noise died down while everyone focused on recovery.
That has certainly changed over recent months as we’ve seen high-profile protests and some interesting weather phenomenon over the last couple of years. Many companies will wrestle with the responsibility of this subject against cost efficiency.
However, we cannot neglect this any longer and we simply have to find a way to get better at tackling these topics responsibly whilst focusing on our guest experience. My advice would be to start thinking about small things you can quickly change such as palm oil, detergent use, single-use plastics, recycling and waste strategies or smart buildings reducing utility consumption.
If you’re not planning to move forward yet, then you will be expected too soon. I’m pretty confident that social media and the expectation from younger, Generation Z travellers will demand we do something. Those brands who don’t evolve, adapt and change will be the ones that miss out and struggle.
There’s no denying there’s a lot of information out there; some conflicting but it’s time to build this into your design, construction and operational plans for the future. Make sure you have insight ingrained into your decision-making process.
You can learn so much from talking to your guests and absorbing reviews. At Roomzzz, we invested in guest feedback and social channels to drive knowledge and reputation and make sure our development cycle for product, services and facilities is informed by our guests throughout. Something as simple as this is now driving our future strategies and it’s exciting.
Robert Alley, chief operating officer at Roomzzz Aparthotels