Wow. And you thought the world of pre-election politics was tempestuous!
I’m sure it comes as no surprise to anyone associated with the hospitality industry – employing as it does more than 10% of the world’s population and potentially host to the full 100% – that these are turbulent times. And as Bob himself might say, the times they are a-changin’.
Our smart keyword-led newshub site means I’m ideally positioned to keep an eye on what is genuinely trending in our sector – as well as on other things that may affect us.
Like, the sharing economy, where the wheels are starting to come off the bus a bit.
And the major online travel agencies – the OTAs – and their blindness to everything outside snaring that last pound.
Sustainability, and the passionate tide turning against plastic and waste.
Co-living and co-working, and the millennial need to share just about everything.
The rise of AI, automation, bots, even physical robots, in the tourism experience.
And the lack of guest safety, following a month of fraudulent lettings, breaches of competition law, and fatal shootings in rented party houses.
And then there’s my own driving passion as an individual, for exactly that; the individual.
So who’s the most important person in your organisation? Is it the CFO, with an eye on revenue, cost cutting and occupancy? Is it the influencer, whose millions of followers will see pictures of your new rainfall showers – if she gets a free stay? Is it the corporate travel buyer whose signature could guarantee you 70% occupancy right across the shoulder season? Is it the visiting Sheikh with his entourage, or the premier league football team, whose demands will keep your staff dazzled but super-busy?
Or is it each individual guest, their head hitting a pillow and having a good experience – which is ultimately what it should be all about?
Our politicians of pretty much all parties are being daily called out over unsubstantiated claims and creative accounting with their budgets. This week, Uber lost its London licence again! Partly due to doubts about transparency. And then we’re being told by a consumer group to be wary of today’s Black Friday deals. That goods being shoved in our faces, or at least our inboxes, aren’t always the bargains they seem to be, but are often available at a lower price throughout the year.
There it is again, the need for honesty; to stop pulling the wool.
Now, I believe that this applies every bit as much in the hospitality accommodation space, which at its simplest should be a transaction between a host, and a guest.
Hospitality: noun. The friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers.
During my many years across roles in tourism, I used to be a hotel inspector. There’s not much about the industry that I haven’t seen from one side or another. You’d think I’d be pretty sussed, then, when it comes to my own travel. But I can be duped as easily as anyone else! I’ve booked a penthouse and arrived to find a basement. I’ve been turned away on arrival because my room is double-booked, and I’ve been relocated across town. I’ve waited weeks for my refund on a ‘free cancellation’ to come through. And you try arguing with any of that. You book online, through one kind of aggregator or another, and then it all goes pear-shaped, the only person you have to shout at is Front-of-House. Who isn’t really the problem. After all, images are for ‘illustrative purposes’ only…
Thomas Cook went under. Many of us would have nodded sadly, but perhaps felt little surprise. We hear all the time about the cost of a high street presence. Business rates. Bricks and mortar. Empty retail units and decreasing footfall. The way we shop for anything at all in life is changing, especially since more than 60% of consumers worldwide are now in their twenties and thirties, and almost exclusively mobile-led.
But one thing you were assured of if you sat down for an hour in a shop with a travel consultant, and discussed your hopes for a trip and your budget, and came away with a physical brochure with pictures and prices and descriptions all clearly laid out, you had a pretty good idea of what to expect and someone to complain to if it didn’t live up to that. And the online booking industry must be one of the few where complex and costly transactions happen without an ombudsman or an internationally-recognised complaints procedure.
So this is, from me, a clarion call to the wider hospitality industry. There’s every chance that if they feel duped, taken for granted, worse, lied to, consumers might just act with their feet and simply walk. After all, it took shoppers returning plastic packaging waste to supermarkets and schoolkids with a conscience to start a revolution that continues today with barricades, and rebellion that has stopped cities and demanded attention on climate change. We can’t afford to end up like that.
But it seems to me that by being totally upfront and honest with the consumer about what you are offering, what you’re promising to deliver, and then following through on that, everyone wins.
Back to the star ratings of my past. If you book a two-star motel, you can’t be disappointed if that’s what you get. If by some fluke you find something akin to five-star service or four-star amenities, you might be delighted and become a brand advocate for life. But time and again we’re being promised one thing and getting another. And it’s wrong.
In our own serviced apartment industry, we’re a trade body representing hundreds of members with literally millions of bed nights a year. And we didn’t like the fact that however hard we worked as a relatively new and nimble sector, we found it hard to differentiate ourselves from other options available through the booking engines where we feature.
So we pioneered and refined an international Accreditation system which ensures – at the absolute minimum – that our Members offer exactly what they say they do.
Pictures are real, verified and constantly checked; service is professional and available 24/7; and our code of conduct, to which all Members adhere, means the consumer will always be front and centre of every single transaction. Period.
And frankly, we think that’s the very least that everyone across the hospitality industry should be doing – being honest about our offering, and delivering on that at the very least.
It’s time to stop disrespecting the consumer by dazzling him or her with science, with flashy websites, with the fear-inducing messages about what percentage of property has already been booked, or that fifteen other people have fingers hovering over the ‘book now’ button, and you’ll be left out in the cold if you don’t book now, book now, book now….. And it’s definitely time to stop allowing listings on your site which offer no safety equipment or policy of any sort, no fire escape, no carbon monoxide detector – and simply suggest at a late stage in the booking process that the guest might like to consider bringing his or her own fire alarm as the host hasn’t bothered with one….
And, yes, that actually happens, on Airbnb. And that’s the attitude the company takes right now for guest safety.