The future of the hospitality industry is an exciting and rapidly evolving concept. As the industry still grapples with the Covid-19 pandemic, changing old practices and forging a new and exciting way forward is more important now than ever. However the question is raised of what might that future look like? What new ideas and practices can we adopt to make a hospitality sector that is more resilient, works better together and is sustainable in an unpredictable world?
When everything else is changing, a change of mindset is needed. Rethinking old hierarchy structures and changing the way that we communicate and operate at all levels of the hospitality sector can be vital to creating a flexible and sustainable hospitality industry.
The role of technology is a key player in the future of this dynamic industry. Examining how technology interacts with both staff and consumers and the benefits and drawbacks of incorporating intelligent technology solutions is part of the way forward for many hospitality organisations.
In this Thoughts on Thursday session, James Lemon, CEO and Founder of The Growth Works, Andrew Wheal, Director at Mews Systems, Martin Kubler, a consultant, mentor and lecturer in the hospitality sector, Anuja Rananaware, Manager at Sofitel, Angelo Balbi, Hotel Operations Director at MSC Cruises, and webinar attendees Laura Laatikainen and Akila Waka discussed what the future of hospitality may look like and how technology and changes in operations and structure may fit into this future.
Breaking Down Hierarchies and Changing Revenues: The Future Structure of Hospitality
When talking of the future, James discussed the importance of expanding the revenue approach, looking beyond room revenues to find viable revenue streams in other areas of the organisation. He expressed that through expanding beyond room revenues, that were in many cases the first to be hit during the crisis, organisations can capture more of the local market and become more resilient to the sort of drastic changes we have seen in the industry.
In regard to this idea of total revenue, Andrew posited a different idea, that it wasn’t whole revenues that organisations needed to focus on, but rather the whole guest experience, and that this mindset then helped facilitate a better guest relationship with technology.
Andrew: “I want to throw in a curve ball and say that I don’t think its total revenue that we need to be focusing on, I think that it’s the total guest experience that we need to be focusing on and I think that that’s one of the big shift changes in the industry that is happening at the moment, we’re realising again that hospitality is all about the guest.”
Martin, a veteran of hospitality industry, thought that a big part of the future lies in a change of mindset, adopting an approach that empowers staff and breaks down hierarchies to enable faster decision making and more creative approaches that benefit both organisations and consumers.
Martin: “We have to learn how to cope with uncertainty, we have to learn to look at revenue streams we have neglected, how to make connections to drive business that is more short term. Along with that is the disconnect between decision making speed and the speed of delivery- in the very large majority of hotels the decision-making speed is slow because it has to go through a lot of hierarchies. Decision making speed is slow whereas the expectations of the guests is of speed. What we are often delivering is not speed. This also goes for non-guest related themes.”
Anuja however discussed the idea that this break down of hierarchies may be more complicated and require a more individualised and personalised approach. Managers must ensure that they are not expecting staff members to resolve issues that they are unqualified and unprepared to handle. Although a change in hierarchical structure may be needed, it must be done with the capabilities of each staff member and department in mind.
Anuja: “I believe that Martin made a point about slow decision making skills when it comes to any issue but I think that that is what empowerment of staff is done for because I personally feel that this is a very individual issue as to if a person is capable to handle a complaint or not.”
Technology that Talks: The Role of Technology and Communication
Much of the discussion in this Thoughts on Thursday session involved the role of technology in the hospitality sector. Although there was discussion to the benefit of the application of certain technologies and the exact role in the future of the industry that technology will hold, everyone agreed that technology will be a part of the future of this dynamic sector.
The role of technology in communication was one area that was particularly discussed.
James posed the question of does technology provide the solution to issues involving communication and staff empowerment? Can technology platforms help staff to better communicate between departments to solve guest issues and make a more efficient hotel structure?
Andrew agreed with the idea that communication is vital for a hospitality organisation to run effectively and efficiently. He however stated that although technology plays a part in this, it also comes down to the training of staff to create the environment promoting positive communication.
This adoption of technology to facilitate communication is one that is not foreign to Angelo, as many of these solutions and applications are ones that the cruise industry implemented some time ago. The sheer number of guests made this technology a necessity on most cruise liners, with many cruise companies now creating their own specialised technology to cater to the needs of consumers and staff.
The concept of technology that promotes seamless staff communication was something that Laura Laatikainen, a masters graduate who has spent a year in management training in America, agreed should be part of the future of the industry. While in her training program she had observed that although technology is used effectively in some areas of the hotel, the uneven distribution across departments meant that not all staff had easy access to the information they required. She particularly talked of the kitchen staff who had very limited access to technology solutions. This uneven distribution she believed required change.
As an emerging hospitality leader, Andrew then asked Laura, where she would invest in technology given the choice.
Laura: “Teamwork is number one, a happy team brings good service so something that would bring the whole hotel together into one team.”
The Future of Service: A Technological Experience
As in the wake of Covid-19, the world moves towards a more contactless and automated future, the role of technology in the service department and how this impacts the human element of the hospitality experience was an area that was passionately discussed.
This topic began when Akila Waka put forward the following question, “I am just currently stuck in Russia, I haven’t been at work for six months due to travel restrictions. I’ve been looking around at job openings and I came across a few jobs remote working in customer service where they would put an iPad on the desk so that guests have a specific person to speak to. This is something new to me, so I don’t know if you have any thoughts on this new style of customer service.”
Martin, having been involved in outsourcing projects for other departments, had some experience in the remote working area. He thought that there was merit to this idea. He suggested that such iPads could even be added to rooms in some establishments to make staff more available to guests. This idea of technology being adopted in the check in process was something that Martin had earlier suggested a benefit in; Using technology to record guest information lowers the element of human error and decreases the likelihood of hotels storing incorrect information.
While Andrew pointed out that some sectors of the industry, such as the vacation rental sector, are already embracing a more technologically based check in model, he did question whether this removes an element of the human experience of hospitality.
Andrew: “If it works in other environments it could work in hotels and hostels too. Although my caveat is, I think it would be a great shame because the reason that hospitality is so great is meeting people when you go to places. So yes, we might want to have technology to reduce the number of people that are needed to complete such roles but if we take them away completely that isn’t a place that I would be wanting to stay.”
Again, Angelo gave a perspective from an industry that has included technology in operations for over a decade. He explained using technology to solve issues like misinformation at check-in, as the majority of forms are filled in digitally before guests even board the ship the element of human error is reduced. Technological applications also aid in the facilitation of operations that empower staff to solve guest issues regardless of department or hierarchy.
Angelo suggested that some of this advancement may be down to the larger budgets that many cruise liners operated with. James however disagreed, suggesting that the adoption of technology, despite its potential value, has not been viewed as a priority by many hotel chains.
This application of technology is incorporated in every part of the cruise passenger experience from check in, to ordering food, to on board purchases. With contactless becoming a driving theme of a post-Covid world, this element of contactless service may be one that may also find a home in the hospitality sector.
James also expressed another advantage to the adoption of technology with the idea that technology helps businesses to learn, giving them access to data on how often problems are occurring and where further staff training may be needed.
Angelo rounded out the conversation and summed up his experience with technology with the statement, “It’s not that you will lose the contact with the guests, the interaction with the guests but it makes the interaction with problems that much easier and the guest at the end of the story that is what they want, they want their problem solved right away.”
You can watch a summary of the discussion on the video below:
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