Musing on the next 20 years from what ‘happens’ in 2036
Musing on the next 20 years from what ‘happens’ in 2036
11 APRIL 2016 9:04 AM

All hoteliers would surely believe it to be amiss not to strategize for the future, but one industry insider is predicting the future and working backward.

Who doesn’t want to know what is going to happen in the future?

Well, at least the future of your hotel assets and business.

I got a glimpse of “what’s to come” at the recent Young Hoteliers Summit in Lausanne, Switzerland, when I met Woody Wade, author of new online book “Hotel Yearbook 2036 - Eyewitness reports from the year 2036.”

I always sigh deeply when, at the turn of every year, I get a succession of marketing agency trend reports dropping into my inbox. Inevitably, most are concerned with the so-called 10 hottest travel destinations for whatever New Year it is, and for the last 10 years they’ve all included Colombia.

These are all deeply boring, but I also get a number from dare-I-say-it more serious organizations that do not merely pluck things out of the ether. The best, such as Wade’s, allow you to look at a number of likely outcomes. However zany some might sound from the offset, they serve as a good reminder that it is better to be prepared for both the obvious and the utterly unexpected.

Many readers will be familiar with Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s best seller “The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable.”

That fine book does look forward to what might happen, too, but the joy of Wade’s book (full disclosure: at press time, I had read three-quarters of it) is that it looks at the future with specifically hotels in mind and comes littered with potential scenarios from fictitious hoteliers from the fourth decade of this current century. Wade uses that as a jumping off point to speculate on what might be the outcomes for the next two decades and how best to prepare for them.

I chuckled at seeing a fictitious ad for the world’s hottest hotel opening of 2037, which might be in North Korea’s capital Pyongyang. After recently writing on both Cuba and Iran, the two markets most exciting the hotel world right now, who is to say that will not transpire?

Twenty years from now, ADR and RevPAR for North Korea’s hottest hotel will be through the roof, as visitors struggle to secure bookings—well, perhaps? (Illustration courtesy of Hotel Yearbook)

North Korea does have one of the world’s tallest hotels already, the Ryugyong, but it has never received a guest, despite having a second phase of construction in 2008 to 2013 following 16 years of inaction. Some claim it is such a cause of embarrassment that taxi drivers are not allowed to refer to it or use it as a point of reference for traffic directions despite it being more than 1,000 feet in height.

That might be enough to convince anyone that North Korea is hopeless, but finding another way of looking at things is never a bad thing.

Wade told me hotel executives “live for the future, because that’s where the results of all their decisions will be felt. Yet, they still have to make those decisions today. So it makes sense for (them) to spend some time thinking about how the future may change, because that can help them make better decisions now.”

Trends seen today still can be extrapolated forward, of course. Black swans and changes in politics, economics, technology and other disciplines will shape the hotel business, but it remains an interesting idea to look back from a point we have not reached yet, in the same way that we look back from 2016 to see what it was we did not perceive would happen in 1996.

That approach is explained well by Wade, who says in the book “one thing you should not do is base your plans solely on forecasts or projections of the future. Why not? Because projections paint a misleading picture of the future. They imply that the future will simply be a mathematical variant of the way things already are today.”

I rather believe the French have an expression for this, learned by me from the lyrics of Canadian power trio Rush’s song “Circumstances” and which goes “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” The lyrics very helpfully, for non-French speakers such as me, translate that line in the next line: “The more that things change, the more they stay the same.”

Wade told me the main idea of the book was to be both entertaining and thought-provoking.

“I don’t know how the future will turn out any more than anyone else does,” Wade said. “Instead, what I wanted to do with the book was explore how different the future landscape could be, if certain trends continue that we can already see taking shape around us now.”

Some ideas posited are mundane; others are so fantastical as to defy belief. Where will the future lie? Right in the middle of the two? Closer to one or the other? Somewhere completely different?

One question I had for Wade: What does this book about 2036 tell us we are doing hopelessly wrong in 2016?

Again, Wade does not know. He does know, though, that this question should be discussed in all businesses, and from as many different angles as possible.

“That’s a tough question,” he replied. “In general, I think it’s hopelessly wrong to assume things will stay the way they have always been. Wrong, and very risky. We have to accept that our business landscape is going to change. The key question is how is it going to change? Sadly, we can’t know for sure, but we can think about different, but still plausible, ways that things might realistically develop, plan for those contingencies and be better prepared, at least mentally and morally, for whatever actually does come our way.”

It’s free to download, and even if readers take some of the ideas with a pinch of salt, some will come true, and it is best to be prepared for them.

Email Terence Baker or find him on Twitter

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