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Mews Unfold 2023 is the year’s most exciting hospitality event. That’s a fact. Set in the stunning Muziekgebouw in central Amsterdam, it will see hundreds of hoteliers and industry leaders share their thoughts on the new standard in hospitality.
Who better to persuade you to get your ticket than our very own Richard Valtr?
“We've got an incredible cast of people from all walks of life within hospitality. Tech visionaries and luminaries; innovators who are designing the hotels of tomorrow; and some of the great operators that are really going in a brand new direction to create a different type of hospitality.”
If that sounds like your jam, you can get your ticket now.
Ahead of the event, we caught up with our CEO, Matt, and Founder, Richard, to get their thoughts on some of the key topics for our industry.
What is the new standard in hospitality? What would you like to see challenged and why?
Matt: Today, there is such a huge opportunity for hoteliers to truly explore and rethink the way they want to appeal to a diverse and eclectic guest. In the past, many hotels have opened without a real sense or thought about what it’s niche can be, and not really thinking beyond a bed in a room.
The modern-day guest is expectant of so much more.
A great example of this is the ‘business’ traveler. Traditionally, the choice for the business traveler was all about one thing, the location! But, increasingly business travel isn’t tied to a specific location, but moreover a great place to work and experience a new place.
I often find myself in hotels thinking: I don't want to sit in that lobby. That space isn't built for me to co-work, and the coffee is bad, so I end up going to rival establishment with a better workspace and, more importantly, better coffee.
Properties can provide so much more with their spaces, to not only improve upon the experience for the guest, but also create more revenue opportunities beyond that ‘head in a bed’.
Richard: For me, we really need to challenge the idea of what a hotel is, what that space can be, and what purpose it serves. What today's travelers and consumers really want is a deep connection with the place that they're calling home for the length of their stay.
What has happened over the last hundred years or so is that we've become very, very good at professionalizing the hospitality service. Unknowingly, we've done ourselves a bit of an injustice as an industry, through that professionalism, we’ve lost the ability to be truly hospitable and personalized to every guest that crosses the threshold.
Going further still, travelers become communities bought together by the shared experiences they have with a property. People want to feel a part of something, connected to something, if they return once a quarter, once a year, or even once every ten years. Guests want to relive experiences and meet some of the people they connected with before, again.
Hoteliers need to think about how to use their spaces to best serve this community. It's less time thinking about the property per se, but instead actually thinking about the standard of the service that you offer.
We need to shift from a mindset that focuses on operational standardization and control, which is becoming much easier through automation. After all, this is only one side of the automation coin; we should spend more time thinking about how this automation can connect a myriad of different systems, and ultimately enable hotel staff to provide the ultimate guest experience.
What are the biggest recent changes you’ve noticed in hospitality?
Richard: The hardest job in hospitality is creating a remarkable experience that really binds a community to that place and to that experience.
It’s something that Airbnb does very well. They’ve really thought about the business as not just a brand, but with subcommunities that are traveling within a framework.
This has created a shift in terms of how we now think of travel. For example, they show you who the host is and the types of people you can meet. This speaks to the way that younger generations like to travel.
I've yet to see a screen for a hotel showing me the types of people that you are going to meet. I've seen pictures of rooms, of balconies, of views, but I haven't seen the communities. I haven't seen anybody saying: this is the right type of hotel for you because we know you’re looking for this type of experience.
When it comes to experiences, people don’t buy products; they buy temporary access – temporary membership – to that community.
Matt: The labor shortage is one big shift that seems to be persisting. We all thought when Covid is over, people will flock back to work in our wonderful industry and they haven't.
Now, hotels operate with 30-40% less staff. People have learned that working in hospitality is hard and they don't like the hours and the pay, so you've got to find smart ways of solving it. Lowering the quality of service, whilst retaining or increasing your rates is not going to have the best long-term results for your hotel. We’ve seen this happen particularly in the three-star segment.
Another big shift is that most of the big global brands are beginning to lose ground. They’re stuck with legacy software and aren’t as agile as they should be. We find that small groups are better able to move to a much more agile approach to technology, and that allows them to differentiate themselves in much more unique ways.
You see a lot of big brands now launching lifestyle brands because they are seeing that they're losing out, but if the technology doesn't work with it, it’s going to be an old-style experience in a lifestyle brand and it just doesn't land well.
What’s the biggest hurdle for hospitality success?
Matt: One of the challenges I see with hoteliers is that they're stuck in this mindset of accepting that their key software dictates what their guest experience is.
You don’t have to offer a standard experience. You can literally come up with your concept and really think about what you want your guest experience to be if technology was not a hurdle – and then build it like that. Technology exists; you can do mobile check-in on tablets, on kiosks, or even no check-in.
Yes, if you prefer you can still have the traditional check-in, but it should no longer define how you should have that experience. The challenge is that a lot of hoteliers don't know what they want the guest experience to be.
People often say they want it to be ‘personal’, but what does that actually look like? It takes creativity and guts to do something different, because the easiest thing is to just copy what 99% of other hotels do because it's worked in the past. You may compete on RevPAR and do well, but you’ll never truly excel unless you’re willing to take a risk.
If you’re not talking about APIs in your day-to-day language, that means you're probably not on the innovative spectrum of hospitality. When you buy a modern cloud solution, it often comes with an API and that allows you to properly customize your experience, like building your own technology.
That's when it gets really exciting. That's when you can really differentiate, and you don't have to stick to the standard approach.
Richard: The biggest hurdle that I see within hospitality is the idea of siloed data.
Firstly, this means being in the cloud. There are still many hotels that operate with a closed, on-premises system, and this makes interoperability difficult – not to mention the problems with data security. Thankfully, our industry as a whole is moving away from this specific problem, which leads us to the next problem surrounding siloed data.
Any single hospitality company that you speak to is obsessed with data ownership. To a certain extent that makes sense because of the duopoly of the two big OTAs who very carefully and jealously try to hide as much data as they can. They don't share email addresses, they don't share any kind of information about the guests, they hide credit card information.
The upshot is that it makes seamless interconnectivity between systems more difficult.
If you look at the problem through a hospitality lens, it’s all about the guests. Many guests are willing to give you lots of information because they trust that you’ll create a much better experience for them if you know a little bit more about them.
If somebody asks me for the best restaurant in this area, unless I’m getting a huge kickback from a particular establishment, I’d love to recommend somewhere that I think will give them a remarkable dining experience. Something that will endear them to me and ultimately benefit every party in this scenario.
We won’t get there on our own. We should find a way to collaborate and integrate data that’s going to enrich guest experiences and the services we provide. It's a huge way that we can differentiate ourselves as an industry, and it's also the reason why I'm so optimistic about the moral aspect of hospitality: our heart is always in the right place.
We’re in the mood for some reading; what book would you recommend?
Richard: Artificial Intelligence Guide for Thinking Humans by Melanie Mitchell. It's very readable and it gives you a really good insight into both the history of artificial intelligence and essentially where most of the world is.
With all the fuss and hype around ChatGPT, it's important for most people to understand how some of these large language models have come to dominate our thinking about AI. Most people have the mindset of it being like Skynet and it's going to do all of its thinking for us, whereas what people are missing is the idea of how working with a system like this can be a huge enabler.
I’ve also just started How the Future Works, which has a great intro by Stuart Butterfield, the founder of Slack. It gives an excellent outline of what the future of work is going to be and how people are going to think about working by the later part of this century. Basically, a huge decoupling between where you work and how you work; how you think about your life and how you organize it around yourself rather than an office you have to travel to.
Matt: The Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath. It's all about creating these very special moments that make life memorable. Most of our biggest life moments are early on, and then you have marriage, maybe kids and then death. There are these huge gaps in between where you don't have anything memorable happening and you need to make sure that you create these moments.
I love this book. Every time I read a few pages, I had to take down notes because it was so inspiring.
This was only a few minutes of hospitality inspiration – Unfold will provide a whole day of it. Book now to avoid disappointment.
When Tom isn't creating outstanding marketing content for Mews, he writes fiction for himself. Either way, he only uses the best words.
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