The Micro-Habits Of Natural Leaders

Organizations are transitioning from a hierarchy to a network; a shift from a formal command-and-control structure to self-organized networks. What does this mean for leadership?

In a network-based organization, leadership is personal leadership. Leading oneself gives one the ability to lead others. I refer to this progression as natural leadership, as opposed to the formal or titled leadership.

Groups form and dissolve continuously and spontaneously around natural leaders working on themes that are relevant to the organization. The CEO establishes the themes and sets the constraints while teams self-organize around natural leaders. Purpose is centralized while power and influence is decentralized.

All leadership is evolving to become personal leadership, which carries both credibility and influence. Leaders at the center of social change have always shown these traits, from Gandhi and Martin Luther King to Mother Teresa and Mohammed Yunus. People drawn to such leaders say: I believe you because I see that you have walked the path you are asking me to take. I am willing to put myself in the path of difficulty because I resonate with your vision and your authenticity.

The essential question is: How does one evolve into a natural leader?

My answer lies in what I call the micro-habits of natural leadership: small, simple actions done consistently over long periods of time, which create significant positive change in you and also have a positive impact on others.

While I am guilty of not having done this all the time, I have learned what truly inspires others about your leadership is the grit and consistency to conquer your own instincts. Here are a few simple micro-habits I follow:

Walk for ONE hour every day: Sitting is the new smoking. The more you sit, the faster you age. Today the second-most common reason for visiting a doctor (the common cold comes first) is lower back pain. If you sit for six hours every day for 10-20 years, you lose seven years of healthy life. I aim for work-life integration rather than work-life balance. While I do not go to the gym, I build in an hour of walking into my schedules by having walking meetings, especially right after lunch. 

Drink ONE glass of water (with lemon) first thing in the morning: One of the simple habits is to drink one glass of warm water first thing in the morning, with a squeeze of lemon. Science tells us that although the lemon water is acidic by nature, by the time it hits the stomach it turns the environment of the stomach alkaline, which reduces acidity and heartburn.

ONE act of kindness every day: People are healed by gratitude. Whether it is helping someone cross the road or stopping to ask someone how they are and genuinely listening, research shows that giving helps the giver more than the receiver. The phenomenon termed ‘the helper’s high’ has mysterious healing powers as well.  Go-getter is good, go-giver is better. 

Make ONE introduction a week: Adam Grant in his book Give and Take, talks about making introductions – the simplest but most powerful form of giving. I have tried to maintain the habit of making one meaningful introduction a week. The art is to think about two people who should meet but have not, connect them, and get out of the way without expecting anything in return. 

Write ONE hand-written card every week: In a digital world, the power of the written word has increasing value. There is a capture and transfer of human energy that only happens when you write. I keep a stack of blank cards with me all the time, so that I am able to spontaneously write a short note of appreciation.

Mentor ONE person: Find one person in more difficult circumstances than you are and offer help with your experience rather than money. You will be surprised by how much the act of mentoring changes you. Just one act may not be helpful but doing one small act for a long period to the same person can change a life. 

Read ONE book a week; write ONE blog a month; teach ONE class a year: This is three micro-habits put together, but start where it makes sense for you. Reading even 20 minutes a day allows you to read around 20 books a year. Writing a blog is an excellent way to refine your own thinking about a topic that interests you. Teaching not only helps you improve your own thinking and learning but exposes you to your own biases. 

Sleep is sacred: It is important to sleep the same eight hours every night; if you cut it to six, the effect is same as two days of non-sleep. We can actually increase our performance by 29% just by sleeping well. 

Start with a micro habit so small that it cannot fail, and then do it for 66 days (it takes anywhere between 21 to 66 days, depending on the person, for an action to become a habit). 

Life is a dance between making it happen and letting it happen. So, do small things repeatedly and leave the rest to the universe. You will be surprised by the change.


The importance of encouraging young people into Northern Ireland’s hospitality industry

Young people in Northern Ireland should be encouraged into hospitality or the industry could face a major shortage, an expert has said.

Caitriona Lennox, Business Development Manager for Mount Charles, has spoken of the importance of showing young people that a wide range of varying and viable career paths exist within the industry.

She explained: “There’s a serious shortage. The hospitality sector at the moment sustains 60,000 jobs across Northern Ireland. There are shortages in the industry and we need to address this. 

“We need to be seriously thinking how we can attract people into the industry.”

Recent research shows that there will be 30,000 vacancies to fill by 2025, with a need to recruit an extra 2000 chefs. 

Mount Charles, a catering and services company, employs over 2500 people.

Their annual Big School Cook Off Competition, in association with SuperValu, is a project aimed at encouraging the next generation of chefs and hospitality figures. 
Now in its fourth year, it is open to all post primary school pupils across Northern Ireland and Donegal, aged between 11 and 14. 

In teams of two, they are challenged to submit a main course recipe idea that feeds two, focusing on locally sourced ingredients that can be bought on a budget of a tenner, or euro equivalent. 

The recipes will be shortlisted on Friday, November 22, one per county, and the winning team from each county will progress to cook their recipe for an esteemed panel of judges at the grand finale of the competition next March, in Belfast Met’s Titanic Quarter Campus. 

County finalists will also be invited to perform a cookery demonstration of their dish, at their local SuperValu store in January, ahead of the final.

Caitriona explained there a wide range of opportunities available in the industry. 
She said: “I think in years gone by there was a perception the hospitality industry meant long hours, working at weekends, low rates of pay and no work-life balance. 

“That may have been the case years ago. But because that may have been the case a lot of employers are now saying: ‘Come and work for us, we do offer a work-life balance, we can give you four days a week, we can give you high rates of pay and we realise you’ve got families at home and we can accommodate that’. 

“The industry is getting much better at realising that people have more in their life than just work.

“In terms of attracting young people into the industry, the reason why the Big School Cook Off attracts students from 11-14 is because that’s the age group we need to be ‘tapping into’.

“There’s no point going to students when they’re already in colleges and universities because they’ve already made their choices on where they’re going.

“We want to get them early and plant the seed about what the opportunities are. There is an endless amount of opportunity in the industry.” 

Head of Marketing for SuperValu, Brendan Gallen, told Belfast Live that the competition fits in with their overall vision. 

He explained: “At Supervalu we have a focus on Real Food and Real People. What that’s about is wholesome, tasty food, provided by the passionate families and colleagues that operate SuperValu stores across the province. We want to make food inspiring for customers, ensuring that they can get great quality food at great value and all under one roof, where we’re making it easier to eat well. 

“So for us, being part of the Big School Cook Off allows us to encourage young people and their families to get into cooking, develop their interest in cooking and really look at their food and their ingredients. How do they use it, where does it come from and how do I create wholesome food from it?

“The locality of food is really important to us. We’ve put so much focus on local suppliers and local ingredients so we supported the Big School Cook Off because it really encourages young people to learn about where their food is coming from. 

“We see ourselves as foodies so we like the idea that we’re helping inspire the next generation of foodies.” 

Brendan added that shopping habits have also changed, with a focus on local and fresh produce. 

He said: “We’ve seen the focus change. The ability to buy fresh fruit and veg and meat is such a big driver for the shopper. We really focus our efforts on that as shopping habits have now changed so that people are now shopping little and often. What’s driving that is that they want to buy food when it’s fresh, they want to cut down on food waste and they want to shop in a way that is convenient to them, supporting their community in the process.”


Sustainable tourism: how Scotland is changing with the times, and the environment

It is a way of travelling without leaving a carbon footprint, where the journey is just as important as the destination.

And now VisitScotland believes that sustainable tourism will be the way of the future with many of those who come to experience the country’s sights and sounds intent on ensuring they tread as lightly on our country as they possibly can.

Fresh research has found that Generation Z – today’s twentysomethings – recognise the damage mass travel can do to the environment, having seen first-hand the overcrowding which plagues tourist hotspots.

What’s more, the growing importance of green issues, and the pollution that comes with long-haul air and road journeys, has convinced them to take things slowly, either on foot, by bike, or by using public transport.

Now the challenge for tourist bosses is to ensure that visitors to the country are greeted with a joined-up network which allows them to see the sights without impacting on their surroundings, and taking nothing but time.

A recent insight paper prepared for the national tourist body states: “A developing trend among the traveller has been the desire for transformational tourism, diverging from the historically consumer based transactional tourism.

“This aspiration to attain self-fulfilment through travel is in many markets around the world having an impact on the type of destinations visited and the activities engaged in.

“Scotland is well placed with its inspiring elements of landscape, heritage and culture to capitalise on this phenomenon, but needs to be aware of maintaining a sustainable approach to tourism to preserve the essence of what visitors look for when they come here.”

Chris Greenwood, insight manager at Visit Scotland, explains: “Younger travellers understand about sustainable mobility, as it’s called, where you lower your personal impact on the environment.

“That comes naturally to them and they want to travel, but they do not want to have a high environmental footprint.

“They look for places where they can travel slowly, or visit throughout the year rather than at peak times when there is less of a problem of overcrowding.”

Having visited places such as Barcelona, Paris, Venice or Amsterdam, where the degradations of mass tourism are all too apparent, visitors are instead seeking out the unspoilt and taking pains to ensure it stays that way.

And this market will become more important in the future as today’s carefree 20-year-olds become the family holiday-seekers of tomorrow.

Mr Greenwood added: “There has been a change in attitude between the generations. Before, where people would arrive by plane and then want to drive off in their own hire car, travellers in their 20s are aware of the impact they have on the environment and don’t want it to be negative.

“To them it comes naturally, and of course as they get older and become an even larger part of the consumer economy that ethos is going to become ever more prominent.

“So tourism is going to have to adapt to service that mindset.”

To cater for this growing market, and to help the Scottish Government achieve its stated goal of becoming of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2045, changes to infrastructure will be required.

The VisitScotland report highlights some positive examples.

“Cairngorms Connected” is an EU-funded project with the aim of reorganising transport to provide a viable alternative to using a car in the Highlands. It is looking at ticketing, existing services and systems with the potential to offer a single means of travelling around the region, potentially reducing people’s reliance on cars and self-transport.

Further south, Glasgow is one of the primary points of entry for both domestic and international visitors and the scheduled bus or train journey to the “Outdoor Capital of the UK” in Fort William is just one example of encouraging visitors to travel more sustainably. And from there, tourists can get on to the water and take on the Great Glen Canoe Trail, a 96km stretch of Caledonian Canal from Fort William to Inverness which can be enjoyed as a long-distance canoeing challenge or done in sections as a relaxing day paddle.

There is also the option to experience the country at walking pace on one of the many hiking paths around Scotland, such as Fife’s newly-reopened Pilgrim’s Trail or the Annandale Way Long Distance Trail, which stretches from Moffat to the Solway Firth.

And if that’s too slow, bike-packing is the way to tour the country on two wheels, carrying the minimum of equipment and camping along the way. Scotland has some world-beating long-distance cycling routes in remote areas, as well as 2,371 miles of National Cycle Network routes.

But to make sure sustainable tourism can actually be sustained, more will need to be done. Mr Greenwood said that it is about ensuring the little things are done right, such as visitors being guided through the oft-confusing ordeal of trying to negotiate public transport in a foreign country and a language they may not be familiar with, or making sure there are charging points for electric cars along popular routes.

He said: “From VisitScotland’s perspective, we want to ensure the information gets out to tourists. For example, how to navigate the bus system can be daunting if it’s in a foreign language so we have to make sure people coming here know how to do that.

“There has to be a co-ordinated approach. If you take a ferry out to the islands you should be able to know there’s going to be a bus waiting for you and know where it’s going to take you.”

He added: “What we want to do is recognise the role that transport can have. How can we disperse tourism around Scotland so that the benefits can be spread out to different communities?

“Can we engage people to use public transport and travel in a sustainable way while making the tourist experience better?

“A dramatic train journey can enhance a trip, but people also have to know that at the end of their journey they can still access the attractions and reach their accommodation. It all has to fit together.”

Sustainable tourism initiatives

The ScotRail Highland Rover

The Highland Rover ticket provides unlimited rail travel for any four days in an eight-day period which starts with your first journey. Visitors can travel any time, hopping on and off the route, which has almost 100 stops and takes in the west and north regions.

The Highland Rover provides free coach travel from Oban and Fort William to Inverness, and from Thurso to Scrabster. The ticket also includes ferries also, so visitors can travel to Mull and Skye with CalMAc free, or get a discount on Northlink services to Orkney and Shetland.

With bike storage available on ScotRail trans, this offers flexibility to sustainable tour of Scotland for hikers, bikers, as well as eco-conscious visitors.

Fort William bus link

Glasgow is one of the primary entry points for both domestic and international visitors who arrive in Scotland by air travel or public transport from elsewhere in the UK. One of the low-cost and environmentally friendly excursions providing access to outdoor activities and unique places to stay in the three-hour scheduled bus journey to Fort William, dubbed the outdoor capital of the UK.

Cairngorms Connected

An EU -funded project sponsored by HITRANS supports an emerging strategy to reorganise transport in order to tackle mobility and sustainable challenges by offering alternatives to car use in sparsely populated areas. The project’s first phase is Cairngorms Connected. Potential solutions may emerge as, for instance, combining mobility and societal services as part of a single ticket offering made available to users via app subscriptions.

Active travel

Another large part of sustainable tourism is active travel – when journeys are made by walking or cycling – promoting areas which emphasise physical activity as destinations for visitors. Wild camping and bothy experiences can become part of the overall experience which Scotland could excel at, with the likes of rural Dark Skies, regional food and drink delicacies and the wealth of cultural heritage making it attractive to active travellers.

The Annandale Way Long Distance Trail: A 56-mile long distance walking route starting in the hills above Moffat, following the River Annan down to the Solway Estuary at Annan. It can be walked in four of five days in either direction. A dedicated website offers information on public transport starting points, accommodation recommendations, luggage transport and heritage and natural history to look out for during the journey.

Isle of Cumbrae eBike Touring: Active travel doesn’t have to involve epic feats of physical exertion. With over 60 years of trading, Mapes of Millport hire bicycles and eBikes to visitors to explore the island of Cumbrae. A loop of the island is 10 miles but shorter routes are available.

The Great Glen Canoe Trail: This 96km stretch of the Caledonian Canal was one of the first trails of its kind in Scotland. From Fort William to Inverness, the Caledonian Canal offers options for paddlers of all abilities and can be enjoyed as a long-distance challenge or relaxing day paddle.

The West Island Bikepacking Trail: Developed in partnership with and the Scottish Youth Hostelling Association, this is a 332km loop connecting hostels in Oban, Lochranza on Arran, and Port Charlotte on Islay.


International visitors

1.8million – or 27% of domestic overnight holiday trips to Scotland were to rural areas – this contributed £442million to the rural Scottish economy.

● 44% go to the countryside

● 28% visit a national park

● 43% visit the coast

● 40% use public transport

The value of our natural assets

Scotland’s mountains and moorlands was calculated at £5.2billion and £11.3billion from Coastal Regions, Lochs and Reservoirs and Rivers and Canals. These sectors represent around 50% of the total recreational asset value of Scotland’s Natural Capital.

Rural Scotland

● 98% of Scotland is defined as rural

● About 20% of Scots live in rural areas

● Rural Scotland is defined as settlements with a population of less than 3,000

Scotland has 11 train stations and 12,599 bus stops in areas defined as mountain, moorland and heath; there are 66 train stations and 6,219 bus stops within 1km of a long-distance path. This accounts for 11,174km of path accessible by public transport.


Hoteliers and Technology: Why Hospitality Expertise Doesn’t Stop at Hospitality

In any industry, standards of education help to ensure brands have access to the talent they need to continue moving the needle and growing their product or offering. Within hospitality, we realize a similar need — as the landscape continues to evolve, hotel brands and vendors alike rely on having access to qualified talent, especially in the realm of IT.  The hospitality industry, as we know, is enormous and subject to continued growth. Within our sector exists a wide variety of exciting careers and rewarding management positions that cover the full spectrum of the guest experience. However, as hospitality technology continues to advance and standards of guest care are increasingly influenced by digital mediums, we arrive at the question: Are hospitality programs offering enough of an IT education component?

The recent Hospitality Technology Sentiment Survey presented by HospitalityNet™ and HFTP addressed this topic specifically when it asked hoteliers if they are concerned about access to the talent they need to achieve current IT goals while innovating and enhancing guest service. According to the survey results from hoteliers, 26.45% are ‘somewhat concerned’ while 24.79% are ‘very concerned’. Suppliers, on the other hand, have a different take with 22.87% saying they are concerned and more than twice as many ‘somewhat concerned’ (57.85%). Only 25.32% cited they are ‘not concerned.’ This not only encourages us to consider the need for up-and-coming talent while continuing on the path to innovation but also speaks to the need for dedicated IT emphasis within the education system.

To dig into this topic further, I asked Lyle Worthington, Technology Executive and Consultant & Past President of HFTP Global, to elaborate on what he believes to be the potential role of hospitality schools and university programs in the field of IT education.

“I think a comprehensive technology track should be a core component of any Hospitality business degree,” explains Lyle. “Mind you, I don’t simply mean a one-week intensive course, or a few tech-focused lessons crammed into the middle of a Microsoft Office class. Rather, I think you need at least two full semester-long classes covering the many important concepts and theories of technology which are applicable to our industry. If you want to be a leader in any area of hospitality operations or management, you have to realize that the technology you use is absolutely critical to your success,” continued Lyle. “Almost every point in our customer’s journey is impacted in some way by technology, and each day they become less tolerant of even the slightest technical issue. The key is not to become an IT expert, per se, but to exhibit a baseline level of knowledge that allows you to make intelligent technology business decisions. You should understand IT architecture and feel comfortable working side-by-side with IT professionals and consultants. You must be able to cut through industry buzz words and hype to make informed decisions on what new technology to implement and, more importantly, why. Moreover, hoteliers should be able to properly manage their relationships with technology vendors, whilst contributing their operational expertise to their brand’s big-picture IT strategy.”

The survey also indicated that the majority of respondents (43.14%) are working with increased IT budgets for 2020, while only 21.57% are working with the same IT budget as last year. Further, when asked to compare the importance of their IT budget to the perceived importance of other departmental budgets, 65% said it is awarded equal or greater importance. Of course, with this increased capacity for technology, comes a subsequent increased demand for individuals who know what to do with it.

Lyle added, “It’s far too easy for hoteliers to claim, “But I’m not an IT person!” Well, you’re not a plumber either, but you understand the concept of a toilet well enough to make sure it is installed correctly and functioning. Technology is a part of our business that we can’t function without, so it is time to recognize that, at the end of the day, we are in the IT business.”

Ultimately, the role of any hospitality expert is two-fold. Whether a hotelier or a vendor, in order to provide the highest level of service while ensuring an effective operational model, you simply must have a thorough grasp of modern technology implications and priorities.


Virgin Galactic’s IPO launches a pivotal phase for space tourism

Richard Branson rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange on October 28 as Virgin Galactic became the first commercial spaceflight company to list on the stock market. It was valued at more than $1 billion following its merger with publicly-listed holding firm Social Capital Hedosophia, then experienced a 20% drop in its share price after a week of trading. It is now worth around $800m.

The route to success in the space tourism industry is bound to be a wild ride and Branson is hoping his first mover advantage will bring healthy returns in the long run. Indeed, this high-risk venture could well pay off–it’s just a question of when.

Virgin Galactic was founded in 2004 to offer paying customers a trip into suborbital space. For $250,000, anyone can take a 90-minute flight into the upper reaches of the atmosphere where they will experience a few minutes of weightlessness and see the curvature of the Earth’s surface. According to Virgin, 600 people from some 60 countries have already made their reservations, while a further 3,700 people have registered for the opportunity to buy flights once ticket sales are back on offer. This suggests that the combination of Branson’s marketing prowess and the allure of space for humans are a plausible value proposition for investors.

Virgin is also offering a much cheaper route to experiencing space than its competitors. There have only been seven space tourists to date and none since 2009. All travelled on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) at a reported price tag of tens of millions of dollars.

NASA announced in June that it would offer trips to the ISS at a cost of $35,000 per night, not including the cost of a taxi ride there from SpaceX and Boeing. The cost of these rides is likely to be at least $60m, which is what NASA pays to take its astronauts to the ISS, and these visits are due to start in 2020. In September 2018, SpaceX unveiled its 2023 lunar passenger flight that would take Japanese billionaire businessman Yusaku Maezawa and six of his guests on a space flight around the moon using its Big Falcon Rocket for an undisclosed, but certainly a very substantial, price.

Substantial progress

Although it has yet to fly any paying passengers and is currently loss making, Virgin Galactic aims to be profitable by 2021, based on completing 115 flights that generate $210m in revenue. By 2023, it is forecasting revenues of $590m and expects to have flown more than 3,000 passengers. Since that number is a tiny portion of the target market of high net-worth individuals with assets of at least $10m, its projections could well be achievable. And, currently, Virgin Galactic appears to be ahead of Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin in fulfilling the vision of space tourism.

While Virgin Galactic has failed to deliver on expectations in the past–it missed its own targets for flights commencing and experienced a catastrophic accident in 2014–it has more recently made substantial progress. In December 2018 it achieved its first suborbital space flight. Given that achievement and subsequent progress, it seems likely that commercial flights could commence within the next 18 months.

It is also diversifying its offering as it gears up for launch. In collaboration with the sportswear maker Under Armour, Virgin Galactic has developed a line of high-tech clothing that its passengers will wear on their flights. At the same time, it is moving into its new facilities at Spaceport America in the desert lands of New Mexico.

Spaceport America, where Virgin’s flights will take off from and return to, has a $220m investment by the New Mexico government. It is also here that passengers will undergo three days of training to prepare for the G-forces and weightlessness that they will experience on flights.

The business of space tourism is only just beginning. Air travel similarly started small with a limited target market, but grew to become a mass market with many commercial air carriers and millions traveling every month, served by airports that over time became large commercial hubs. The trajectory for space tourism travel in the decades to come has the potential to be similar. From a highly niche market, it can become one that has much broader appeal when costs reduce.

At the same time, spaceports can, like airports before them, become large concentrated centers of commercial activity. Should Virgin Galactic maintain its first mover advantage in space tourism in the years ahead, there is the prospect for healthy returns to investors in this high risk venture.


How to Find the Balance Between Technology and Human Interaction

Technology has fundamentally transformed how we communicate, whether it be with family, in the workplace, or at hotels. Tech has made almost everything faster and more efficient. Every industry has been transformed, and hospitality is no exception to this trend. Today, guests at hotels expect service that balances cutting-edge technology with a human touch – a balance that is difficult to achieve. Not putting enough effort into incorporating modern tech may make a hotel appear behind the times. Leaning too far the other direction, however, risks alienating guests who prefer more personal elements.

In recent years, the hospitality industry has scrambled to keep up with their clients’ demand for technology.

Create a More Personalized Experience

One way technology helps businesses is by gathering data about their customers. This resource of information about their habits, likes, and movements is a gold mine when it comes to tailoring guest experiences.

In larger hotels, we are required to help thousands of guests feel at home every day. Creating a personalized experience for each individual while running a successful hotel often seems like an impossible task. The answer, however, lies in how we utilize data. Some hotels have started using location data and smartphones to offer maps to customers, complete with suggestions based on their historic preferences.

Think About How Technology Can Help Your Human Team Members

I find it best to think about technology as an aid, and not the end all be all for hospitality services. Technology is a tool to help us better share our heart and vision with customers. Remember that technology is not a replacement for relationships. Instead, it helps us build strong relationships with our customers by helping us better meet their needs.

Danny Meyer, the founder of New York City’s Union Square Hospitality Group, has incorporated Apple watches into his restaurants. These watches are synched to the restaurants’ digital reservation systems. Restaurant employees use the watches to share and receive information, from food allergies to past dining preferences.

Give Guests Options

Implementing technology into hotels often seems like a battle we can’t win. Guests simultaneously demand the ease and convenience of technology such as self-service kiosks, mobile check-in, and keyless entry while also wanting personal, human interactions.

The answer lies in providing guests with options. Some guests would rather interact with technology than staff, while others expect nothing less than every interaction happening face-to-face. Technology empowers guests to choose what suits them. It has the potential to eliminate traditional hospitality frustrations like long lines and unexpected delays. Resolving these issues frees up staff to spend more time interacting with customers who prefer human touchpoints.

Technology is a powerful tool that enables us to serve our guests through personalization and improved options. We can also empower our staff via technology to better care for guests who desire face-to-face interactions. The balance between incorporating technology while maintaining human interactions is undoubtedly possible. We can use technology as an aid to improve the guest experience and better meet associate needs.


Hotels to offer free stays to guests in exchange for their skills

More than 600 B&Bs, hotels and self-catering businesses across the world have signed up to take part in the second international Barter Week. The initiative runs for a week in November (18-24) and invites accommodation owners to offer free stays to guests in exchange for sharing skills or goods.

Hosts register their “wishes”, which range from carpentry and decorating skills to social media knowhow or website expertise and invite potential guests to make an offer.

Properties range from an eco-retreat in Bulgaria that is looking for someone with woodworking skills to help build a reiki room in its garden to a Sri Lankan hotel-spa hoping to find an expert in search engine optimisation and a Torquay guesthouse in need of a painter and decorator.

It’s not just skills that are required. A B&B in Turin is after children’s books in good condition; a hostel in Moscow wants board games, and a Ger house in Mongolia is hoping for a used computer.

Among more obscure requests are “vintage globes”, wanted by a B&B in Livorno, and musicians or acrobats to join a community setting up a vegetarian campsite south of Tarragona in Spain.

Launched in 2018, the initiative is the sister project to Italian Barter Week which started 11 years ago when the website discovered one of its members, in Sardinia, was bartering with guests.

“When we found out there was this bizarre way of doing business, we asked all our properties to experiment for one week a year in low season,” said marketing manager Clara Corallo. The Italian edition of Barter Week, Settimana del Baratto, which operates over the same period, has nearly 900 properties listed on its site.

Corallo says the next stage is to launch a permanent bartering site for accommodation owners to use at any time of year, not just the fixed week. This is expected to launch in 2020.

Barter Week is not the only initiative offering free stays in exchange for skills. Workaway lists 30,000 hosts worldwide offering accommodation and food in exchange for a few hours’ work a day, and individual hostels and lodges around the world often offer free stays on an ad-hoc basis in return for skills.


Smart Building Technology Is Gaining Ground in Hospitality

The president of hotel technology integrator Mode:Green, Bill Lally, has a unique vantage point over the smart building landscape. Serving the luxury hotel market in New York City and elsewhere, Lally cut his teeth in the music and audio recording business and later audiovisual services. 

“I honestly haven’t figured out if everybody else is smart enough to stay out of the hospitality market or is crazy not to do it,” Lally said. 

The market is challenging, especially at the top end, where guests who pay tens of thousands of dollars per night for a hotel room expect perfection. 

But the luxury market segment also provides a chance to deploy smart building technologies that become mainstream over time. 

There are three main drivers of the hospitality sector’s embrace of smart building technology, according to Lally. “One is guest experience, two is back-end efficiency and three is what energy code is mandated,” he said. 

Starting with the final item last, many states, municipalities and major cities in the United States have mandates designed to help minimize wasted energy in unoccupied hotel rooms. Such rules, the increasing costs of heating and cooling buildings, are convincing more hotel execs to take action. On one end of the spectrum, occupancy detection systems help shut off lights automatically and adjust temperatures when guests are away. “Within major markets — New York, Chicago and Florida, for instance — [this trend] is growing.” 

Such technologies were once found in primarily luxury properties, but, in many areas, are required by code for any major renovation or new build. 

The second megatrend helping propel the use of smart building technology in the hospitality sector is shifting consumer expectations. Thanks to the widespread use of streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Video, many hotels gave up on the premise they can provide movies guests couldn’t see at home. The new emerging model is for guests to bring their own devices to the hotel and use the hotel room’s infrastructure to make it an extension of their home. 

A parallel trend is growing interest in voice control in hotels. Roughly one-quarter of the U.S. public now owns at least one smart speaker. And a growing number of high-end hotels took notice. “We’re seeing voice control take off more and more, especially in the U.S. markets where the systems are primarily English-speaking,” Lally said. 

Also related to IoT is the gradual shift of high-end hotels to focus on guest experience as it extends across the property. “How do you take that experience outside the guest room so that the technology is enabling you to access room services across a resort-wide spectrum or even outside the resort?” Lally asked. 

The final theme driving interest in smart building technology in the hospitality sector relates to operational efficiency. One example is the hotel doorbell technology that supports electronic do not disturb functionality. In essence, they replace the plastic “Do Not Disturb” signs of yore. “There’s a fair amount in Vegas. We’re seeing loads of them in New York now,” Lally said.  

From a connected hotel perspective, the functionality gives housekeeping staff the potential to remotely see which rooms they can service, allowing them to come up with a data-driven game plan of which rooms to clean in what order. That can limit the amount of time staff spend traveling up and down elevators while allowing them to steer housekeeping goods where they are most needed. “Especially in the larger hotels where labor rates are extremely high and overhead is high, this is tremendously helpful,” Lally said.

One idea floating around is that the smart hotel and smart home industries will, to a certain extent, converge. For example, a guest with an Amazon Echo smart speaker, who prefers to set their thermostat at 72 degrees Fahrenheit and listens to 1950s-era jazz with dimmed lights, can walk into a hotel room and have that experience delivered. 

When asked about that general concept, Lally said that, while it is possible to deliver such experiences now, “it’s not being done in very great lengths right now.” 

For one thing, to provide such an experience requires a significant investment from the hotel and the ability to amass customer preferences in the hotel’s computer reservation system, rewards program database or customer relationship management software. 

“Getting [guest preference] information to translate into a room control system is complicated as far as being able to read those different categories or preferences and being able to translate that into the room itself,” Lally said. For one thing, there are security and compliance matters. Such systems would have to carefully gather customer preference data without storing voiceprints or a credit card number a guest might provide while on the phone with a bank. 

Still, the gap between hotels and the home will likely narrow in years to come. “I’d say things are definitely headed there. It’s what we’re all working toward,” Lally said. 

High-end hotel properties will likely be the first to move in this direction. “It’s a lot of work, and it’s not the cheapest work to do from the hotel or developer standpoint. So a lot of it will be adapted in the luxury market first,” Lally said. “But it will trickle down once the [systems have been] built to support those types of things. It’s somewhat of a dream right now, but I’d say it’s not that far off. And it’s certainly something that everybody in the industry is striving for.”


Curious where social media is going? The travel industry leads the way

In the world of marketing, nothing emphasizes a faster change in popularity or trend than social media.

  • Just when a social media manager believes they’ve figured out Facebook’s algorithm, it changes.
  • Think implementing a strategy with Snapchat is the solution to hitting target audiences? Here comes Tik Tok.
  • That brand new influencer with millions of engaged followers you just signed? They just entered the news cycle with questionable posts right after pushing your brand.

In social marketing, early adopters are rewarded. Those who pass over trends or are late to the game, will miss fantastic opportunities, and, of course, risk ridicule or mockery by more social-savvy users.

It’s easy to see which trends are relevant right now and build a strategy around current viral posts and innovative tactics, but how do you predict what’s coming next?

Customer behavior is in a constant state of evolution. How can an agency, in-house team or other social specialists, build content to stick with followers and increase awareness for prospective clients and future fans?

Where can you look for inspiration? Key indicators are available, ready to guide your organization to accomplish its comprehensive social media strategy.

In fact, one industry has been at the forefront of social innovation: Travel and tourism has been leading content sharing well before the conception of today’s popular platforms; a consistent trend for years.

Inherently social

Travel has always been social. Not simply traveling with friends and family, but sharing our travel experiences with others. Before the rise of today’s social media giants, travelers were eager to provide social media-type feedback to family, friends and strangers around the globe.

What used to be organized photo albums and slideshows for friends and neighbors, have been replaced by blogs and Instagram posts. 

Whether planners were in need of information and reviews regarding potential vacation destinations and activities, or vacationers were looking to boast about their experiences, passing information has evolved from speaking to someone face-to-face, and reading detailed brochures, to leaving reviews on sites such as TripAdvisor – a prime example of social media before social media.

Of course today, social media posts on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and all other platforms are the most exciting and efficient ways of spreading information to your friends and family.

The third-party endorsements of destinations and activities from the consumers’ point of view are truly impacting future plans of other travelers, who monitor social sites for recommendations. These connections with the like-minded have become vital to destinations as posts become more visual.

So, why were consumers sharing, rating and reviewing trips before the social media takeover?

To be frank, vacations are expensive – a high-stakes purchasing decision.

As marketers, we learned early that a trusted evaluation of an experience is important to those ready to spend the time and money on a high-priced activity. Unlike the ease of ordering, trying and returning products such as clothing, vacations are one of the most expensive purchases consumers make, and you’ll be hard-pressed to receive a refund for an unimpressive travel experience.

Traveling is a highly personal product – costs, safety and overall level of fun are not taken lightly.

Sharing everything

No matter where you are, or where you’ve gone, there have always been opportunities to socially share or receive information about your trip.

When social media, as we currently know it, launched in the early 2000s, it was a game-changer for the travel industry, placing a more intricate spin on sharing and researching details about potential vacation itineraries.

It can be challenging to identify the cause and effect of social media trends as they continue to ebb and flow, almost daily. Are consumers behaving differently due to platform features and algorithms, or are the consumers forcing these changes from the platforms?

From our experience in the travel industry’s social media landscape, there are four trends that a marketer must identify – all of which have a tremendous impact on the travel industry, and are fundamentally relevant to non-travel businesses looking to succeed on social media.

The rise of niche communities

With 3.5 billion people on social media, how many of these users are relevant to your brand?

Users are taking advantage of social media to stay connected to family, friends and only those brands they love.

Travel and tourism has been at the forefront of developing niche communities, with groups, or “artificial walls” put up by brands to segment and target their audiences. Brands develop opportunistic groups to pull prime targets in to discuss travel plans, recommendations and more. 

Groups such as “It’s Orlando Time,” filled with dedicated travelers in the U.K., maintain hundreds of thousands of followers, with nearly 1,000 posts every day about traveling to Orlando, Florida.

There are so many opportunities to share and learn on social media, but groups like these are followed due to their direct impact on its community. Brands monitor the deep and passionate thoughts and insights in real time, and add any relevant content to increase participation.

There are countless groups of all sizes, for road warriors, who share detailed insights on how to exploit loopholes in frequent flyer programs, and those who simply vent their frustrations when hotels and other providers do not meet expectations.

These dedicated groups have set the example for productive social sharing, especially as brands figure out a way to interact with their customers in these new environments, even without control over messaging.  

Social sales

Social media is driving purchasing decisions. The phenomenon of repeating what you see on social media began as users became inspired by travelers they aspire to be. (Looking at you, Instagram Repeat account)

Whether they be travel-, fitness-, food, or even laundry detergentrelated sales, these posts inspire consumers to mimic social media by purchasing and eventually posting. 

Platforms like Instagram are no longer simply providing inspiration, but they’re also making it increasingly easy to shop right from the app.

Like many other businesses, the travel industry struggles to completely attribute what part of their sales are driven by social media, especially as travel is less of an impulse buy.

The most forward-thinking travel marketers have come up with very sophisticated attribution models, which allow them to track consumers as they see the content and subsequently make a purchase. 

Social customer service

Customer service has boomed on social media. Yes, it’s an opportunity to engage with consumers who’ve had negative and positive experiences, but it also means responses are expected in real time.

Social media has empowered consumers, who are not afraid to use that power – just ask any person responsible for community management of an airline’s social channels. 

Any cancelled or delayed flight, changed seat assignment, service animal, unruly passenger or disruption can lead to an onslaught of angry tweets or messages.

For years, travel industry leaders have been reaching out and solving problems for customers through social media platforms (or travel review sites), whether it’s a mismanaged hotel room or flight cancellation. For the travel industry, immediate responses have been vital to ensure today’s guests don’t miss flights and are comfortable during their travels.

This type of customer service is spilling over into other industries, and they should take their cue from the tourism giants who have perfected solving customer service issues, quickly, effectively and personally.

Brand connectors

Social media influencers discovered travel before other verticals, and are now everywhere – even causing some hospitality organizations to ban “influencers” from their properties. So what comes next?

The influencer trend is moving towards those passionate, more targeted audiences (see niche communities above), who might not have the large number of followers, but are more authentic and relatable.

Consumers are no longer influenced by one person who visits a city for half a day. They want the real/authentic view of a local with all the connections. 

“Following” a true insider helps build that authentic audience base, that continues to realize the difference between an ad and a shared experience. In other words, don’t build an influencer program, build a partnership.

No industry has achieved such strong social media success like travel – the concepts of sharing and enjoying photos, recommendations and reviews has gracefully aged and continues to improve.

It’s more important than ever that all brands and industries take note of the important work destination marketing organizations, hotel owners, airlines and conventions bureaus have accomplished to keep up with the changing dynamics of social strategies.

Social media has dissolved the barrier between businesses and consumers – planning/purchasing is at the fingertips of consumers, and feedback is only a click away.

Questions and requests can be resolved with a tweet or Facebook message. Yes, this is the perfect marketplace to provide information to your audience, but understanding the needs and wants of your targets through social media data are key to increasing awareness and the bottom line.


Measuring product lifecycle and witnessing innovation in social media

Pinpointing the position of social media in its product lifecycle in hospitality was the topic of conversation last week at the Dorchester Collection’s Coworth Park, as a group of marketers and business owners from across the hospitality industry gathered in Ascot.

The discussions centred around where different restaurateurs, product and service suppliers, hoteliers, caterers, industry associations and lobbyists see social media now within their wider marketing activity. Linked to where they see the hospitality industry’s position in terms of social media’s product lifecycle.

The crux of the discussions focused on returns on investment achieved. One delegate shared how restaurants had been filled through Instagram and the strategy and tactics deployed to achieve that goal. Others reflected on the return on investment versus time savings for communications in large teams of people.

Delegates looked at the different channels used, old and new, ranging from the established Facebook to the emerging TikTok, with strategic and tactical lessons shared.

Tone of voice, images, sources of images and image testing, video and calls to action were all reviewed as were use of emoji’s, grammar and punctuation. All had a clear impact on the different objectives and campaign measurements applied. Attention to small details had a big effect.

The objective of any such event is to ensure delegates leave with ‘take-aways’ that can be applied post event.

The observations ranged from seasoned attendees who have shared their experiences previously, enabling a familiar framework to measure by, to newcomers who shed light with a new, different and helpful approach.

One of the delegates taking part that has done previously on many occasions was Simon Esner FIH FIoD, Director, WSH LIMITED. WSH own and operate some of the best known brands in hospitality including BaxterStorey. Commenting on the morning Esner said: “The whole event was extremely well organised and the team at Coworth really made everyone feel welcome and relaxed immediately.

“The attendees were a terrific group of business professionals who all had significant involvement with the discussions, which resulted in me having several ‘take-aways’ that I know I will be able to utilise personally and professionally.

“Key words, subjects and points for me that will enhance our approach to social media utilisation are ‘Authenticity’, ‘Engagement’, ‘use of algorithms and their specific platforms’ and using Instagram as your ‘Inspiration Platform’.

“Lastly, I’m grateful for the information about image libraries. Having looked at the information I know we will be able to learn more and make better use of our approach.”

One of the newer delegates was Paul Anderson FIH, M.C.G.C Managing Director, Meiko UK Limited who told us: “I was kindly invited to attend H&C Social last week at Coworth Park, in a small yet collective discussion on social media and the part it plays in modern business.

“It’s true I am always pushing the boundaries within MEIKO on social media, and yet I always say I am never an expert. It was so useful to gain ideas and thoughts from great peers of our industry during this meeting that I came away thinking we’ve not even really started.

“The use of media is so fast, so readily available and requires constant attention to ensure it is correct, valid and fit for purpose…. more or less a full time role to support and underpin the image of a company.

“I really found this meeting extremely useful and I can’t wait until the next one.”

The mix of delegates was diverse to ensure as many views and perspectives as possible were considered and learned from.

Pat Thomas is a Founder of and Director at Beyond GM, an independent initiative set up to raise the level of the debate on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the UK and elsewhere, at both the local and national level. Its activities aim to broaden the discussion about GMOs beyond the abstract, and often impenetrable, scientific and academic arena and out into the public arena. The task of broadening discussions on GMO’s is in part achieved through social media, so Pat’s input to our discussion was enlightening.

Thomas was enthusiastic saying: “Social media has become such an important platform for sharing not just sterile pieces of information but connected stories that matter about the values that drive us. The social media roundtables are a lively and invaluable forum where individuals can share ideas, challenges and tips for success. Keep them coming.”

The discussions looked at many channels and LinkedIn was covered by Neil Fillbrook FCII, UK Managing Director of international banking firm Bank Brokers. Fillbrook reflected on the morning telling us: “The round-table discussion this morning with social-media thought leaders from the hospitality industry at the wonderful Coworth Park was fascinating. It was intriguing to learn from both a strategic and tactical standpoint.

“Our execution of Social media within our wider marketing mix will improve as a consequence of taking part. Several things quickly became clear to me and the takeaway’s are many. What on earth is TikTok?!”

TikTok in many ways underlines the incredibly fast changing and emerging technologies across social media. TikTok was launched in 2017 by Chinese business ByteDance, valued at $78 billion in November 2018 and is considered one of the most valuable unicorns in the world. One delegate is already au fait with TikTok and shared his experience and views, Rehan Uddin, Managing Director of the Asian Restaurant Owners Network.

Uddin there representing the 1,500 plus members of the Asian Restaurant Owners Network pooled knowledge and experience from members. His contribution was eloquent and enlightening, his feedback was to the point stating: “At the heart of the Asian Restaurant Owners Network we value and cherish our heritage, but our focus is on creating 21st century dining. Social media is key to everything we do and drives our businesses.

“To get a morning of enlightened discussion and knowledge sharing is not only tremendous use of my time, it allows me to disseminate the learning with our members.

“The conversation was steeped in first-hand experience and it was authentic, I leave today’s roundtable with practical guidance I can apply to my own restaurant business and that of fellow members, thank you.”

The variety of perspective from around the table provided a wide range of references with many common touchpoints, enabling references to be debated, linked and clarified. One common denominator was that all participants agreed on was that the product lifecycle of social media is in its growth stage. So, although the use of channels by delegates was as diverse as the table seating mix, the overall approach and view to the opportunity was very similar.

Commenting on the range of perspectives, Antonia Robinson, Manager, Public Relations & Social Media – EMEA at Preferred Hotels & Resorts focused on all our end customers, the consumers, saying: “It was interesting to focus the roundtable discussion on the social media product lifecycle.

“It was great to connect with professionals from so many sectors of the hospitality industry and learn more about how everyone uses social media differently within their companies to align with their brand messaging and goals.

“I greatly enjoyed hearing everyone’s varied perspectives on how the social media landscape is rapidly shifting and how consumers are crying out for more personalisation and authenticity, which in turn is shaking up how companies are handling their approach across the platforms.”

Independent hotels were represented as well as global hotel groups, Preferred Hotels & Resorts and Dorchester Collection. The independent hotel sector was represented by Robert Richardson FIH, GENERAL MANAGER of The Grand in Folkestone.

Richardson raised a number of points including trolling and how to deal with it positively, especially relevant to the many TripAdvisor advocates amongst the group. Richardson was to the point with his discussions and his feedback saying: Today was excellent in terms of the industry diversity of the group, with each delegate having their own specific social media focus, challenges and successes, which made for an insightful debate and allowed me to leave knowing more than when I arrived. Mission accomplished.”

The morning saw a group of marketers and business owners who are all innovators through what they are doing in social media gather and talk. Innovation is key driver in our fabulous hospitality industry and as such was it a coincidence that most of the attendees businesses are also market leaders in their respective sectors, we think not.

A few words from the business that sponsored the event and have done every year for the past six years, Armourcoat. “Armourcoat were delighted to participate in the recent social media roundtable from H&C News and act as sponsor for the event.

“Benchmarking good practice in marketing, which social media channels offer the best return, and how to effectively measure success are critical when reviewing budgets and considering MROI.

“The value of creating an open forum for debate is of enormous benefit.” Daniel Nevitt, Group Marketing Director, Armourcoat.