Hoteliers must learn to innovate to survive, and survival is top of the priority list.
Everybody in the industry is aware of this right now.
And according to a panel of global hospitality professionals, the key to successful innovation is cultivating a wide network, implementing structured processes and focussing on personal development.
The Growth Works took the pleasure of hosting the first of seven ‘Thoughts on Thursday’ discussions on May 28th, exclusively for members of The Growth Works Network community. The ‘Innovation’ talk was led by Jon Wardman, Vice President of Customer Relationship Management at Hilton and his colleague Marc Lantrok, Director of Customer Engagement.
Following their brilliant presentations, which you can watch above, dozens of hoteliers from prestigious brands such, IHG, Taj, Accor, Belmond, Sofitel, etc. took part in a heated debate around the role of innovation today, with a particular focus on the need for hospitality brands to balance developments in hotel tech with guest expectations for human interaction.
Our next webinar will focus on ‘Team Engagement’ on June 4th. Thoughts on Thursday is exclusively for members of The Growth Works Mentorship Network, sign up as either a mentor or a mentee to get involved.
One of the key takeaways from the webinar was the fact that innovation isn’t plucked out of thin air, it is cultivated by putting in place structured processes, upskilling certain hard and soft skills and bringing together the power of community.
With a long history of innovation that features everything from the Pina Colada cocktail and the chocolate brownie to room service, in-room TVs and contactless check-in, Hilton Hotels are well placed to explain how innovation can be achieved when efforts are focussed across a company.
During the webinar, Hilton VP of CRM Jon Wardman outlined three practical steps to drive innovative thinking, and they were:
“Innovation starts with the individual.” It’s reassuring to know, especially at this moment in time when hoteliers may have more time for training and development, that focussing on the right personal skills can put you on the path to innovation and make you a more valuable member of the team.
Jon explained the need to understand your past experiences to identify strengths and weaknesses, with a particular focus on confidence, resilience and communication.
If you have a great idea, it is vital that you have the confidence to communicate it clearly and the resilience to respond to criticism and demonstrate value, otherwise, that great idea will never get off the ground.
Build a Broad Network of Relationships
The power of community is immense. Bringing together ideas from a diverse range of industry professionals is so important to understanding problems and finding effective solutions.
Again, this is something you can work on right now by reaching out to industry peers, participating in online discussions and joining mentorship schemes.
“Trust is the key to innovation,” Jon explained how building trust allows teams to move faster and take more risks. He also recommended reaching out to people who might be resistant to the change caused by innovation projects, as this will often lead to an open dialogue where workable solutions can be found.
It’s important to understand that structures and processes for fostering innovative thinking exist and training is available to help you get started.
Jon outlined Hilton’s 9-point Innovation Framework, which looks at the WHY, the WHAT and the HOW of innovation.
WHY INNOVATE includes the need for an agile mindset to jump on problems that arise, how to evaluate customer pain points and why you should collaborate with your network to identify what possibilities exist.
WHAT TO INNOVATE looks at the categories of product, operations and business model. Remember that innovation can come in the form of something as small as a new cocktail recipe and as large as a global AI email campaign.
HOW TO INNOVATE involves having an open-mind to accidental cross-pollination of ideas, making small changes to allow organic innovative thinking and managing structures to ensure that processes are constantly evaluated and improved.
For more details on the Hilton Innovation Framework, you can watch the full webinar here.
Ownership of Innovation
Another interesting takeaway from the panel was the issue of ownership and accountability.
Innovation projects always require one owner to ensure they do not become diluted and remain focussed on meeting the specified goals, according to Marc Lantrok, Director of Customer Engagement at Hilton.
Marc also stressed how important it is for the leader of an innovation project to communicate clearly and effectively, arguing that storytelling is vital for the understanding and uptake of new ideas, especially in a company as large as Hilton.
The Innovation Debate
Following the presentations, The Growth Works mentorship group engaged in an impassioned debate over how hospitality brands should respond to the current crisis and the role of technology in hotel innovation.
Patrick Wimble, Founder of Lightbulb and formerly of IHG, said that hotels must use their marketing and messaging channels to convey that their properties are a safe environment if they are to recapture guests when demand rebounds.
On the other hand, Craig Moffat, General Manager at Belmond argued that customers are aware of the incredible levels of care taken by respected hospitality brands. He said there is a certain level of trust inherent in the choice of guests to stay with them, meaning they are waiting for broader market confidence to return, rather than focussing on hygiene tech upgrades and broadcasting the measures undertaken to ensure the safety of guests.
Mirco Iada, of Movenpick Hotels and Resorts, posed the question of which innovations were most important to the guest experience?
Jon Wardman discussed rapid changes in contactless check-in and mobile in-room controls. However, the focus on remote technology raised the question of why hoteliers cannot forget hospitality’s core value of bringing people together.
Anuja Rananaware, a Manager at Sofitel, asked how can brands balance the essential need for human touch with new innovations in contactless technology and robotic interactions.
Jon Wardman said the key was in understanding the different preferences of each guest – some would rather handle everything remotely, while others prefer that special moment of human interaction. Brands need to find ways to give their guests choice and control over the experience.
Mihir Thacker, an owner of hotels with Taj, Accor and Hilton, acknowledged that local decision making was crucial to ensure that guests’ needs are being met. He said that uniform brand guidelines that don’t take into account the specifics of local hotels were not always helpful. He argued it is not necessarily a good thing to ‘over-tech’ a hotel, giving the example of a beach hotel where guests have no desire to sit in their rooms logging into conference calls on the television.
This led to a really interesting conclusion from Jon that innovation is not all about technology. “Innovating operations is equally, if not more, important right now than introducing new things.”
The Growth Works is hosting six more ‘Thoughts on Thursday’ mentorship webinars over the coming weeks. Sign-up here to our community to broaden your network, gain expert insight and participate in the debate.