Colin Nagy, head of strategy at Fred & Farid, a global advertising agency, writes this opinion column for Skift on hospitality, innovation, and business travel. “On Experience” dissects customer-centric experiences and innovation across hospitality, aviation, and beyond.
For any brand, building something to last is a serious challenge. It is even harder in hospitality because the business has many moving parts: daily customer interaction and other variables such as talent, financing and real estate concerns.
For a hotel to truly stand the test of time, it must have enduring appeal, a deep sense of its audience, a reluctance to cave to fleeting trends and integrity.
Around the world, hotels like the Peninsula Hong Kong, Raffles Grand Hotel d’Ankor in Siem Reap, Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi, the Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai and Claridge’s in London have stood up to the factors of time, rough economies, and even war and terror, in some cases.
They all have backbone, a strong bearing, and a reliable customer base even in the world of competitive online price warfare and disposable, digital consumer culture.
The best hotels that are built to last share some of the following characteristics:
1. Consistent Management and Upward Trajectory for Staff
A hotel is a brand. And all of its touch points have to be remarkably consistent. So the management of a hotel overseeing the delicate daily orchestra of service is key. Too much general manager turnover can be deadly to a property, and it is always pleasant to see staff that are treated well, and make their careers ascending the ranks of one particular property.
2. The Right Financial Partners
Sometimes private equity and spreadsheets can be the death knell of true hospitality. When management pinches pennies, and reconsiders in-room coffee and fruit baskets, watch out. Hospitality requires a bit of irrational indulgence when it comes to caring for guests, and much like what has happened to U.S. domestic airlines, when Wall Street has too much of a say, it is a disaster for the consumer experience. Having the right investors, who have passion for the space, and take a longer term view, is essential.
3. Training and Scaling Service
The Peninsula ships in staff from Asia when it opens a new outpost to ensure that the property sets standards and trains the staff accordingly. Also, having a deep vision for the exact type of service you are offering (is it regal and solicitous, or is it friendly, warm, and anticipatory?) is difficult to get right, and scale over time. The best properties also train and replicate their best.
4. Not Chasing Trends
There’s nothing worse than being in an elegant, classic hotel and having to navigate a clunky 2006 interface to turn on the lights. Sometimes a perfectly placed switch is all that is required.
Rather than a database of the world’s papers on a tablet, sometimes a crisp Financial Times delivered on time with a pot of coffee is the best option. In a world of too much technology, social media-addicted consumers, and fragmented attention spans, there is too much desire to give people what they think they want. Sometimes the best hotels are a bit autocratic in not caving to the minute by minute desires, and instead they do things their way, remaining consistent over time.
5. A Sense of Self
Further to this point, incredible hotels that last have a deep sense of self and who they are, and this can engender the respect of the guests. With the best historical hotels, the patina and the weight of history is the point, and should be leaned into. the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi, Raffles Grand Hotel d’Ankor in Siem Reap, and the Dharmawangsa Jakarta do this particularly well.
6. Deep Understanding of Current and Emerging Consumers
This is the big sea change in classic hospitality: Some of the big, elegant names have a customer base that is getting old. They need to learn how to attract the next generation of consumers. But maybe the way to do this is letting the customers come to you as a differentiated experience that hints at another time, and not kowtowing to every Instagram whim possible. There is an emerging trend for younger travelers to want something from another time, something imbued with depth in a world of superficiality.
Of course, the most important fact in real estate holds true for how long hotels will last. As some centers of gravity in certain cities move over time, even the perfect hotel could be left out in the cold. The location of the Langham London, just off Regent’s Park, and the Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai at the gateway to India Arch, as well as the Imperial Hotel Tokyo, will surely stand the test of time.