Tomorrow’s best hospitality groups will employ advanced technologies and solve marketplace challenges in ways that exploit our competitive advantage—our people. Attracting quality individuals to our organizations will also foster the genuine experiences that guests savor.
Today, the hospitality sector enjoys an enviable position in our American economy and way of life.
We have had an almost unprecedented run of quarter-after-quarter RevPAR growth. Existing asset stock is of excellent quality and is being augmented with fresh and exciting brand concepts and platforms, across all categories of pricing and service levels. Our class of commercial real estate has strong appeal to familiar and newer sources of equity capital, foreign and domestic.
At the same time, advanced technologies continue to transform our administration and delivery of services, everything from how guests check in and navigate their stay with us to human resources functions, revenue management or investor and brand reports and audits.
Moreover, with respect to people, global demand for travel and unique experiences, including to the U.S., is expected to remain strong, while hospitality entities continue to grab solid rungs on “Best Places to Work” lists.
The roster of positive boxes that we can tick off is impressive.
What lies ahead? At an enthusiastic time like the present, it’s opportune to consider what the future holds in store for the hospitality industry, while being mindful of challenges that will keep us grounded in the months and years ahead.
Clearly, two areas of concern are our workforce and the distribution channels by which we gain guests.
When it comes to our people, we must think beyond the raw costs, those wages and benefits, of our frontline staff. Instead, our future challenge will be to employ technology and training in ways that reduce costs and improve service efficiencies, but also help us attract great people to our industry and keep them invigorated throughout their careers with us. Technology must be more than a cost-cutter. It must be a people-enhancer that allows us to fulfill the human imperatives shared by guests and those who serve them.
No matter how many AI systems we employ in the future (bring it on Chatbot!), short of a Howard Hughes, I can’t really imagine a guest wanting to complete an entire hotel stay without ever interacting with a member of the hotel’s staff.
“Good morning; how did you enjoy your breakfast?”
“What’s the best way for me to get to that museum you mentioned?”
“Did you watch that ball game last night?”
And so on.
Which brings us to that 800-pound python in the hospitality room: OTAs and other distribution channels. Technology companies have done an outstanding job in finding guests and then delivering to those guests what they want in terms of location, room choice, pricing and amenities.
While we have made progress recently in balancing OTAs with direct booking, the reality is that our industry has been the beneficiary of these technology systems. The ease with which consumers can comparison shop for rooms and make reservations has clearly been a factor driving overall demand. Better pricing, backed by good loyalty programs, also encourages longer stays or more trips.
At the same time, this competition has prompted us to rethink many aspects of sales and marketing and made us sharpen our own reservation systems in driving guests to us. Overall, the astute consumer, between booking sites and the abundance of posted reviews on any property, should never be surprised upon arrival or during a stay. This is also to our advantage, as it enhances the perception of quality and value for our entire industry.
Our future strength must lie in the handoff between technology-driven guest acquisition and the guest’s real-world stay with us. This is the opening where we can exploit the people part of our business and make good on today’s promise of re-inventing the human experience of a hotel stay, which we will allow the guest to help define.
Surveys—and technology—are important in figuring this out; so are a smile and a handshake. Flexible, creative, inspired staff will make all the difference in this endeavor as we “bend, not break” technology to our core needs.
Kerry Ranson, a 21-year veteran of the hospitality industry, is chief development officer at HP Hotels.
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