As 2018 draws to a close, I’m taking stock: a month in Japan, a wedding in Australia, three work trips to Europe, eight sojourns to the USA and half a dozen domestic journeys (within Canada). I don’t think of myself as a road warrior but rather an enthusiastic traveler, with the former classification reserved for those who ‘have to’ and the latter for those that ‘want to’ travel.
This year’s travel gave me an opportunity to experience over 50 different hotels in what would typically be classified as part of the upscale, upper upscale or luxury levels. As these tiers see a fair amount of innovation, year-over-year site visits at this frequency have afforded me a unique perspective on the general trends in our industry. From this, I have drawn the following conclusions and opportunities.
- Hotel technology implementation lags behind market availability. There is still a wide gap between what we experience at aspirational tradeshows and what’s in use in the guestroom or back-of-house. Conversations with GMs confirm this. The good news is that as technology improves implementation gets easier and costs go down.
- We forget how important HVAC is to guests’ comfort. I vividly remember, and not positively, those properties that have outdated systems. Never underestimate how important proper air supply is to your customers. HVAC should be your first priority, because if you can’t do this right – and heaven forbid a guest suffers from a sleepless night as a result – nothing else that you do will matter.
- We’re still being stupid about WiFi and water! Charging for WiFi and bottled water is just plain dumb. Want to turn off the younger cohort of travelers in a heartbeat? Of note, it was only the North American hotels that attempted this charade. By and large, though, most WiFi networks lacked the bandwidth needed to conduct business at an efficient, except when accessed in the lobby. Given how often people are on their phones, internet connectivity almost now has an equal importance as basic necessities, so you must do your best to ensure that this service is seamless.
- Great strides are being made in F&B presentation and quality. We have finally overcome our fear of spending a dime or two on better meal ingredients and what I call presentation innovation. More work is needed, however, because F&B is a continuous arms race between your hotel and every other restaurant in your immediate area. Everyone is refining their menu’s dishes or experiential offerings, and every guest is constantly on the lookout for the next big thing (by searching the web with sitting in the lobby utilizing your WiFi, of course).
- Casting technology is not yet mainstream. Got nothing to do in the evening? Don’t waste time turning on the in-room television as there is nothing to view there anymore. Millennials would rather continue to binge-watch off their smartphones than go through the trouble of figuring out what channels you have for free. Few properties have embraced the ability to sync one’s personal device so that individual Netflix or Amazon Prime preferences can be immediately transferred to the in-room television.
- Few hotels understand pre- and pos- stay communications. Before the trip, I’m interested in how to make my stay more productive and how to maximize the limited time I have for experiences. Tell me about offers, educate me about what packages or itineraries you have so I can explore the local area and let me know a little bit more about on-property dining. When I leave, I don’t want to be encouraged multiple times to write a review of your property on TripAdvisor, but rather I want to be reminded of what made my time special and how my great experience can be continued.
- Housekeeping was all but flawless. Kudos here! I found very few housekeeping flaws across all the hotels we stayed in. My dear wife, who is a stickler for this, was particularly impressed.
- Hotels don’t know how to handle two modestly–large suitcases. Most hotels can find a single fold-out rack, and even those that are typically supplied are not sufficient in size to hold an open Rimowa clamshell style suitcase. I don’t doubt that there is a simple ergonomic answer for fixing this spatial issue.
- We’re beginning to get the idea that hotels are for communities. Lobbies are starting to become places to meet other guests as well as mingle with locals. Less sterile, I experienced complimentary coffee service with a nonnegligible frequency along with frontline teams whose primary focus was making people feel like they were at home.
- We need to rethink the concierge position. We need to find a way to get the concierge out from behind their desks and podiums. They are out-of-sight for the harried traveler, and therefore out-of-mind – a missed opportunity to deepen rapport with guests. How can we turn these folks from being reactive to proactive? How do we get them to enhance guest success and perhaps build ancillary onsite revenue streams?
The state of hotel quality continues to improve, but is it happening fast enough? Few hotels had serious deficits and most were showing signs of recent upgrades or newly implemented initiatives. This is encouraging overall. Our industry needs a continual infusion of capital to meet the ever-mercurial guest expectations.
Thinking broadly, we’re in a race for relevancy with the sharing economy. If the emergence of alternate lodging providers and the vast expense of travel options have done one thing for us, it’s to make us wake up and realize that the old status quo is no longer acceptable.