skift forum europe london

On April 4 in London, hundreds of the travel industry’s brightest and best will gather in London for the first Skift Forum Europe 2017. In only a few short years Skift’s Forums — the largest creative business gatherings in the global travel industry — have become what media, speakers, and attendees have called the “TED Talks of travel.”

This year’s event at Tobacco Dock in London will feature speakers including CEOs and top executives from  InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), Norwegian Air, Google, Lonely Planet, Momondo Group, and many more.

The following is part of a series of posts highlighting some of the speakers and touching on issues of concern in Europe and beyond. See the complete list of amazing speakers and topics at this year’s event.

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IHG CEO Richard Solomons will be speaking about the future of hospitality at Skift Forum Europe on April 4 in London. We recently caught up with Solomons to ask him about a topic that everyone in hospitality wants to know (aside from where we are in the cycle): Namely, what’s the next, next big thing?

It’s a question that certainly keeps hotel executives up at night. And if you ask Solomons for his opinion on what’s next, a good part of it has to do with technology. More specifically, it’s about how the hospitality industry chooses to harness technology to not only improve the guest experience, but deepen its relationships to those same guests.

Solomons is not alone in his focus on technology in hospitality. Former Starwood Hotels & Resorts CEO Frits van Paasschen recently wrote an entire book about how digital technology has become the ultimate disruptor, but one that all industries — hospitality included — should be paying close attention to, and learning from on a continual basis.

Having been CEO of IHG since 2011, Solomons has seen firsthand how technology has had a direct impact on the evolution of the hotel guest experience. From being one of the first hotel companies to identify the rise of the “invisible traveler” as far back as 2013, IHG has since kept a close eye on determining the right balance of technology and humanity in hospitality.

It’s a topic that IHG and Solomons continues to explore, too. Most recently, IHG published its newest 2017 IHG Trends Report, and one of the main trends highlighted encompasses the paradox of enabling guests to “do it myself and do it for me in my way.”

We interviewed Solomons recently to ask him for more insights into that trend, and how the hotel industry can use it to reveal the next, next thing in hospitality.

Skift: How has the “invisible traveler” of 2013 evolved?

Solomons: As the consumer environment has changed through advances in technology, so too has the nature of the consumer. Needs may stay the same, but the way consumers expect them to be delivered by global brands is rapidly changing. As we highlighted in our “2013 IHG Trends Report,” the Invisible Traveler travels “without touching the sides,” preferring to use technology to interact with hotels, airlines, and restaurants during their trip. In 2013, many of the technology enabled services that we have today were not available, which put a limit on how invisible a traveler could actually be. This is no longer the case.

Skift: What kind of role should technology be playing in the hospitality experience today?

Solomons: The 2017 IHG Trends Report notes that in a landscape which is constantly changing through advances in technology, customers do not want either/or solutions: they want the best of both worlds where the best trade-off is no trade-off. It explains how brands need to use technology to address these conflicting consumer needs in order to create experiences that strengthen customer relationships and grow brand loyalty. This is a view we share at IHG. For us, technology is an enabler. We are focused on delivering a compelling and engaging guest experience and we use relevant technology to help us do that.

Skift: What kinds of technology do guests want in their hospitality experiences today and going forward?

Solomons: Technology has transformed how brands relate to consumers. We are focused on delivering a compelling and engaging guest experience and we use technology to help enable that, rather than the other way around. A good example of this is through our new guest reservation system. The new system will give guests flexibility to search for their perfect stay in ways that they simply cannot today. They will be able to look specifically for an ocean view room in a particular location — with a price cap, or for a hotel and theater package or a beachfront location.

Skift: So how do you balance consumer control with brand control?

Solomons: The 2017 IHG Trends Report focused on the paradoxes that brands must address in order to meet the conflicting needs of today’s consumers. One of these paradoxes challenges brands to rethink consumer control. The report determined that businesses must not give up control of the brand, but explained how they must allow the consumer to have their say and help influence the brand’s reputation. One of the ways IHG is doing this, is through the use of virtual Reality as a design tool for new rooms, as well as a research tool for gathering guest insights to improve the guest experience. This gives consumers the control they seek to develop their ‘own’ brand product or experience but at the same time allows the brand to be in control by facilitating the experience and developing the new concept.

Skift: What do you see as being the next big opportunity in hotel tech? Is it virtual reality? Augmented reality? Voice? Chatbots?

Solomons: Keeping ahead of trends and investing in relevant technology is a key part of IHG’s strategy to deliver a compelling and engaging guest experience, so it is difficult to pinpoint one particular trend. For us, what’s most important is managing the balance between technology and the personal connection we know that many of our guests need.

For example, we recently became the first hotel company (and one of the first companies) to develop a Facebook Messenger Bot to help automate customer service. The bot is primarily used as a pre-stay tool – for tasks such as reservation confirmations; collecting guests’ stay preferences; and answering specific guest requests.

Solomons will be speaking about the future of hospitality at Skift Forum Europe 2017 on April 4 in London. 

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Photo Credit: Richard Solomons, CEO of InterContinental Hotels Group, will be speaking at the upcoming Skift Forum Europe in April. InterContinental Hotels Group