RSSAuthor Archive for HTFO

Who’s afraid of Google?

Google, whose mantra used to be ‘Don’t be evil’ (until it dropped it for the motto ‘Do the right thing’), is almost omnipresent in our lives these days. We use it for all sorts of online searches, whether it’s trying to access arcane information or find our way from A to B.

The European Commission though recently took the giant to task — slapping a 2.4 billion euro anti-trust fine on the internet giant at the end of June, following a seven-year competition investigation. It concluded that Google had “denied other companies the chance to compete” by placing its own comparison shopping service prominently and demoting those of its competitors.

While Google, which has ‘respectfully’ disagreed with the findings and has 90 days to change its ways, considers its next move, lawyers have been mulling over the case and its implications for Google’s other specialized search services such as maps and travel.

What then of the hospitality sector? What’s the impact of Google – good and bad – on the industry? Sit in a hospitality-related conference these days and the subject of Google is bound to raise its head. One general line of questioning has been: will Google come to dominate the industry, leaving online travel agencies and others in its wake?

Martin Soler, Marketing Advisor and Partner with, believes there will be a “massive shift in channels, where the channels will no longer be the OTAs or various structures as we know them.” He points out that Google has – up to now – not been interested in transactions as such as “they’ve always been about being the channel and getting the clicks or driving traffic.”

“They’re an ad agency and they like to be the channel, leaving the transaction to someone else, especially if they have one massive channel. It would be a bidding war between Expedia, Booking, direct channels and everyone’s just going to bid higher and they’re going to make more money.”

However, he says, they “could flip the switch and do it” so he would “definitely keep an eye on it.”

So could Google become a dominant force in hospitality?

“They’re one of the best poised currently to do so because they have integration with flight data, hotel data, integration with Uber and many others, so they could essentially have the entire trip.’

Also imagine a world in which we no longer search for information via browsers and apps as we do now but instead ask a virtual personal assistant – whether it be Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, or Google Assistant – to book holidays or business trips for us. That may not be that far off now. But when we ask for help with booking flights, hotels and so on, will we get more than just a few suggestions?

“How do you know that you can talk to your fridge, your Echo or your Google Assistant to book a hotel? You don’t. So a lot of work needs to be done to get there. But it will reduce a lot of the issues with travel booking and if done right, we could totally shift from mega destinations which are still probably getting 80 per cent of the traffic and distribute all that travel to different destinations.” (Emphasis added).

On the issue of chatbots, Soler told the recent Young Hoteliers Summit at EHL that the “current booking funnel from inspiration to booking” takes about 29 days and involves checking some 50 or so websites. “It’s a really painful process”. But if that could be reduced to a few interactions with a bot, “we could grow the pie of travel because suddenly the spontaneous and impulse buy of travel becomes a reality.”

“So I believe once the technology is there and we can do that with three interactions, or four maximum, it suddenly changes the game completely … It’s definitely coming and that’s going to be a paradigm shift.”

“You know OTAs are going to have to rethink (this) because there will only be Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant or Microsoft Cortana will be the channel. The channel will no longer be Expedia or Booking or direct. It will be the device that you’re using and it’s going to be the war against who has that channel, who has purchased the rights for the channel and has the AI (artificial intelligence) connected to it. So it’s going to change the game quite a bit – not tomorrow but maybe the day after.”

Ait Voncke, Expedia‘s Vice President of Market Management for Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA), says they regard Google as one of their marketing channels. “We’re optimized in that channel of course, at scale globally, so in that sense we’re a big partner and Google’s a big partner of (ours).”

As to whether Google presents a threat to OTAs like Expedia, Voncke says: “We are getting transactions in the booking space right. We have 5,000 engineers just focused on that process, on building that technology. We have market managers in the field, thousands of them across the world, working very closely in a partnership with our hoteliers to be successful in the online space – and that’s typically not Google’s business. So I think there’s a very complementary skillset at work here.”

Another speaker at the Young Hoteliers Summit (#YHSconnects), Jeremy Ward, Chief Operating Officer of iRiS Software Systems, said although Google may start creating apps for guest experiences, he wasn’t too concerned about its potential to dominate the sector, as most of its revenue comes from advertising. “They’re not there to pick up the small transaction fee. So I think anything that can drive traffic through them, they’re quite interested in, because they take the revenue from it.”

What then is Google’s view of the hospitality sector? At the International Hotel Investment Forum (#IHIF2017) in March, Terri Scriven, Google’s industry head for hospitality, emphasized how the tech giant works with hoteliers and others. She had plenty of practical advice for hoteliers about the need to hire data scientists and to integrate a hotel’s customer relationship management (CRM) system with the property management system or PMS. Asked about the ability of hotels to analyze and use data, Scriven replied: “It’s horrible, it’s kind of hitting my head against a brick wall on a day-to-day basis. But there’s progress being made which is good.”

“Your websites are rich with so much data,” she said, adding hoteliers should use an analytics tool for insights into why customers visit their sites but then leave to book with an OTA.

She suggested that hotels should not chase the OTAs, but instead should try to make sure their messaging relevant to their target audiences. “And the more relevant the messages are, the more likely they are to book direct with you.”

“Hotel websites leave much to be desired. It’s the reason why OTAs are winning out. The focus has been very much on conversion and how to better convert that user who comes to the website. And instead of providing beautiful imagery – and videos are so important as you need to inspire them to come to stay -focus on how you can better convert them and there’s a lot of data that can help that, and AI is part of it, to understanding people when they’ve come back to your site, customizing the suggested hotels for them to stay at or the overall offer on the site.”

“Let’s get the basics right first. Let’s get those sites looking much better, get mobile sites in place and then you can evaluate AI but you need to start with the site that converts first.”

Watch the panel discussion video “Meeting customers’ needs in hospitality”

Google then is currently working with both the hotels, in terms of their online presence, and also the OTAs. Asked whether the war with the OTAs was over, Scriven replied that she disagreed. “The game is not lost because you have to optimize different channels, channels, etc. but there’s still a good percentage of traffic that comes direct.”

The game may not be lost – yet – but as the game continues to change rapidly, hotels may find it difficult to keep pace. Even OTAs like Expedia with significant budgets for marketing and tech spending may be a little wary about what’s on the horizon if Google does broaden the scope of its ambitions, despite the European Commission’s attempts to rein it in.

Revenue management: Using data integration to move from tactics to strategy

As the practice of revenue management continues to evolve, industry professionals should increasingly look to use their RM systems and processes strategically and move away from tactical operations. Integrating data from the various systems and resources is an important first step.

Revenue management used to focus primarily on setting room prices and optimizing room inventory. The revenue manager’s main job was to analyze data to recognize trends and make pricing and inventory management decisions. Over the last ten years, due to technological advances, the scope of RM has expanded as traditional hotel revenue management practice became much more complex, while offering new approaches to enhance hotel revenue.

Today, revenue management strategy goes beyond pricing and inventory management, and revenue managers should look for new ways to optimize revenue growth and profitability.

Although more advanced revenue management systems (RMS) have been developed over the years, with the aim of analyzing performance and forecasting demand, demand patterns have become much more unpredictable, while increasingly dependent on numerous external factors. Successful revenue management strategy starts with a clear understanding of the guests and market demand dynamics. Revenue managers should not just crunch RMS numbers but need to understand guests’ selection behavior, consumer psychology and their competitors’ strategies by analyzing various pieces of information.

RMS cannot, therefore, be the only toolkit for a revenue manager, because customer data reside in different hotel systems. RMS should be integrated first with the property management system (PMS) to take into account the entire booking information, analytics, and reporting functions, as well as with other internal systems such as the central reservation system (CRS), point of sale (POS), the customer relationship management (CRM) system, competitive rate shopping software, channel management tools, the hotel’s own website, and various social media channels.

User-generated content is one way of learning about the guests’ needs and wants. By analyzing such content, revenue managers can identify their competitive advantage from the guest’s perspective and update their rate fence structure accordingly.

Moreover, external resources can help revenue managers in their decision-making. It is essential for revenue managers to broaden their view of their market by incorporating external market data in their planning to make sure their RM strategies correspond with market demand. Data supply services like STR and HotStats offer reports on hotel performance metrics and trends, as well as supply and demand analysis, market segmentation, and supply pipeline reports.

Some distribution partners also offer useful tools for revenue managers. For example, Expedia’s Rev+ helps hotels gauge their rates against competitors over the course of 90 days and alerts hotels to changes to rates over the course of the last 24 hours. Hotels can keep track of up to 20 competitors operating in their area and averages for the lowest rates are displayed in calendar form. Further, a forecasting tool helps hotels view demand for markets based on data captured across the portfolio of Expedia brand. These external systems and resources provide valuable data analytics that offer visibility into a specific area of a hotel’s positioning or market performance, relative to their competitors or even the entire market.

Effective revenue management strategy depends on integrated information to ensure revenue managers can react quickly when they need to. Thus, combining data from various systems and sources is an important issue, because RMS cannot exist as a standalone application. However, the different systems used by hotels do not always share all the transactional data because hotels typically acquire different systems at different times from different vendors.

Data integration is the process of identifying ways to bring data from disparate sources and combine them in a unified way to produce meaningful insights. This task, in itself, is not at all easy. It is the first challenge revenue managers face in connecting their different systems so that they work together and allow for seamless data transfer. Vivek Bhogaraju, director of global strategic alliances and initiatives at IDeaS Revenue Solutions, says “without better systems integration, companies may be missing opportunities to mine customer data for insights they can use to target guests with customized offers.”

Another challenge is turning all data into valuable, new insights. Information is powerful only if you can access and analyze it properly. Competent revenue managers should be able to pose the right questions and find answers through the careful interpretation of data and by providing actionable recommendations to all departments. To this end, revenue managers should be capable of communicating their analysis and strategy to all stakeholders in their hotels and then adjust their strategy based on feedback from the stakeholders.

Without capable revenue management professionals, sophisticated systems and data are no longer useful. Organizational structures also need to be reformed to promote teamwork and collaboration across departments and the revenue management director should report directly to the hotel’s general manager. Mike Chuma, vice president of product strategy for IDeaS, says too many revenue management teams still remain siloed and calls for RM teams to work closely with sales, marketing, F&B, and event teams.

From a revenue management perspective, not all guests are equal. Some guests may only make use of the hotel rooms but not the other facilities, while others may spend hundreds of dollars on F&B, leisure facilities, and spa treatments. Identifying those guests with a higher value to a hotel in the long run is extremely important in today’s market. In order to maximize long-term profits, hotels need to increase guests’ spending by satisfying their expectations and encouraging repeat visits. An increased amount of data does not automatically lead to better revenue management decisions but it should lead to more opportunities.

Key pillars of luxury hospitality: The soul

Key pillars of luxury hospitality: The soul | By Suzanne Godfrey

In a series of pieces on luxury hospitality based on interviews with leading hoteliers in Paris, Suzanne Godfrey examines key pillars that define the luxury hotel, or more specially, the Palace. Here she explores the need for the soul – the tangible and intangible, something that’s not wholly definable.

So far we’ve examined two key pillars of luxury hospitality: quality and consistency; and service and the emotional connection. Here we turn our attention to the third and final pillar: the soul of the luxury hotel or Palace. It’s a concept that’s hard to define, a confluence of elements that uniquely come together. We’ve talked about some of these before in the earlier articles but here we will bring them together in the context of creating a soul. It’s a result of history and heritage; one reason why some people in the industry question whether the newer hotels in Paris – The Peninsula, Mandarin Oriental, and Shangri-La – deserve the official designation of “Palace”, simply because they are too new.

As Laurence Bloch, Deputy Manager of the Plaza Athénée, Paris, says in terms of the history of the hotel, “of course, for me, you need a soul.” At a new hotel, she adds, you can’t create a soul. You have the ghost or you don’t have them … For me when I go into the Ritz Paris or the Bristol or the Plaza, it’s very different … to The Peninsula or Shangri-La.”

But it’s not just about history and heritage. It’s the result of other tangible elements: the location, the people – the creator and his or her vision, the clientele past and present, and employees – plus the resulting intangibles. Together, they make up the soul. This is not created overnight but as in all things luxury, it takes time. 50 years. 100 years. Or more…

Key pillars of luxury hospitality: The soul | By Suzanne Godfrey

Location: Where you are matters

According to Bloch, location is “very important for a luxury brand.” Your location makes a statement about who you are or who you aspire to be. It also defines your positioning in luxury. This applies to luxury hotels and not just Palaces, and is important for any luxury brand, not just in hospitality.

Take, for example, the locations of the Palace hotels in Paris. Their addresses range from the place Vendôme, rue St.- Honoré, rue de Rivoli, avenue Montaigne, avenue Kléber off la place Charles de Gaulle, avenue d’Iéna close to the Trocadéro, avenue George V, rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, place de la Concorde and avenue Hoche. Each arrondissement, each street – in fact its exact location on a street – brings with it a different character and a different expectation. For example, the Ritz: the center of haute joallerie; the Plaza Athénée: haute couture; Le Meurice: art and culture, as well as reflecting the elegance of the Tuileries Garden; Le Royal Monceau Raffles: local and residential … And, as a result, the hotel attracts a different clientele. The location, a sense of destination, a “sense of place” is important.

François Delahaye, Chief Operating Office of the Dorchester Collection and General Manager of Plaza Athénée, Paris, also stresses the importance of location. The luxury hotel, he says, needs to have a sense of history: “You need to have life. You cannot create a Palace out of nowhere. You need to be in the center of what’s happening. Your hotel needs to be the place to be.”

He continues: “The hotel needs to be the place to be inside also. By having all those restaurants, all those bars, which are bringing the Parisian within the city to have a coffee, to have a gastronomic meal at Alain Ducasse, to have use of the spa, to have use of the restaurants. (For) foreigners, when they are choosing a hotel, I think what is important for them is to be in the middle of what is going on in Paris.”.

Heritage: Defining who you are

The hotel’s history and heritage define who you are and what you are. Together they enhance the brand and are the result of the creator, the people (employees, clientele), the location, and ‘things’ that create the Palace, which are unique to the brand and the property.

As we highlighted in an earlier article on redefining luxury in hospitality, the brand’s heritage defines its unique signatures – what characterizes the hotel that is emblematic of the past and provides consistency into the future. For the Ritz Paris: the gold swan taps and room key, peach towels, the Hemingway and Ritz Bars, the acknowledgements to Coco Chanel that extend from the Coco Chanel Suite (almost always booked) to Chanel au Ritz, the newly-opened spa that offers the “art of skincare by Chanel.” For the Plaza Athénée: the color red and geraniums, the relationship with Dior that extends into expressions of haute couture and the Dior Institute. In everything there is a story that initially creates and then builds on the heritage of the hotel. For The Peninsula, Mandarin Oriental and Shangri-La, their heritage is of course Asian.

Heritage is also created through an iconic building, which has its own history and adds to the soul of individual properties.

Key pillars of luxury hospitality: The soul | By Suzanne Godfrey

Luxury and the creator

Luxury is always about the creator – their vision and, ultimately, their creations; and is fundamental to who they are as a brand. The same is true for luxury hotels. Consider César Ritz. Or, Charles-Augustine Meurice, a French postmaster in the business of transportation. He recognized the need – and opportunity – for English guests traveling from London to Paris to have somewhere to rest on arrival. Hence the location of Le Meurice but also a hotel designed with the (English) traveler in mind, which included an English bar, more like a Gentleman’s club, where English was spoken.

Key pillars of luxury hospitality: The soul | By Suzanne Godfrey

The clientele: Creating history and myths

The clientele help create not just the history but also the hotel’s aura. They create the distance – important to luxury – and its reputation, and the aspiration. They lend the hotel a unique ambience and character, adding to the ‘ego’ of the establishment. They help create the magic and the dream. They don’t need to be famous clients as such; all clients have the capacity to do this to some extent.

“(In) all those outstanding ‘old ladies’ there is a soul and that soul can only be given by clients (famous or otherwise),.” says Delahaye. “I think there is a soul there. They are looking for something.”

The Ritz Paris, for example, had a number of literary and artistic clientele, along with well-known aristocrats, who have helped create the mythology and stamped their own mark on the place. From Charlie Chaplin to Chanel, from Proust to Hemmingway. The Plaza Athénée attacted its share of film stars and celebrities but also had links with the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées and the fashion world of Christian Dior. After the war, Dior gave his models money to hang around the bar at the Plaza, in order to be seen. The tactic (and gossip) worked and the relationship benefited both the hotel and the House of Dior.

Key pillars of luxury hospitality: The soul | By Suzanne Godfrey

But it’s not just about the past. Today’s clientele also have an impact on the soul of the hotel and its current ambience. As Aaron Kaupp, General Manager of Le Royal Monceau Raffles, explains, when you’re traveling you don’t want to be constantly surrounded by expats and tourists. He says the clientele at his hotel’s F&B outlets are all locals. “You want to hang out where the locals hang out. Because 95 per cent of the time, where the locals hang out are the authentic spots and it makes you really get to live the culture.” Whether past or present, the clients are important to creating the soul of the hotel.

The employees: Yesterday, today and tomorrow

Employees convey the hotel’s unique culture, its DNA and spirit. They deliver a particular style of service based on the brand’s values and its service philosophy. They reflect the past, they represent the present, and they help create the future.

Just to demonstrate how important employees are, the Ritz Paris rehired more than 200 people when the hotel reopened last year. Consequently, they now have a combination of “old” – or rather former staff – plus new staff. “Ex” staff have the knowledge and experience; retaining them was important. They help provide the familiarity and the recognition – as a guest, you know them and they know you. They have the ‘memory’, which helps deliver the personal service and consistency. “Guests find the same service but with a little twist, something different … (because) we introduced new trends, new things,” says Jean-Pierre Trevisan, the hotel’s Director of Operations.

It’s not just about qualifications and diplomas – although they help of course. Sébastien Chebaiki, who handles guest relations at the Plaza Athénée, Paris, says: “It’s about knowing your client, plus (having) a genuine attitude. You do it because you want to do it and not because you get paid for it. It’s about the detail. Just small things … It’s understanding the psychology of the guest.” That means having the right attitude and possessing the human touch. This isn’t something you can accomplish through training. It’s about being innovative, caring, passionate and committed. In short, it’s more than just a job.

It’s also about giving employees the autonomy to make decisions on the spot and be empowered to act spontaneously on them. That comes with trust; in hiring the right people with the right attitude. People that genuinely care and are sensitive to the client’s needs, who can read their body language and interpret the guest’s tone of voice. And, as a manager, being a good role model and able to connect with employees.

The overall experience: The ‘wow!’ effect

Finally, the soul is a result of the overall experience you create. The sum of all the things we’ve highlighted.

Delahaye, of the Dorchester Collection and Plaza Athénée, talks of creating a ‘wow!’ experience. “I think we are selling experiences. We are in a strange business because the only thing you have when we finish what we are doing is the feeling in your pockets. So you need to bring a ‘wow!’ experience for the guest to come back, to get that experience again.”

That feeling can be inspired by all sorts of things, both little and big. Delivering something unexpected, surprising, novel, unique. Whether it’s a view of the Eiffel Tower whilst immersed in the bath or in a relatively small service. The taste of a drink or a meal, its presentation. In the architect or designer responsible for the décor, the chandeliers, lighting and chairs. The art. The ambience. The people. It’s about creating ‘magic’ and delivering this – and the dream – to each individual guest, all the time.

Key pillars of luxury hospitality: The soul | By Suzanne Godfrey

This is what we should all aspire to, whether at a Palace or a luxury boutique hotel. This is what today’s luxury hotel guests are looking for. This is what differentiates you, as a Palace, from the rest and why Palace hotels can charge as much as they do, for the pleasure and experience they create.

LKC Boutique Drinks Launched on the Greek Market – Featuring Aspall Perronelle’s Blush Suffolk Cyder

Aspall Cyder is produced in England and is still owned and managed by the eighth generation of the family of the founder Clement Chavallier. It’s one of  the top ten oldest family businesses in UK. Since it begin, in 1728, production has been based at Debenham in Suffolk, amongst 90000 sqm of biological plants. During the production process they use different apple varieties, since no single variety of it’s own provides the desired characteristics to ensure a balanced cyder.

The combination of the different varieties in Aspall cyder incorporates the best characteristics of each. Depending on the variety you get sweetness, acidity, apple flavour, and together provides an intense aroma, with a full body and a “complicated” long lasting taste. The quality and stylish packaging of Aspall cyder has been awarded many times and is recognised as a Cool Brand the last 3 years. Enjoy each Aspall cyder lightly cooled. If Aspall is served chilled then the flavour and aromas are suppressed. Pour in a clean empty glass and enjoy it on its own or as a perfect accompaniment to a meal.

The name comes from the lady who inspired the product (Perronelle Chevallier) – who in previous times ran the business and was well known for her rosy red cheeks. The key ingredient is the mix of fresh berries in the recipe, the ones she was collecting from the Aspall grounds.

Perronelle’s Blush Suffolk Cyder has an intense pink colour, delicious apple and blackberry notes with under sweet taste, long lasting and balanced acidity. Ideal as an aperitif or excellent choice for all sort of creamy desserts.


All you need is love (and supervisor support)

Businesses everywhere seek to retain key staff, but it turns out that one successful strategy can be found in the Beatles’ song, ‘All You Need Is Love’. A study that focuses on employee job satisfaction finds that loving family support is critical to encouraging workers to stay in their jobs. Beyond that, a second study outlines the importance of manager support for a balance between work and family responsibilities.

In a study entitled, ‘A matter of love: Exploring what enables work-family enrichment,’ I worked with Mireia las Heras and Maria Jose Bosch to survey 157 people in Spain, as well as conduct a series of interviews of three groups representing the highest family enrichment scores, middling scores, and low scores. Our sample included highly-educated dual-income couples with relatively well-paid jobs.

As we identified the contributors to enrichment, one factor emerged above all. This resource, which we labeled “agape love,” is only generated in the family role. Agape love is characterized by loving (and being loved by) others unconditionally and giving of oneself. Other aspects of agape love include exclusivity and a long-term perspective in which one understands a partner’s needs, thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Additional home resources thus generated include couple congruence, parenting experience, and share of caring responsibilities.

To test this newly-identified aspect of work-family balance, we conducted a quantitative survey of 302 employees at a firm in Chile. The results of this study confirmed that family-to-work enrichment is driven by such factors as love from one’s spouse and love for children.

We also found, however, that a person’s intrinsic motivation modifies this relationship. Here’s how that works: when individuals are highly energized by intrinsic motives, love in the family is less relevant in making a difference in the workplace. Indeed, we found a strong direct relationship between intrinsic motivation and family-to-work enrichment.

Our findings in this first study point to family-supportive policies in the workplace. However, a second study reinforces this idea by specifically identifying the importance of support from managers.

This study, which I conducted with Mireia Las Heras and Pablo I. Escribano, focused directly on the effect of satisfaction with work-family balance and turnover intentions. We conducted a study of 340 individuals working for multinational companies operating in Argentina. As I explain below, we concluded that family-supportive environments in organizations facilitate greater satisfaction with work-family experiences, and, in turn, this drives lower intentions to leave the company.

Underlying this study is the idea of social-exchange relationships. Such relationships go beyond tangible or quantifiable rewards to include exchanges of socially-relevant rewards. The exchange in this case includes things like gaining social status and recognition in exchange for loyalty, commitment, and involvement.

Once again, employees’ satisfaction with work-family balance is an important factor in their favorable feelings towards their job – and those favorable feelings make it less likely for workers to look elsewhere for employment. We note that satisfaction with work-family balance comprises three aspects: time, involvement, and overall satisfaction. Thus, the balance includes an equal amount of time dedicated to work and family roles, an equal level of psychological involvement in work and family roles, and an equal level of satisfaction with work and family roles.

We wanted to find out whether employees in our study believed that their firm maintained a family-supportive environment, and whether their supervisor specifically supported a balance between work and family. So, to address supervisor support, for example, we asked them to rate the following statement: “My supervisor is willing to listen to my problems in juggling work and non-work life.” And to get a sense of whether their firm had a family-supportive environment, we asked them to evaluate the following proposition (which scores in reverse): “To get ahead at this organization, employees are expected to work more than 50 hours a week, whether at the workplace or at home.” Finally, we asked them about their satisfaction with work-family balance and about their turnover intentions.

We found that supportive supervisor behavior was significantly related to a work-family-friendly culture. Although these factors significantly reduced turnover intentions, this turnover-reducing effect was noticeably magnified by satisfaction with work-family balance.

In summary, we concluded that employees no longer want their employer to determine how they will focus their attention, energy, and time, with no consideration of balance between work and family, and little thought given to employees’ own preferences. The good news for employers in this study is that employees who are allowed to decide how to allocate their own resources best are more committed to their jobs. Combining this idea with our first study, we find a virtuous cycle of mutual support between work and home and family

Social Media Marketing in the Hotel Industry: Trends and Opportunities in 2017

Social Media Marketing in the Hotel Industry: Trends and Opportunities in 2017

As social media platforms gain traction in usage rates and become ubiquitous in day-to-day life through the proliferation of mobile devices, they are proving to be valuable marketing channels, especially when targeting younger consumers. Although several prominent hotel brands have begun to scratch the surface of utilizing these social media channels for marketing and bookings, the state of this practice in North America is in its infancy. Other technology giants around the world have already capitalized on this opportunity with their social-media, mobile-adept user base. Nonetheless, the mass adoption of digital payment in North America is likely to take place in the near future given that technology companies are actively working out the technological and legislative challenges. The advent of digital payment has the potential to create new challenges for the North American hotel industry, but with these challenges comes opportunities for those who have done their groundwork.

Hoteliers should embrace the new ways people are communicating and be ready for the changes in consumer behavior and expectations that are on the horizon. By being up to date with social media marketing trends and developing a dynamic online presence, hotel companies can quickly adapt to the disruption and achieve an early adopter advantage when attracting business from tech-savvy millennials.

Mobile Device & Social Media Growth

Globally, the number of mobile device subscriptions has seen exponential growth over the past decade. At the end of 2016, there were 4.8 billion unique mobile subscribers—65% of the world’s population. By 2020, it is estimated that there will be 5.7 billion mobile subscribers, representing a mobile phone penetration rate of 73%. The growth in mobile device usage has transformed the travel and tourism industry; travel bookings are increasingly occurring through mobile devices. Consumer engagement has begun to shift towards mobile platforms, and rightfully so; the vast reach and worldwide interconnectivity of mobile devices make them a suitable platform for commerce. As mobile device penetration rates strengthen globally, consumer engagement through this platform is only expected to strengthen.

Social media usage is likewise on the rise. Today, digital consumers are spending more time on social networks and messaging platforms than ever before. It is thus important for hotels to have a brand presence and a marketing effort on social media channels, especially since social media marketing has been proven to be more effective than traditional marketing (when utilized correctly). Social media marketing allows for two-way communication between consumers and customers; this interactive element helps companies cement a long-term consumer following. Additionally, social media marketing supports the real-time promotion of new products and services, all while yielding measurable consumer data that can be further leveraged to target, engage, and grow a base of consumers.

Popular social media networks—Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat—are steadily growing on a global scale. The following chart shows the number of active users over time on each of these social media networks. Most of these social media networks have achieved stellar year-over-year growth in daily active users; the only exception is Twitter, whose user-growth trajectory seems to have plateaued. With the rapid growth in these social media channels, the pool of potential consumers that they provide access to is also growing in tandem. Significantly, all of these potential consumers are directly accessible through marketing on these channels.

Social Media Marketing in the Hotel Industry: Trends and Opportunities in 2017 | By Jimmy Quach

New Opportunities from the Rise of Consumer Sharing

Digital media is ever moving towards greater consumer empowerment and content creation given the ease with which digital media (particularly photos and videos) can be transmitted through mobile platforms and the internet. As part of sharing their own content and experiences through pictures and videos, users are also spreading digital word-of-mouth about a brand, a product, or an experience to their personal networks, which can reach a substantial audience. Geo-locational tags and brand hashtags allow user posts to be found via metadata searches, thereby increasing the reach of such posts.

Hotels can capitalize on this trend by motivating consumers to use branded hashtags or specific hashtags that are relevant to a current promotion or event. For example, Starwood hotels launched a campaign in 2016 to encourage the #SPGLife branded hashtag on Instagram. Posts with this hashtag feed into the Starwood website’s guest gallery of user-generated content, where visitors can also book a hotel room directly via a link. A simple hashtag is effective because it allows users to easily discover related content through a search filter.

Influencer Marketing

In influencer marketing, an individual’s expertise, popularity, or reputation is used to sway someone’s thoughts and purchasing behavior. Although this method of marketing has been used for decades, the rise of social media platforms that allow for user-generated content has empowered more people from all walks of life to become influencers. Additionally, social media platforms have an added a layer of measurability to influencer marketing that go beyond mere conversions/sales, such as cost per thousand impressions (CPM), inbound links, and lead growth (number of followers, social mentions, etc.). With these added metrics, businesses can more accurately identify their return on investment against marketing dollars spent.

In 2015, Starwood Hotels experimented with Snapchat geofilters at some of its W Hotels to see how guests would use them. Geofilters allow users of Snapchat to add a sponsor-created geolocational tag to their photo or video message (coined “Snap”) that can only be used when sending a Snap within a sponsor-defined geographical area (e.g., within a 10-metre radius of the hotel). The usage rates and number of views for the geofilters were well above what Starwood had anticipated, indicating that Snapchat may be a viable option for future brand marketing initiatives.

Marriott Hotels recently launched a Snapchat campaign that features social influencers who created organic content on the brand’s Snapchat account to showcase the brand’s loyalty program and several hotels around the world. The social influencers also used their own Snapchat accounts to broadcast their experience to their followers, hoping to create brand awareness among millennial travellers in the process.

Opportunities for Personalization

Within the hospitality industry, improved personalization is coterminous with a higher level of service. As such, hotel companies are attempting to personalize communications by interacting with consumers through their mobile device. Mobile phones are often perceived as an extension of an individual, or as an intimate partner that accompanies a person into almost every aspect of daily life. Reaching an individual through their mobile phone thus has the benefit of seeming like a personal interaction. To capture this opportunity for more personalized interaction, hotel companies must become phone-friendly and create the infrastructure necessary to allow guests to interact with the hotel easily and meaningfully through their mobile device.

Personalization through the mobile phone ecosystem and social media platforms is constantly evolving. Personalization can occur on a broad level, such as an interaction between a brand’s social media channel and a consumer account, or on a more granular level, such as communication between a hotel guest and the hotel’s guest services team through a messaging application. From an advertising standpoint, several social media platforms have launched dynamic advertising whereby a consumer’s recent travel searches will trigger personalized advertisements, which present a touchpoint for possible consumer conversion (by a direct hotel booking, for example). This represents a critical opportunity for hotel companies, particularly since the use of online travel agents (OTAs) diminishes the profitability of a hotel. In 2016, IHG began using Dynamic Ads on Facebook to target “high-potential” customers with personalized advertisements—and live pricing—based on searches, which yielded an increase in the brand’s ability to reach relevant travellers and a lower cost per booking. In the big picture, social media channels are beneficial to hotel companies because they offer an opportunity to create personalized interactions with consumers, which can be leveraged to yield more direct online bookings.

Digital Payment Platforms: A New Opportunity

With the proliferation of mobile devices and internet access around the world, the use of digital payment has seen accelerated growth. According to Allied Market Research, “the global mobile payments market is estimated to reach $3,388 billion by 2022, representing a compounded annual growth rate of 33.4% from 2016 to 2022,” with the Asia–Pacific region accounting for most of this growth. The North American market, although far from mass adoption, is amenable to digital payment. Based on the 2016 North American Consumer Digital Payments Survey, consumers are becoming increasingly aware of digital payment options, and American consumers responded that they foresee being more likely to use mobile payment apps and mobile wallet apps in 2020 than in 2016.

For the North American hotel industry, the projected adoption of digital payment, along with the growth of social media users, is an opportunity for direct booking and quicker conversions directly through mobile devices. In China, for example, mobile payment has already become part of daily life—the country is advanced in this area relative to North America. The two major digital payment platforms in use there, WeChat Wallet and Alipay Wallet, have enabled digital payment through mobile devices and have had incredible success in adoption; this form of payment is accepted at almost all vendors in major cities. Notably, WeChat has evolved from a person-to-person messaging application to an all-in-one social-media, messaging, and digital-wallet application. The integration of a mobile digital wallet into the social media and messaging application has allowed users to send money to each other and/or make purchases entirely through the WeChat ecosystem. Through the account feed of a vendor, users can pay for not only restaurants and retail purchases but also such things as utility bills and public services, all through their mobile wallet. Through WeChat, vendors are able to offer discounts or reward loyalty points, thereby further incentivizing the use of the channel. For example, the Kempinski Hotel in Chengdu has launched a function that allows direct bookings through its official WeChat account and also provides a discount or an amenity to those using this channel. In the case of WeChat, hoteliers were able to directly tap into a pool of daily active consumers and generate conversions through the social media messaging platform.

In North America, digital wallets such as Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, Android Pay, and PayPal exist; however, mobile users lag in adoption. Traditional forms of payment, such as cards, are not yet seen as “broken,” so many consumers don’t see a need for change. As digital payment adoption is expected to grow in future years, it is important for hotel brands to keep up with consumer expectations. Given that the evolution of messaging applications into mobile-purchasing ecosystems has already started, hotel companies need to be in a position to provide digital payment options in anticipation of the change in consumer behavior, especially since this will be key to protecting the online reputation of the company. In Canada, a 2016 study into mobile wallet usage by the Nielsen Company found that 76% of respondents would switch to a mobile wallet as their primary mode of payment if all reward programs would honour mobile transactions, 75% would make such a change if more merchants accepted mobile transactions, and 74% would do so if rewards programs and mobile wallets could be integrated to redeem rewards instantly. Therefore, an opportunity may exist for hotel companies to integrate their rewards programs with digital payment.

In North America, hotels are slow in the adoption of mobile payment platforms that take the form of a digital wallet. Nonetheless, several hotel brands have implemented the use of messaging platforms that allow guests to interact with customer service agents and even property-specific guest service agents, and also book directly (but without digital wallet capabilities). Through brand-specific native applications, third-party applications, and established messaging applications such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, hotel brands are experimenting with personalized guest communication, which will likely lead to a more seamless adoption of mobile payment at a later date. In 2014, for example, Starwood Hotels launched “Let’s Chat,” which allows guests to communicate with the company’s guest service team at more than 150 properties worldwide through WhatsApp, BlackBerry Messenger, or iMessage at any time, from anywhere.

Social Media Marketing in the Hotel Industry: Trends and Opportunities in 2017 | By Jimmy Quach

Moreover, Hyatt hotels was the first to provide customer service through the Facebook Messenger platform following the launch of Facebook’s Businesses on Messenger in 2015. Through the platform, Hyatt customer-service agents can help with bookings worldwide, and also respond to guest requests.

Social Media Marketing in the Hotel Industry: Trends and Opportunities in 2017 | By Jimmy Quach

Hotel brands clearly see an opportunity in tapping into the vast user base among these messaging platforms, and they are beginning to implement these platforms as a means of communicating with guests. The personal experience of messaging builds loyalty and guest engagement even as the messaging platform serves as another vehicle for direct bookings; however, the mobile ecosystem in North America has not gained as much traction as other markets internationally. Nonetheless, the continued growth of mobile devices and social media users is expected to align with digital payment in the near future, thereby connecting a pool of potential consumers with seamless mobile purchasing platforms once digital payments become mainstream.


The tactics and tools employed in social media marketing within the hotel industry are constantly evolving. Companies that are early adopters of new social media marketing tools hope to gain an edge over the competition; being first to the plate can yield success, but it is not without risk, both of failure and of squandered resources. For hoteliers to remain relevant in this dynamic field, it is essential to understand the pulse of current technology trends within the hotel industry, and be prepared for changes in consumer behaviour. A positive outlook remains for the hotel industry as companies continue to expand their scope of social media marketing. Meanwhile, the mass market is inexorably moving towards the adoption of digital payment; its anticipated convergence with social media and messaging platforms will generate new opportunities for personalization, engagement, and conversion.

The Magic of Metamorphosis: Organizational Change and Inspirational Leadership

They say that our security can only be found in our ability to adapt and he who rejects change designs his nemesis. Corporate culture has undergone radical change, and the need to align business models with these changes has proved a challenge if the right channels of implementation are not used. In the contemporary business environment, challenges have had a new twist due to technological advancements, globalization as well as competition. In such a world, it is not the biggest and most endowed who can thrive but those who will strongly embrace transformation. It is, however, important to remember that people are the stakeholders of change and without the right perceptions, organizational change cannot be effective.

Leaders have emerged as vital tools of organizational change implementation. The organizational change stems from leadership which involves the ability of an individual to influence others to follow them. Leaders are diverse, and each of them follows their style and strategy to implement change in an organization. Styles and strategies may vary especially due to the contemporary challenges of the ever-evolving business world. Leaders using the right strategies have managed to fight of organizational resistance to change by convincing people that change is healthy and will guide them to the right direction which will ensure sustainability in the modern business setting. In a bid to stay relevant in the challenging world, leaders have been perceived as important drivers of transformation success. Let’s make an analysis of the role of leadership in organizational change as well as the various leadership styles and strategies that leaders can adopt to overcome the problem of resistance to change.

Organizational Change

Organizational change can be defined as the review and modification of management processes and business structures. An organization adds or removes a significant practice in the business model which then requires being further integrated into the business processes. It is a fundamental strategy for survival and competitive advantage due to the rapid changes facing the business world. Just like human beings evolve in various stages, organizations also face some changes as they develop to become mature brands.

Kurt Lewin’s change model presents organizational change as a freeze-movement-refreeze situation whereby change is introduced, integrated and then allowed to solidify within the normal routine. Stage theory of organizational change postulates that a company undergoes four progressive stages before it fully transitions from one state to the other. The four phases include identifying the need which triggers a need for change, decision making to help identify a solution to the need, change the implementation of change and evaluation of change implementation. The four stages of organizational change need to follow systematically to ensure the correct application of organization change as a strategy to competitive advantage as well as sustainability. However various market orientations have different requirements and expectations which call for different strategies by which organizations must adapt to thrive in strong harmony with customers and other stakeholders.

Organizational change is done to enhance business processes as well as performance but also involves changing people’s behaviors to align with the new practices. The Carnegie school theory was developed in mid-1950 and aimed to exemplify the drivers of stability and change in an organization. The theory states that organizations engage in change when they face failure in their current business procedures. If the current nature of the business model, technical feasibility, human resource policies and organization culture do not lead the company towards their goals, then it leads to a failure induced need for change. The Carnegie school theory states that the source for stability in the organization are the routine procedures and programs in the business and when the standard practices do not help develop stability in the business, then the need for change arises. The major reason for the change is to tighten up organizational procedure to ensure more efficiency for the optimization of resources.

People don’t like change and attempts to implement change may be futile if not done with the proper change management techniques. Change management is a vital aspect of successful organizational change and refers to the methodology used to transition employees and organizational procedures to the new methods intended to bring about optimization of organization resources and profitability as well as a significant reduction of costs. In, essence, change management how management plans to reshape how the enterprise works to fit more realistic and achievable goals depending on the nature of the business and the environment. Concerning change management, it is important to understand what change entails to have a clear picture of what to consider while designing a change plan.

There are various elements of organizational change depending on the motive and nature of the business environment. Perpetual change is one of the elements of change in an organization since in essence the modern business world is tough and requires constant upgrade and re-engineering of business processes. Perpetual change involves constant transitioning of the operational course to suit the needs of the dynamic business world. The second element of organizational change is the need to change lenses. Business needs to apply different lenses in their change management all which include political, marketing, economic as well as cultural lenses to be able to develop viable procedures for change development and management. The third element to be considered during the process of organizational change is employee psychology. With so much transition and downshift, employees may become frustrated and confused by the changes which may act by undermining their ability to work since they feel threatened by the alterations. The final element of organizational change is the nature of the approach used. The change management approach applied should be consistent with company’s mission and vision as well as obeys legal requirements. Leaders and decision makers need to consider all these elements to ensure the successful transition of business processes.

Role of Leadership in Organizational Change

Successful change implementation highly depends on the contribution of individuals holding direct authority and power. To achieve successful transformation, there must be a change agent with a robust understanding of the nature of business processes and organizational context. Organizational change is an integrative process that requires the involvement of all elements in an organization which include the human resource element, operating systems and technologies adopted. Leaders hold a central character in change management and development in organizations by neutralizing the frustrations and confusion created by the modifications, ensuring that the transformation is less painful or tense. The process of transitioning human attitudes and behaviors is very sensitive, and leaders act as a buffer by ensuring a balance between human characteristics and successful transitioning. Special leadership attributes places leaders in a strategic position, valuable enough to play the role of a change agent.

Companies continue to face tough times which create a lot of difficulties and threaten their survival. The capabilities of corporate leaders can make a huge difference in driving the business towards the right type of change. The primary focus of leaders and managers here is to effect continuous efforts that allow for successful change. Organizational change by itself requires the development of new organizational arrangements which are then required to be implemented.

Leaders are in a good position to influence masses to accept change as well as explain procedures for how this can go about. Leaders sponsor change in the organization by advocating for the need to have new processes and techniques in the organization. The ability to influence change while ensuring to meet the needs of stakeholders, therefore, requires very crucial skills and abilities. Leaders’ help employees gain a clear perspective of the changes and exemplify the importance of adopting such change thereof. They will often communicate the nature of modification and interpret any information gaps that may hinder complete change implementation among the employees. Leaders play the role of being role models in change management by exhibiting behaviors and attitudes that are consistent with the intended change. Employees will normally look out to leaders and will be more empowered to embrace change if the leaders accept it. Most important of all, leaders hold direct authority in an organization which means that they can manipulate resources and decisions so that employees can be fully engaged in the change process. True leaders acknowledge the value of training and mentorship and ensure to set aside resources for such factors.

Leadership styles and skills

The ability to embrace change highly depends on the way the change is managed. It is very important for a leader to be charismatic, emotionally intelligent and transformational for him to have the desired impact during the organizational transition. Various situations and the need for change motives require different leadership traits and styles for there to be the successful implementation of change. Transformational, charismatic leadership styles and emotional intelligence allow a leader to remain focused and influential in the change process.

The leadership skills and style create an impact on the employees with which change implementation is achieved. If the leader has the right set of skills, then they can trigger a desirable attitude among the employees who drives the success of the strategy. Employee involvement is one of the most important skills required by a leader in ensuring effective influence. Employees need to be engaged and consulted during change development and implementation since the change mostly affects them. Involving employees not only motivates employees to embrace change but also helps them understand the nature and reason for the change.

A leader needs to have strong communication skills for them to have the right influence on the employees. A leader with the right communication skills will be able to interpret complex procedures simply and will also be able to raise the right attitude in the employees whenever there is a training or mentorship program.

Leaders with good communication skills will often promote healthy team work and work relationships which in turn foster a good working environment whereby change is easy to inject. Good leaders need to have the right personal values so that they can be good role models to the employees. This requires leaders to be flexible and easily adjustable to change so that he can lead the way for others to follow. To be able to generate positive outcomes from organizational change development, leaders are required to have the emotional intelligence to ensure that as they teach other to embrace change, they maintain patience and composure. Leaders who give in to emotions may exhibit poor communication and employees may pretend to embrace change just to make such a leader satisfied.

Successful change implementation highly depends on the personal decision and motivation to transform, and when a leader exhibits poor emotional management ability, they discourage employees from wholeheartedly accepting the change and may not feel free to inquire when faced with difficulty. It is possible to achieve successful organizational change so long as there are successful leadership support and procedural effectiveness all which depend on the leadership skills of the leader.

Leadership theories

With the perpetual change, leaders need to have the ability to analyze situations and make rapid responses. Having the right skills orientation and the strength to cope with different situations makes a leader more effective in their role. It can be hard to identify true leaders who can be change agents in an organization. Various theories have been postulated to explain the nature of leaders and how to identify good leaders. The great man theory of leadership states that leadership is inborn and cannot be developed. This theory states that a true leader is born with the rightful leadership skills and is automatically able to use them as they grow up, up to the time they have corporate responsibilities. Based on this theory, leaders can be identified from their leadership history and how well they can be natural leaders. This theory was opposed by Herbert Spencer since he stated that the ability to use any inborn abilities highly depends on the social conditions a person is exposed to while growing up.

The behavioral theory, on the other hand, identifies true leaders as those who exhibit favorable behaviors characterized by the right skills, attitudes as well as personal beliefs. The theory has been opposed since it assumes the physical, mental and social aspects of the leader. The trait theory states that a leader with the right abilities can be identified by the traits they exhibit in the day to day roles. Traits such as intelligence as well as mental health depict the ability of a person to lead. The theory gives a logical explanation but fails to outline how these traits apply to the various leadership styles and situations.

Change is inevitable and as the business world evolves it has become mandatory for organizations to change their operational causes to survive the competition and customer expectations. In this light, organizational change has emerged as an important topic of study. The need for successful organizational change has placed a lens on the role played by leadership in ensuring such change thereof. Leaders are important in the process of organization transition since they ensure good mentorship, training as well as motivation to employees with the aim of influencing them to embrace change. Embracing change requires employees to have the right attitudes and perceptions while most importantly hold a deep understanding of the change in procedures and practices. Leaders uphold positive outcomes in organizational change so long as they have the right set of skills. Charismatic and transformational leadership styles are the strongest drivers of change in an organization. Such style combined with the right set of skills place leaders at a very crucial position in organizational change and development.

Hospitality Financial Leadership – Ego is Not Part of the Recipe

“If you want to be more than a flash in the pan, you must be prepared to focus on the long term. We will learn that though we think big, we must act and live small to accomplish what we seek. Because we will be action and education focused, and forgo validation and status in their pursuit, our ambition will not be grandiose but iterative—one foot in front of the other, learning and growing and putting in the time.” Ryan Holidays – Ego is the Enemy

In the financial leaders’ world, ego will not serve them well. Ego will put distance between them and their audience. Ego would have a leader being the star of the show and there would only be one act in the play.

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Knowing how to get non-financial leaders to produce amazing results through their creativity and leadership support to manufacture this product on a continuous stream.

If one succumbs to ego they take themselves out of the game as if they were once a star but now they are too important to engage and really find out what the other leaders need. Being ego driven means the financial leader is hiding out. He or she wears the ego like a thin suit of armor to deflect any legitimate acknowledgement that maybe they do not have all the answers after all. Ego serves to tell them they are too important to go to that level of engagement. This is a big mistake because they miss seeing what is really going on and miss the opportunity to change it. “Can’t fix what we can’t see.”

Einstein said, “More the knowledge lesser the ego, lesser the knowledge more the ego.”

This quote really sums things up quite well. Egotistical people really lack the knowledge because they have shut down. They are closed for business. They cannot learn and grow if they are shut down. The game is an incremental day in day out, conversation after conversation, idea after idea, support after support, financial leadership is a relationship-building deposit-based enterprise. Leaders out-give constituents. That is what makes them tick successfully. Ego has no place in this environment.

I once worked with a financial leader who made it a point and even verbalized the fact that he only spoke with members of the executive team. He was too important to speak to anyone else. According to him the idea of communicating with anyone else was a waste of time and beneath him.

Well, the truth was he was hiding out. He was not comfortable communicating with anyone who might challenge his way of seeing the world of his business. What a waste to leave out so many inputs that are there to help shape and grow a vibrant, continually evolving and growing business landscape!

The other interesting aspect of this example is the chief executive allowed and even condoned this behavior. Information is the currency of leadership. If leaders want more currency, they need to embrace leadership practices that allow for its accumulation.

Ego and hiding out will not produce more currency.

What are egotistical people afraid of? They are afraid of the very real possibility that they do not have all the answers, some of the answers, or even the answer. Rather than giving up their fake self-image they hold onto it and believe in it. Ego is not who they really are and inside they know this is the case. Yet it is too scary to let go, or seemingly to scary. However, ego is only a habit. This is the good news. Let go and have that next conversation and acknowledge that maybe “I don’t know everything and I’m willing to learn.”

Tips To Operate With Living Wage In The British Hospitality Sector

The UK finds itself in tumultuous times – uncertainty has become somewhat of the norm. Besides questions raised about Brexit implications – ranging from the devaluation of the Pound and the resulting increase in operating costs to securing continued access to qualified and motivated labour – additionally, hotel and restaurant operators have had to deal with new, recently introduced governmental policies and regulations further impacting the bottom line.

On this basis, I sat down with Mark Kuperman, Chief Operating Officer at Revenue Management Solutions (RMS). Mark and his team assist the hospitality industry by providing data-driven solutions to better manage revenues. RMS takes “the guess work out of crucial business decisions while optimizing gross profit and protecting brand value.” Mark and I spoke about how a significant number of employees in the UK received their biggest pay rise to date as the National Living Wage leapt to £7.50 an hour on April 6th, 2017. In line with Chancellor Philip Hammond’s Autumn Statement and Spring Budget announcement, more than two million employees over the age of 25 benefited from the 4% increase. Further to this, 21- to 24-year-olds received a rise of 10 pence per hour. This is in a bid to reach the government’s target of £9 per hour by 2020 for over 25s, with further demand to extend this increase to 21- to 24-year-olds. According to Tahola, an industry’s leading business analytics provider, this could result in operators facing an annual increase of £100,912.50. However, it’s not just labour costs that will hit operators; planned increases in employer pension contributions from 1% to 3% could elevate the cost to operators to more than £109,000 by 2020.

It is thus quite clear that UK hotel and restaurant operators must become smarter in navigating this challenging business environment, which, in the recent past, has put a lot of pressure on the bottom line. Consensus within the industry is that many restaurant operators will be forced, amongst other operational levers, to raise menu prices, whilst streamlining their staffing structure. However, Mark believes there are other ways to effectively offset rising labour costs — without the need to cut staff or dramatically increase prices. Here are some of his suggestions.

1) Better align staffing needs to optimise labour costs:

It may sound obvious; however, it’s often something that gets overlooked by operators in search of shrewd ways to offset rising costs. Cutting staff is not the way, as this impacts the overall restaurant experience for customers. The key here is to manage the value equation in the eyes of customers and never consider raising prices, whilst cutting service levels. In fact, there’s the saying, “food brings them in and service drives them out.” Operators need to better align staffing needs, with consideration given to peak verses off-peak staffing rotas.

2) The importance of taking a demand-based approach to pricing:

Multi-site operators can go even further. Reviewing item-level data for each restaurant on a site-by-site basis across the estate will reveal which restaurants could be organised into different price bands based on customers’ reaction to previous price moves. Taking the customer’s willingness to spend into consideration will ensure customers continue to see value for money when visiting the brand. For operators to successfully navigate price barriers, they must first understand a customer’s willingness to spend. For many operators, increasing menu prices is inevitable. However, there are certain price barriers consumers are reluctant to cross. Therefore, it is important that operators don’t simply go ahead and increase prices, without first analysing customer sensitivity to pricing across all menu items. If done well, an operator can expect higher profits without any signs of customers changing their buying patterns and behaviours.

3) Technology is the most powerful tool to let staff “serve up a storm”:

For the first time ever, technology really is becoming the driving force within hospitality. In such a saturated marketplace, operators are turning to technology, to not only get ahead of the competition, but also to deliver on that all-important customer experience. Think kitchen automation, delivery, online ordering, digital tablet ordering and mobile payments – the list really is endless. The beauty of technology for operators is that it seamlessly steps in as a silent partner to take care of the customer journey, leaving staff to deliver on that all-important experience.

4) Get ahead of the times and have a game plan:

Unlike increases in food inflation, which are somewhat unpredictable, rises in labour costs can be planned for. As such, operators need to get a long-term plan in place to address these additional costs. In an environment of increasing costs, operators will be in a much stronger position if they make price changes in smaller increments, which are spread over time, not touching the same items in consecutive rounds, rather than implementing them in one hit. The luxury of having time to plan also means that operators can test the water and assess what works best for their business, employees and customers before rolling it out across their entire estate.

5) Profit versus efficiencies – spring clean your menu:

Streamlining the number of items offered on a menu will help reduce labour costs and indeed improve execution. Chefs should be looking at the operational impact of specific menu items to see if the way certain dishes are prepared impacts profitability or throughput. Operators need to consider whether they have menu items that are profitable, but actually slow down service. To give you an example, a quesadilla could be a profitable menu item, but the resource needed to prepare it could be, in fact, slowing down operations back-of-house. Therefore, operators need to give serious consideration to where there are bottlenecks in delivering operational efficiencies.

Mark thus urges the industry to be prepared and consider a variety of mechanisms available in one’s tool box to combat the current business environment. Over a recent lunch with Mike Williams, People Director at Byron, Mike and I concurred with Mark’s conclusion and recommendation. He said, “When faced with unprecedented operating cost increases, it can put the squeeze on even the best organisation. In the past, I have seen operations cut labour and costs to such a degree that employee engagement and the customer experience were both negatively impacted. Thus, a vicious circle begins… cutting costs because of decreased sales and thereby continuing to negatively affect the customer experience, which, in turn, puts further pressure on sales, resulting in a new round of cost cuttings.” Mike continued commenting, “The solution is not so one-dimensional in such a complex and competitive sector. A blend of investment in technology, culture, service and consumer research can give you the best of chances to take advantage of this shift in the sector. While competitors cut costs and deliver less for more, those who invest and who are proactive will gain market share and continued consumer support.” A senior industry executive spearheading business operations at another well-recognised casual dining brand added to Mike’s comment, saying, “In times like these, characterised by a tight (and tightening) labour market, recruitment and staffing become even more challenging. We have thus re-doubled our efforts in regards to cross-training and building an internal talent pipeline whilst also further fine-tuning our processes and standard operating procedures to identify new best practices. Whilst none of this is revolutionary in itself, or even new, organisations are well advised to use these new market pressures and realities to re-direct and focus their efforts and energy.”

Cuba – A land that time forgot…

Have you ever fantasized what it would be like to be a Band member of the Buena Vista Social Club, take part in an episode of Lost, or go on a wild ride in Dr. Who’s Tardis – because that’s how a trip to Cuba would feel? As soon as one steps off the plane, the sights, sounds and smells of this place will whisk your senses away to a land that time forgot. Being stuck in a track of a vinyl record or a time vortex is what Cuba feels like.

For a photographer, a voyeur of architecture, a history buff, a 50’s car enthusiast, a Rum or cigar lover – this has to be on your list of must see – a bucket list item of the highest magnitude.

You require a Visa to enter Cuba. Check the Cuban government’s website to locate the nearest city where you can obtain one. Before the plane descends into Havana, the crew will spray the cabin for bugs. And be prepared to wait an hour for your luggage after you de-plane (have water and a fan with you – it’s hot!). They x-ray everything and bags come out 1-by-1. The ride into town is about 30 minutes, and after sunset, some of the streets are pitch black and riddled with pot holes. They tell me Cuba is a safe place. And they could be right as I never felt threatened while walking the streets late into the night.

Don’t expect to go to Cuba to bathe in luxury, or experience haute cuisine either. It just isn’t there. On the whole, the people seem friendly – but it’s one of the world’s cultures thatthey don’t know what they don’t know – and if you expect a five-star experience, you will be sadly disappointed – especially when paying five star prices for some things such as internationally publicised accommodations and meals at so-called, top restaurants.

Going out for a drink – a Mojito, Daiquiri or Cuba Libre – which one must at least try once when in Havana, can vary in taste from place to place – but the prices are very similar. A meal too can vary tremendously in both quantity and quality – regardless of what you pay. There is often a disconnect between cost and product. Veggie options are available, but don’t over expect simply because the raw materials lack in availability and quality. Cabbage, carrots, onions, sweet potato and tomatoes are the staple veggies – and long grain rice (that’s not the Asian type). For water drinkers like me, Aqua Panna and San Pellegrino are readily available, as well as a local spring water. Tap water is not potable.

If you seek international fast food fare – forget it. It does not exist. None of the names populating the high streets across the globe can be found here. Not even a clone. And if you want to use a public toilet (even in a restaurant), best to take your own tissues and wet wipes with you and be prepared to tip the Attendant.

One thing you will find is consistent inconsistencies – one day something will be prepared or cleaned in a certain manner, and the next time, it’s very different. Yes, this is a Training and Management issue, but like I said earlier,they don’t know what they don’t know and the talent pool is very thin.

Hotels can perform currency exchange, but it’s probably best to go to a money changer – “CADECA”. However, be prepared to wait in a queue under the hot sun for possibly 30-60 minutes as they process one by one inside a small shop guarded by a security guard sat on a chair inside a cool room, operating the manual lock. Oh, and did I say, they close for lunch? ATM’s are few and far between, and reject most international cards especially if they have a US link. You may be best to warn your bank card provider that you are going to Cuba to let them unblock the card. Phone roaming may also be an issue.

There are several wonderful watering holes around. Often Hotel lobbies serve drinks and snacks, and they are sometimes accompanied by live music that can be quite outstanding. If there is anything that marks life in Havana – it’s the abundance of amazing musical talent in almost ever bar in the city. “No smoking” areas are limited, and so you will likely be seated adjacent to someone enjoying a Cuban cigar – sold at that establishment, and lit by the Cigar Sommelier. That’s an interesting experience since they use wooden spills (made from the box liners – Spanish Cedar) to light the cigar versus a lighter, or heaven forbid, a candle or matches. Prices vary from 10-15 CUC for a decent smoke.

There are a few Pastelaria’s around town (frequented by locals), and a famous one is close by Hotel Inglaterra where you can find a coffee and Palmier type pastry at a very inexpensive price.

Taking a ride around the city in a taxi can be quite a treat! Parked along some central city squares are a wide array of colourful vintage 50’s automobiles that operate as taxis to choose from, some with open tops (no Aircon). Or you can simply hail a yellow cab. Be prepared to negotiate before taking off on your journey. The vintage cars could be 30-40 CUC per hour. It would be a shame not to take one of these rides having gone all this way. They are an Instagram dream!

Probably best to take an arranged tour to see the places of interest such as Revolution Square, the cemetery, museums, old city, Hemingway’s hangouts and the cigar factory etc. These can range from half to full day and with or without lunch. Your Hotel concierge will direct you to the Tour Desk ran by one of the government’s agencies like Gaviota. Your guide will speak English, and expect a tip. Take water and a hat. Try and take in a performance at the Opera House – it’s a fabulous place with superb performances in a world class setting. Quite an experience!

Internet is available in some locations and accessed by a pre-paid card – sometimes issued (free) by your Hotel. You need to sign on using 2 x 12-digit access codes, which you have to key in each time your device shuts down, or when you get thrown off the wifi. The card lasts 72-hours. Speed is acceptable. VPN’s work…and may be required for some services like Viber.

As I said, a visit to a cigar factory can be arranged – we went to Partagas which is very close to the city centre and not far from the Romeo y Julieta factory and shop. Here you will witness the process of leaf selection, rolling and bundling of cigars as well as labels being attached. What you won’t see is the final selection process, and boxing – this is something off limits – and I wonder if that’s part of their secret sauce. Cigars can be purchased at the RYJ shop –and expect to find the usual suspects – mostly Robusto sizes, and a very limited selection of upscale brands like Cohiba and Trinidad. You can buy single sticks, variety packs in small cello bags, or boxes. They are all fresh in nature, and most likely best to age them if you can avoid the temptation to light up. No limit as far as I can tell in regards the quantity you can buy. Cigars are touted along the streets, but I was not tempted to purchase what could well have been fakes.

If you seek an upscale cigar experience, I recommend the newly opened Cohiba Cigar Atmosphere shop and lounge in the Gran Manzana complex. Here you can enjoy a reasonably priced smoke with a Cuban coffee in air-conditioned surroundings and a very comfy chair. The staff will also perform the lighting ceremony for you. If coffee is not your thing, they have alcohol and cocktails. Don’t know if they do snacks.

Remember, nearly all businesses are government run – so when you buy something or consume a service, you are invariably supporting the regime – something the current US President is very anti. In fact, apart from souvenirs – hats, t-shirts and cotton shopping bags, rum and cigars, as well as cost of Hotel, travel and dining, there is not much else you can spend your money on. There are no malls, or corner shops. Having said that, a small gallery of boutique shops had just opened at the same Gran Manzana complex, but it’s unlikely you will shop there as the selection is limited.

Better spend your time walking around Old Havana, enjoying the sights of imposing and impressive buildings and imagine what life must have been in its glory days and listen to the lustful sounds of Cuban music drifting from the bars as you walk along the streets willing you to come in and dance to the irresistible beat of the salsa.

Cuba – a must see!