Adding new and exciting technology innovations to the hospitality space can be great, but hoteliers need to make sure new innovations don’t take a wrong turn.
Innovation is one of the most used buzzwords in the 21st century. Our planet is expected to experience as much innovation in the first few decades of the 21st century as it has experienced in the past 200,000 years of human existence. However, when it comes to hospitality, we can contribute just as much by not innovating as we can by innovating.
I got the first-hand experience of non-innovation recently when my family and I stayed at this gorgeous luxury hotel in South Asia. As we settled in our suite, my 7-year-old daughter grabbed the room-automation iPad and chose her favorite animated movie, “Kung Fu Panda.” As soon as the movie started, a message popped up on the iPad that said, “popcorn on its way…. enjoy the movie.” She was ecstatic when roomservice delivered popcorn 10 minutes later. However, she did exactly what you’d expect from today’s tech-savvy kids, she got bored and switched to another movie after an hour. This was followed by yet another message on the iPad that said, “popcorn on its way…. enjoy the movie.” “Not again. I’m full. Can’t they send chocolates instead?” my daughter screamed, possibly too loudly causing an iPad malfunction with the same popcorn message until our checkout the next day. She then switched to the bedroom iPad and the whole “popcorn” cycle repeated itself.
While this might sound like an extreme example, the industry is full of instances where innovation took a wrong turn and ended up not being innovative, leaving the guests irritated and sometimes amused. The urge to innovate sometimes compels us to complicate simple things in life. Unsurprisingly though, the best designs that we come across in our daily lives are the ones that are the simplest. One must be pragmatic while designing products, interiors and even experiences for the masses, and this is especially true for hotels where the average stay is two or three days, which is too little a time to experiment at the behest of compromising guest comfort and well-being.
As I started to wonder why we sometimes end up with non-innovations, I came across this phrase from Matt Haig’s book “Reasons to stay alive.”
“The world is increasingly designed to depress us. Happiness isn’t good for the economy. If we were happy with what we had, why would we need more? How do you sell an anti-aging moisturizer? You make someone worry about aging. How do you vote for a political party? You make them worry about immigration. How do you get them to buy a new smartphone? By making them feel like they are left behind. How do you get them to watch a TV show? By making them worry about missing out.”
This feeling of being left behind, the feeling of missing out on innovation while the whole world is going abuzz with this magical word, is what leads to occasional non-innovation. It is often better to be conservative than launching a half-baked initiative or design.
Not innovating in hospitality can broadly be divided into three categories:
1. Design that’s not user-friendly: This is easy to spot. Take the example of this upscale hotel in Dusseldorf where one enters the bathroom before getting to the bedroom. Upon entering the room, you literally bump into your own reflection in the vanity mirror. Certainly not a good idea to invite your friends after using the toilet in the morning. Or this luxury hotel in Kuwait City where a well-sized guestroom has a restaurant-like L-shaped sofa with a dining table, perfect for dining but disastrous for lounging.
A well-traveled person knows the pain of sitting on a low back bar stool for hours; waking up in the middle of the night by someone talking too loud in the corridor’ stepping out of the bathtub to reach out for the towel; waking up your spouse while searching for the right light switch; or worst of all, installing the hotel’s app and trying to learn how to navigate it for just a two-night’s stay. These are all easy fixes. And the good news is that a user-friendly design costs the same amount of money as the one which is not.
2. Overly-complicated development: Innovations that go wrong in this category hurts the investors. One of the important factors on which the return on investment of any hotel depends on is the development cost. The rule of hotel development is simple: the more you build, the more someone pays. Coming across over-specified lobbies, overly-generous corridors and back-of-house areas is not uncommon.
Every square foot of extra space costs money—like air conditioning, maintenance and future renovation costs—and remains a lifelong liability, making the ROI less lucrative and the break-even take longer.
Just to put this into perspective, imagine a 250-key luxury hotel with an investment of $ 500,000 per key. A 10% additional area added either during the program or design stages will surely hurt. It’s a meaty $12.5 million for the entire development. If an investor is developing 10 hotels over a period of a few years, it’s $125 million additional money for the entire endeavor (one could add another hotel to the portfolio with that kind of money). High development cost is one of the reasons you’ll hear a lot of investors complaining that their hotel is providing less than average internal rate of return.
3. Overlooking important details: The popcorn incident above provides some insights into this.
Innovation for the sake of being innovative is counterproductive. There’s more to a hotel than just photogenic interiors and extravagant furniture, fixtures and equipment.
One simple trick that can prevent innovation turning into something that’s not very innovative is by paying attention to detail and with a little empathy (thinking from the perspective of the guests).
The dictionary meaning of attention to detail is “the focus that is directed on multiple small tasks or concerns that make up a larger task or concern.” Translated into hospitality design it means focusing on a knob design, chair’s back slope or lighting levels which together along with many other elements constitute a space called guestroom. A similar parallel can be drawn for any other space which ultimately constitutes an entire hotel.
Attention to detail is not just limited to brick-and-mortar assets and FF&E; it boils down to the quality of robes and bathroom slippers, keeping the slippers next to the bed every single night, how a guest is welcomed and treated, order taker picking up the phone in less than 3 rings, so on and so forth.
And contrary to popular belief, paying attention doesn’t mean spending hours on drawings or presentations; it’s about training our eyes to see things we must see as hoteliers, and if we won’t, our guests will. And when they do, they won’t tell us. They’ll tell the whole world through social media.
Himank Goswami is an architect & a luxury hospitality design professional based in Dubai, UAE. He is presently associated with Emaar Hospitality Group and leads the group’s part portfolio of luxury & boutique hotels worldwide. Emaar Hospitality Group is a wholly owned subsidiary of Emaar Properties, a global property developer with a market cap of US$ 14.6 billion and revenue of US$ 4.32 billion. Previously, he spent 10 years with Oberoi Hotels & Resorts which was rated twice as the best hotel chain in the world and led the award-winning chain’s global part portfolio of luxury hotels. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/himankgoswami/
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