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The ever-changing makeup of the global hospitality industry was put under the microscope in Skift’s first mini-forum at WTM London earlier this week.
Speakers from across the sector offered their views on subjects ranging from the continued threat of Airbnb to what hotels could learn from the food and beverage industry.
Here are our top five takeaways from the event:
Being Bland Is Unforgivable
Two boutique hotel pioneers joined Skift Editor-in-Chief Jason Clampet to discuss what the future holds for the sector.
Despite the growing influence of big-name legacy hotel companies in the area, both Josh Wyatt, president of Equinox Hotels, and Anwar Mekhayech, principal of DesignAgency, were both optimistic about the future.
Indeed the very presence of the likes of InterContiental Hotels Group in the sector (through its acquisition of Kimpton), means that we could see a return to the original spirit that drove popularity in the early days of boutique hotels.
Not all hotels can or want to be boutique but if that is the aim then they can’t be afraid to have a voice. Being bland is unforgivable.
Eating Out Is the New Rock and Roll
Growing up, designer Afroditi Krassa was a huge fan of British punk rock group the Sex Pistols.
Like other young people who grew up in the 70s (and 80s and 90s), she spent a lot of her money on records, CDs and other physical items.
Widespread Internet adoption and eventually services such as Spotify and YouTube, mean that for today’s generation of 18-34 to year olds this is no longer the case.
Instead their disposable income goes on experiences with the restaurant sector being one of the biggest beneficiaries.
But millennials have high expectations and place a greater value on experiences.
Chefs can be rock stars and gourmet restaurants no longer have to look like gourmet restaurants.
Profound Change Will Force New Partnerships
Real estate prices in prime areas are continuing to go through the roof and we are living through a period of profound geo-political change. The now fait accompli Trump presidency and the Brexit vote in the UK will likely cause widespread uncertainty. And if there’s one thing that investors don’t like, it’s uncertainty.
This raises the real possibility that there is going to be a slowdown in hotel construction, something that Wyatt of Equinox Hotels doesn’t necessarily think is a bad thing.
The growth of Airbnb is also going to force boutique hotels to change. Customers looking for a cool place to stay now have more choice than ever. For some owners it’s going to be painful.
But one way of differentiating is to hook up with the right food and beverage provider. A coffee shop or restaurant could make all the difference.
Hotels Need to Deepen Interactions With Guests
One of the ways Airbnb and, in particular, Uber have changed consumer behaviour is in the realm of feedback. A decade ago if you if someone wanted to know how you rated an experience you’d be forced to tick some boxes on a form.
Now as soon as you’ve had your ride, Uber asks you for your view with the ability to rate it one to five. If for whatever reason you’re unhappy, you might be able to wrangle a refund.
This remains a challenge, particularly for hotels, which have been slow to adapt to the speed of change.
There are other areas where the lack of data causes problems. From the moment customers check in to the moment they leave, little effort has gone into understanding how guests behave. If hotels want to get a better grasp of who is staying with them and their preferences, this needs to change — and fast.
Legacy Systems Need to Lighten Up
Skift CEO Rafat Ali chatted with three travel tech bosses about innovation within the hospitality sector.
Alexander Shashou, president of hotel operations app Alice; Alexandra Zubko, co-founder of direct booking platform Triptease; and Marc Heyneker, CEO of reputation manager Revinate, gave their opinion on where the opportunities lay.
The hospitality sector remains weighed down by a lot of legacy technology. Some property management systems are incredibly dated and don’t always provide the amount of detail necessary for hotels to understand their customers.
This is likely to change in the coming years as the growth in cloud computing makes it easier for start-ups to create scalable change.