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Reviving the Spirit of Innovation in the Hospitality Industry

The hospitality sector is one of the world’s most dynamic industries. Yet over the
past decades it has lost much of its innovative edge, given the advances in
technology that are fast transforming the way we live and work. There are new
models in the business, no doubt, but in pure-play hospitality, there is a definite
need to look at how technology can be better and more effectively integrated.

Hospitality Industry

In the 1950s and 1960s, hotels stood out for the ‘modern’ conveniences they offered –
from design to technology incorporation, hotel rooms had an advantage over
private homes with the provision of amenities such as colour television with remote
control, direct line telephones and ergonomic furniture. Hotel rooms were modern
‘getaways’ – places to unwind and to explore a new lifestyle that was not possible in
most homes.

Today, by and large, this is no longer the case. While the needs and wants of
travellers are shifting, evolving and transforming at a dramatic pace, the hospitality
industry now appears to be a bystander – either resorting to technology as an
afterthought or just providing the essentials, such as WiFi.

Observing how the hospitality industry has responded to fundamental change such
as online distribution and the sharing economy, one can recognise four distinct
stages. They can be labelled as ignore, rationalise, resist, and embrace. In the first
stage, we simply do not recognise the changing realities and focus on our
comfortable way of doing business. In stage two, we acknowledge a change in
market dynamics and consumer behaviours but convince ourselves that they are a
passing fad, which will not affect our industry in the long-run.

In stage three, we finally realise that the change is meaningful but attempt to
impede it, often by lobbying the regulatory system and seeking the help of
authorities to regain the competitive advantage, which more proactive disruptors
have gained in the meantime. It is only in the fourth stage that the industry rises to
the challenge, embraces the change and seeks solutions which help address the
evolving needs. Years are lost between the first and fourth stages, resulting in
disruptive players taking on market share and eating into the value chain.

Today, we simply cannot afford this complacency. It is important that we do not
waste our energy on the first three stages – and be continuously future- and changeready. The key factor in this transition is that technology deployment and change
management must place guest service as the primary consideration and end-goal.

It is by serving guests in the best manner possible, building their loyalty and
creating exceptional experiences that we, as an industry, can forge ahead and stay
competitive. This will put us up-to-speed with the needs and aspirations of our
guests – not in a reactive manner – but proactively. The focus of the hospitality
industry must be on creating demand through our innovative offering. In today’s
tech-driven era, we have that opportunity to redefine the guest journey.

Technology is a great enabler and has the power to fundamentally change the
nature of guest experiences by removing friction points that are inherent in the
guest journey. Friction points are touchpoints which frustrate guests as they imply
repetitive activities which need to be completed time and again, stay after stay (such
as setting up the room entertainment system or the gym equipment), waiting times
(such as for a restaurant bill or queuing at the front desk), having to go somewhere
to fulfill a transaction (such as checking out at reception instead of being able to
check out anywhere in the hotel) or confusion (for example not understanding the
workings of the light system in the room).

While advances in technology help remove such friction points, it is also important
to ensure that the transition leads to positive emotional links with the guests. This is
more so because the ‘wow effect’ of any new technology is short lived – guests
become accustomed to it very quickly. The real difference is made by the people,
who have the ability to ‘wow’ guests time and time again – with their warm,
attentive, personalised, solution-oriented approach. Technology can never replace
humans in this context.

So, the challenge before us – as an industry – is in identifying how we can excel in
both areas simultaneously; in short, ensuring that we draw on the capabilities of
technology whilst keeping the warm personalised touch of human service.

In doing this, it is useful to differentiate between transactions (fulfilled by
technology) and services (provided by humans). Transactions are touchpoints in the
guest journey which need to be completed as efficiently and seamlessly as possible.
This removes dissatisfaction but does not generate guest delight. Excelling at
services creates that. Services enrich the guest journey, provide memorable
moments and connect us to the guests emotionally. The tricky part is that the
differentiation between the two is not always clear cut. It can vary by demographics
and by travel purpose.

The same activity can be a transaction or a service for the same guest, depending on
the reason of their travel. For example, checking in is likely to be a transaction for a
business traveller arriving late on a weekday night. In this scenario, speed and
efficiency are essential. The same traveller arriving for a week-end with their family
will have different expectations. Checking in then becomes a service and an integral
part of the travel experience. Hence it is critical to fully understand the guest
journey across all its touchpoints.

The implications for our industry are massive as they influence how we design and
build hotels – such as designing much more convivial lobbies centered on human
interactions without the need for receptions and concierge desks. They will also
impact how we recruit and train associates. Roles in hotels will become increasingly
less specialised. Associates equipped with a mobile device that allow them to access
information about guests and deliver any kind of required services, become guest
ambassadors rather than specialised waiters, receptionists or concierges.

This is the time for us to fully leverage tech-advances such as the internet of things,
near field communication, cloud-based CRM technology, and others, so that we
bring back the allure of hotels as providers of innovative and exceptional amenities
and service standards.

Collectively, we have a great opportunity to be a forceful, innovative industry. Let’s
take on the task.

Source: Mobility Makers

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