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We’re only a few weeks away from Unfold and its smorgasbord of exciting hospitality topics. Top industry leaders are joining us in Amsterdam on April 4th to explore this year’s theme: The New Standard in Hospitality. 

Talk about a substantial topic.  

Well, if you insist... Our speakers are teasing out their vision of the new ‘normal’ in hospitality. 

We’ve already discussed what the new standard of revenue management looks like. Today, the spotlight is on trends and changes in hotel tech, and who better to dig into the topic than Stuart Greif, Executive Vice President, Chief Strategy, Innovation & Operating Officer at Forbes Travel Guide. 

Formerly, he was Microsoft’s Senior Executive for Hospitality and Travel, and led J.D. Power’s Global Hospitality and Travel group. Greif also worked for a unicorn startup Amperity, backed by early investors in Facebook, LinkedIn and Amazon. 

Now that you’ve met the maestro, let’s ask him some challenging questions.


Why do you love the hospitality industry? 

Back when I launched my career, I was living in hotels five to six days per week for months on end and spent a lot of time with the hotel staff. It’s something that always resonated with me on a profound level – in terms of having empathy and experiencing kindness in a hotel and within a travel context of new experiences and people. That's what I find wonderful about creating memories and experiences, be it for business, travel or leisure. 
I've been across a lot of industries earlier in my career, but it became apparent over time that I am continuing to hang out with travel and hospitality folks. I think it's been in my blood since I was very young, but unfortunately, I didn't have the opportunity to realize it as early as others.


What do you think the new standard in hospitality is? 

To me, the new standard in hospitality is self-actualization. Covid really shifted the notion of life being precious and there was a recalibration of enjoying our lives in different ways, not necessarily waiting until after work is over. And that's where you see themes like bleisure emerge. 

I think there’s a need and desire to connect on a much deeper level: experientially and authentically. The new standard is the self-actualization of ourselves as guests and travelers, but also as employees and colleagues, in what we do and how we integrate that into our daily work and personal lives. That's the unstated macro trend out there in the ether, and I hope it will be sustained over a long period of time. 
Generationally, there were already shifts underway because of the macroeconomic conditions where younger generations realized that there was more to life than work. And I think that's healthier. The European countries have that culture inherently in ways that other countries around the world don't, so there's also a recalibration within different cultural contexts.  

The new standard in hospitality should be predicated on what's really going on and what people need: employers, our colleagues in industry, guests, our partners. It needs to consider everyone.


What role does technology play in this? 

There’s an increasing use of technology to remove frictions, make things faster, personalize and customize using data in ways that resonate with the customers and employees. It helps create connections in a way that's human, even though it's not a human being – just look at chat bots and things like that.  

And then there's the remaining touch points of kindness and authenticity. The question is how to create a human connection there? Within hospitality, especially the airline industry, there is a trend of less direct human contact, mainly out of financial and labor considerations. This is where technology will play a great role.  

That's where I see companies like Mews and others innovating in ways that can cut through the legacy systems. They understand how critical it is to be authentic and have technology enable that in ways that humans just couldn't do at scale the same way.


Tell us more about social commerce. 

For me, social commerce represents a profound change. About 60% of people look to social first for inspiration and discovery, and it goes beyond celebrities and influencers. People whose curation I respect and that resonates with me could be friends and family, or simply experts on a particular food area in certain countries or locations. 

There is an increasing demand for booking travel directly through posts. So, if you look at all the major social platforms as a hotelier, that's where you need to meet your guests. I know of a few startups that are working on solving the problem of booking natively via influencers, friends or family. That's what people want. 

And I think that's true of OTAs too. What happens when influencers at scale offer decentralized ways of marketing your brand or your products and services? When bookings are directly enabled through them, they become points of sales and distribution. That's bound to become a new channel where people look for reviews written by people with common interests, instead of going through heaps of unfiltered, aggregated reviews.


How does ChatGPT fit into all of it? 

Let’s say a Google search returns five personalized recommendations under ChatGPT. The question is how do you as a supplier end up among those five – what’s the basis of the algorithm? I think Norm Rose described it as fetch. So instead of searching, it's more like fetching a subset of more personalized discreet turns. I think that has profound implications for travel.  

The reality is that Google and ChatGPT will coexist for a long time, and hoteliers will have to embrace influencers as a new distribution channel. They’ll need to decide where to spend their advertising budgets while considering multiple channels at the same time.


What other trends are emerging in hospitality? 

There is also the challenge of labor. There are some upcoming gig models coming that will supplement, but a lot of people have left hospitality for other emerging economies because of workplace security, benefits and not having to work at night or during the weekends. The restaurant industry is facing this problem as well.  

Anytime you have this kind of intersection between labor shortages and needing a financial return, innovative technology emerges to help drive those goals. And it usually results in digital experiences with fewer people and less human experience. A good example of this is opt-in housekeeping. We’re also seeing it in the airline industry and hotels that don’t cater to luxury or boutique guests.  

If I want to interact with a human being, I either need to pay much more or become a frequent guest. But even though the basis of loyalty is changing, you can still have a great experience. You could say that the people who are there matter even more, but I think we’ll be seeing fewer human touch points.


Do you see any generational shifts? 

Absolutely. Younger generations are fully digital. They’ve grown up accustomed to self–service and QR codes, grab-and-go type of experiences, so they may be more accepting of those tradeoffs. And while there are things nobody can predict that will impact us all profoundly over the next 10 years, there are also things like responsible and sustainable tourism that we know will have the biggest impact on younger generations.


Let’s talk about the hurdles and enablers in hospitality. 

So, the hurdles would be legacy tech and mindset. 

Mews is a perfect example of a middleware and API product that obviates the need to work through legacy tech. It innovates instead; enabling you to do things with customer data, personalization, the PMS system, etc. 

There are also new generations of startups trying to create a new way to connect socially, as well as the increasing focus on responsible and sustainable travel. There's a great company called Kind Traveler. It enables sustainable hotels to choose a local charitable organization along the UN guidelines and support it via guest donations, 100% of which go to a selected local charity. Every guest gets an impact report showing the exact impact they made: the number of meals that were served, animals that were rescued or trees that were planted. So, it's not abstract or hypothetical. 

A give and get model is a wonderful way to help advance responsible tourism. The hurdle of climate and responsible travel is tackled by some wonderfully innovative startups. Of course, more needs to be done, so I think we'll see an increase in that area over the next 10 years.


What books would you recommend? 

I love this question. It doesn't matter what you do or what part of the industry, or how senior or junior you are – reading and absorbing information from different sources is one of the most important things. Some of the best insights or thoughts on my business strategy came from reading information on nature, science, evolution and adaptive theory. Microsoft CEO Satya would often say: “Be a learn it all, not a know it all.” What a great quote. 

I highly recommend the PhocusWright’s 2022 interview with Frederic Lalonde, CEO of Hopper. They understand what the Chinese companies have pioneered when it comes to social commerce and how powerful it is. And what they've discovered is how to engage customers when they are not traveling using innovative loyalty programs. So instead of missing opportunities to engage their guests when they are not traveling, hotel groups can organize local events, such as yoga classes or cooking workshops with their chefs.  

I also highly recommend hertelier. Emily Goldfischer is doing an amazing job with that platform and it’s exciting to see the next generation of women leaders and diverse teams come up. That's going to be transformational for our industry in a very positive and complementary way, so be sure to check out hertelier. 

Greif will be speaking at Mews Unfold, hospitality’s most innovative one-day event. It takes place in Amsterdam on April 4th and there are still tickets available.