How are consumer expectations regarding hotel stays changing?
Consumer expectations – be it how we spend time and purchase products – have altered dramatically over the last decade alone. People no longer want a standardised, personality-free hotel experience; they want to stay somewhere that offers a genuine flavour of their destination, with unique touches that speak directly to their interests and reflect their lifestyle choices. It’s a shift related to the rise of the experience economy, in which individuals spend money on unique experiences rather than material possessions, as well as a generational change. Time-poor millennial travellers put more of an emphasis on “authenticity” of experience as well as sustainability than the generation before.
How are these shifting expectations impacting the sector?
The escalating importance of experience has played a role in the meteoric rise of platforms such as Airbnb, OneFineStay and Homestay, which offer the opportunity to step into the shoes of a local. It’s also contributed to the rapid growth and multiplication of apartment-style accommodation, such as Locke, which offers the amenities of a hotel and immersion into the soul of the local community. People are opting to spend less on large rooms and suites that isolate them and are opting for smaller accommodation space, utilising the shared communal areas for their dwell time – we see this with the rise of hostels and compact rooms offered by Yotel for example.
Traditional hotels are also paying greater attention to the holistic guest experience and we’re seeing front-runners in this space augment their offering in all kinds of innovative ways. Rosewood Hotels & Resorts has excelled at offering their guests unique and exclusive experiences – such as their kids’ club activities around planting and cultivating herb gardens. No longer can hotels rely on attracting guests for their amenities of conference spaces and gyms with urban day centers, led by etc.venues, as competition. Hotel groups such as Hoxton are offering co-working spaces in their lobbies and bringing guest yoga instructors and mixologists to provide bespoke sessions for their guests. Creating a sense of “place” is key – allowing guests the opportunity to feel part of the history, culture and vibrancy of the destination as business and leisure travel become less distinct.
On the culinary side, again the increase in competition and dining trends is fuelling more creative collaborations for hotels, such as integrating market concepts and street food. Having a well-known chef who aligns with their aesthetic is no longer enough – consumers want new experiences which ‘acculturate’ them, and offer them the backdrop for a memorable Instagram post or selfie, making the most of their limited time away.
Which hotels are leading the pack in this changed landscape?
Accor has, in many ways, led the charge in cultural offerings with its broad range of unique services, driven by CEO Sébastien Bazin’s vision of pushing the company beyond hospitality. Guests at its Savoy hotel can sign up to an array of “masterclasses”, all of which allow guests to experience the hotel in a new light. In the hotel famed for its afternoon teas and meticulous attention to detail, guests can learn how to make its signature pastries and scones and the art of suitcase packing – symbolic as Guccio Gucci started his leather goods company having worked as a bellman at the Savoy.
Cultural programming needs to be organic and have a connection between the brand, the place and the guest – hotels have a unique place in this eco-system, bringing together many elements in a community and its visitors. By acting as a backdrop for important and intimate engagements, hotel leaders have the ability to enhance the memory for all of these interactions through its ability to connect people and place.
What experience is now needed to run a hotel?
There’s no doubt that the skills required to lead a hotel or hotel group are changing and broadening, to include expertise in culture, operations, marketing and e-commerce. Business leaders now must be uniquely tuned into the zeitgeist and really understand how to engage visitors with the hotel experience before, during and after their stay.
They’ll also need to be agile, astute, creative, curious and visionary in how they can constantly and spontaneously engage with the guest through all its interactions and create a “destination” that differentiates the hotel from its competitors. These attributes are incredibly hard to come by, but are critical for leading hotel businesses through today’s challenging landscape.
What new roles might we see emerge in the hotels sector?
As hotels look to differentiate on the experience, comfort and care they provide for guests, we’ll see an increase in the roles with responsibility for this. Concierges are already commonplace at high-end hotels but, moving forward, I honestly believe we’ll see an even more refined role emerge; the Chief Culture Officer – someone who is uniquely charged with deepening the symbolism or impact of a stay, bridging the guest within the local community and its history and avant-garde spirit. This person will be responsible for the cultural experience enjoyed by guests during their stay, both inside and outside of the hotel.
How are new, digital entrants into the hotel space disrupting the sector?
Digitalisation and new, digital entrants have been hugely disruptive for traditional players in the hotel space and, as in many sectors, they’ve played a role in weeding out the true survivors. Having a genuine ability to improve a guest’s experience of their stay through the use of apps and smart technology is key. Hotel businesses that don’t truly understand their guest or offering and are focused on an outdated model of ‘standardised’ guest interaction won’t be here in 10 years.
We’re also seeing some players adopt an M&A approach, acquiring alternative providers or partnering with them to incorporate ‘hybrid’ co-living and co-working models into their existing offering. Marriott International and Hyatt Hotels Corporation have now all entered into the home-sharing space and as the lines between work and leisure continue to blur, we will see more mixed- use operational asset classes converge with hotels.
Looking at the UK specifically, how is Brexit likely to impact the sector?
The UK has always been one of most visited places globally and this is not going to change. In some respects, Brexit could present an opportunity for businesses in the hospitality sector, as stagnating property prices offer players the opportunity to invest in distressed properties at advantageous prices. While the decline in the value of the pound will impact costs, this is just one issue alongside many others that are arising in different regions at any time. Freedom of movement may have a more immediate impact on the ability to attract and retain the best talent (hospitality has always been a global community) but this is something the industry has been preparing for and an end to the current uncertainty can only be positive in this respect.