Hoteliers can learn from Playboy
Hoteliers can learn from Playboy
07 JANUARY 2016 7:09 AM
Hoteliers can learn a thing or two about evolution from Playboy, which has set the bar in rebranding in the magazine industry.
Playboy threw us all a curveball in 2015 when the magazine announced it would cease publishing full nude photography. 
The rationale makes sense: These days free pornography is just a mouse click away, and Playboy doesn’t stand a chance at competing. Instead, the company is pivoting to focus on more urbane content and thought leadership to drive worldwide merchandising sales.
It’s a desperate act, but it’s also brilliant. 
Playboy was founded on its racy and controversial material, with boisterous interviews and piercing exposés mixed in for good measure. This was the niche that propelled it to the limelight in the 1960s and 1970s, with the suave, smoke-jacket-laden Hugh Hefner at the forefront of the so-called Playboy Image—a style and aspiration for all gentlemen to follow. 
Nowadays, nudity is far from the heights of taboo it was in the mid-20th century, while the Playboy Image is a clear example of old-fashioned misogyny at its finest. And the octogenarian Hefner—who still dates twenty-something blondes—is viewed by the younger generations less as a Casanova and more as an outright pedophile. Oh, how times change. 
Even with the writing on the wall, the notion of extricating pornographic images from the publication is an assault on the company’s raison d’être, and it undoubtedly met heavy resistance at every juncture of the corporate ladder.
But enough about Playboy. What’s the ever-so-titillating lesson for hotels? 
In a business sense, this is what we call disruptive innovation, and it has plagued the hospitality industry since its beginning. At the present, we are facing the repercussions of the sharing economy in Airbnb along with online-travel-agency brand dilution and the primacy in spending power of the seemingly apathetic millennials. Yet, these latest three follow in a long chain of inventions or rising trends that have forced us to alter the ways in which we conduct our methods of commercial exchange. 
Everything on the table
The Internet is an unstoppable force. Free pornography is one of its unforeseen consequences. As it concerns hospitality, Airbnb and the OTAs are two glaring outcomes of the World Wide Web, and no one could have predicted even a decade ago that they would affect our industry as much as they do today. 
Just as Playboy made the radical shift away from its reason of being—distribution of its pornography magazines—so, too, must hotel organizations exhibit similar boldness if they are to survive. This could be particularly tough to swallow for an industry that prides itself on its traditions and its timelessness.
Keep your traditions and use them as branding or marketing tools, but first acknowledge that the universe is constantly chugging forward and the past only exists through rose-colored glasses. Sometimes the world throws you a curveball, and the only restorative action is to scrutinize every single aspect of your operations from a purely objective perspective. With Airbnb and the OTAs changing the ways that consumers think about travel, you cannot rely on a traditional sensibility, lest you succumb to the same fate as Hefner—outdated and irrelevant to a new generation with a fundamentally different philosophy.
Leaving everything on the table is the only way to navigate an organization through disruptive innovation. See what’s working and what’s not, no matter its legacy. And remember that innovation does not have to strictly apply to technology. When I say everything is up for grabs, I mean every single thing, front of house and back of house. And if you have to tear the whole house down to build a newer and sturdier one, then so be it. 
For specific examples of this, you may look to the hotels which, seeing declining sales from their target market, decide to convert to extended-stay residences rather than try new tactics at maintaining the status quo. Instead of relying on legislation against Airbnb that is coming in at a glacial pace, you might choose to radically shift from a rooms-centric business model to one entirely focused on impeccable service and personalized amenities.
Challenging existing practices is a painful exercise because there will always be an ingrained fear of change. But if you think in terms of how little the universe cares about your specific plight, then it might just light a fire to help move your organization forward. Just as Playboy made the daring decision to abandon what was once its core revenue stream, you must also be open to any and all changes as this will ensure that you evolve at the same pace as your environment.
Larry Mogelonsky is the founder of LMA Communications Inc., an award-winning hospitality marketing agency. He’s also a member of Cayuga Hospitality Consultants, G7 Hospitality and Laguna Strategic Advisors. He has published three books including “Are You an Ostrich or a Llama?”, “Llamas Rule” and “Hotel Llama”.   
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