Hospitality in the 21st Century

With the vast majority of the industry still languishing in the 1950’s in the ways hotels are designed, built and run, only the newcomers seem to be bringing a fresh perspective to the business.

It perhaps makes perfect sense that those that are inexperienced are succeeding in our industry with cutting edge ideas and technological efficiencies while the veterans copy the sins of our past ad nauseam.

The challenge of actually running a hotel is less daunting than most people think. The complexities of food costs, yield management, accounts receivable and supply chain management are simple compared to the more complex challenges of actually defining the product.

The definition of the product is where we most often fail and this is where the young blood is shining. The reason? They know that before they can define their product, they must define their customer.

Defining your customer is actually the most crucial part of operating a hotel and pretty much any business for that matter. If you fail to correctly define your customer your supply chain wont matter because there will be no customers to supply and you’ll be out of business.

The fact is the product “Hotel” was defined in the 1950s and hasn’t changed much since. The product “Hospitality” however, has changed drastically.

When Kemmons Wilson, the founder of Holiday Inns and Conrad Hilton started their quest to define the needs of the post-war customer, what resulted was largely the foundation of what we have today in countless brands across all continents.  They all include boxed spaces and boring contents, some larger, some better finished with varying degrees of the same services provided within those similar so-predictable spaces.

What we failed to realize in those early days was that we were not just in the business of guest rooms and restaurants, we were actually also in the lifestyle business.  Meaning that aside from the basic needs our product delivers in terms of shelter, rest and sustenance, it also provides not so basic needs, like appealing to a certain sense of style.

The bottom line of this new paradigm? Given the choice customers will pick and chose to wear a hotel in the same way that they wear a pair of designer jeans.

As we industry specialists go deeper and deeper into re-designing the old delivery system, newcomers to our industry are doing what we should have done long ago, which, in a nutshell, is to harness imagination and style.

I had the great fortune to be given the task of reinventing hospitality under the banner of one of the great entertainment giants, Cirque du Soleil. Their plan was to develop their own theatrical complexes consisting of a theatre and a hotel and blur the lines between the two.  It was given the working title of ‘Complexe Cirque’. While the project was at that time shelved, it illustrates the creative strategies that a new generation of hoteliers will have to harness to drag our industry kicking and screaming into the 21st century.