An intriguing possibility for hospitality?
Woody Wade explores how the travel landscape may change in the next ten years, and the opportunities this could bring for hospitality.
I recently conducted a scenario generation workshop on potential scenarios in 10 year’s time and how the Hospitality industry should react to these scenarios.
The results of the discussion were fascinating, and even though I don’t have enough space to go into depth about each of the scenarios we generated, I’d like to touch on one of them, which is particularly interesting and concerns the quality of consumers’ actual travel experience.
The possibly awful future of travel.. and wonderful future of hospitality
As anyone knows who has flown off to a holiday destination recently, over the past 20 years or so travel has become more accessible to many more people than ever before. In theory this democratisation of the travel experience is a wonderful thing, bringing us all closer, and so on and so forth. But here in the real world, the actual result of the cheapening of travel is that for most people, the experience of getting from A to B is unfortunately getting more crowded, unpleasant and uncomfortable every year. Travel has become something to be endured rather than enjoyed.
Now look ten years into the future, where we must add several million more travellers into the mix. The so-called “next billion”, i.e. the emerging middle-class, mainly from the BRIC countries but also everywhere else, also want a holiday abroad, not to mention that they will generate millions of incremental business trips, too. Just think of the airports; the crowds, the long queues. the delays, the waiting around… or on the motorway; traffic backed up for miles, twenty coaches all arriving at Stonehenge at the same time… and all the stress and fatigue and frayed nerves.
Although travel won’t be like this all the time – we hope – it seems likely that with a huge increase in the number of people taking to the skies, seas and roads over the next few years, the quality of the average travel experience is going to get worse, not better.
This raises an intriguing possibility for the hospitality business. Rather than being perceived aspart of the travel experience, hotels and restaurants would be better off if they can decouple themselves from it, and position themselves instead as the antidote to travel. Instead of all that stress and frustration and grit and grime, the hospitality industry offers a haven of peace, relaxation, comfort and service that awaits you, your well-earned reward, at the end of the trip – in other words, hospitality offers the very opposite of the hellish experience dished up to you hour after grueling hour by the travel industry!
Therefore in this scenario in 2023 the travel experience is commoditised, stressful and disagreeable, with lousy, impersonal service at nearly every touch point on the trip but it is precisely this bad service which gives hospitality providers a golden opportunity to really shine by comparison. We would be in an excellent position to play up our role as hosts, going an extra mile to provide the warm welcome, comfort, good food, attentive service and peace and quiet that these tired, abused travelers have been missing on their long hard journeys. They would not only value this hospitality – they would be putty in our hands!
What are the implications of this scenario for Hospitality?
The workshop then considered what the key factors would be in Hospitality delivering this level of service and the most important was identified as attracting the right calibre of people to the industry.
To succeed at this positioning, we must have the right people working for us, with the right, hospitality-minded attitude. And in this scenario, the hospitality industry is failing at the critical task of attracting employees with these talents.
What would that mean – besides missing a great opportunity to pamper guests and increase their loyalty? Perhaps, with staff not up to the task of providing service that clearly differentiates “good” hospitality from “bad” travel, hotels and restaurants would find themselves lumped together as simply different facets of the same mediocre-service sector, travel. If the reputation of the travel industry was bad enough, and people perceived little difference between us and them, there could even be a backlash against working in hospitality. This could create a vicious circle that would make it even harder for us to acquire talent.
Will this scenario come to pass? Not necessarily. But the participants in the workshop found it at least plausible, so I believe it’s worth thinking about. What actually will happen in the future is of course unknowable, but the best way to predict the future is to create it yourself. Obviously the hospitality industry can’t do much about crowded airports or traffic jams or surly cab drivers or any of the other problems that properly belong in the “travel” side of the equation, but we do have a fair degree of control over our ability to attract and retain talent. In that sense, the best way for the hospitality industry to avoid the fate that would be in store for us in this particular scenario could be to adopt policies now that can improve our chances of hiring and retaining truly talented people – who will use those talents to make the weariest traveler not only happy, but happy to come back.
As the principal of Wade & Company, James “Woody” Wade has 30 years experience in international business. He has worked with senior managers of companies in Europe, Asia and the Americas, helping them develop and communicate a vision of the future for their organisations, markets and products.
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