By Ignace Bauwens
The rise of social media has already changed the rules of the game, writes Ignace Bauwens, Regional Vice President, Middle East, Eurasia and Africa at Wyndham Hotels and Resorts
I believe the future of the hospitality sector is set for unprecedented changes led by the technology evolution, a younger traveller demographic, as well as the rise of newer feeder markets. These shifts will not only transform the industry but also help create lasting value. This is particularly true for the Middle East region where the hospitality sector has evolved considerably in recent years, with its full potential still to be unlocked.
But to achieve that, we need to take bolder, and more innovative approaches. We must look beyond what has worked in the past, and be future-ready to address the needs and aspirations of the next generation of travellers. From being established providers of hotel services, we must look at hospitality as a lifestyle choice that takes into consideration the social, demographic and technological changes that will shape its industry’s future.
The context of ‘future’ is not something set in a distant time. It is very much how we deliver hospitality services now – in the short-term – because the changes I mentioned are already ‘real’ and happening.
We must be future-ready to address the needs and aspirations of the next generation of travellers
The rise of social media has already changed the rules of the game. Free-flowing comments online and guest reviews that reach millions with the click of a mouse or swipe of a mobile screen have fundamentally altered how the hospitality sector operates. One negative review on a travel website is all it takes to challenge the credibility of hospitality providers.
But there is a silver lining to it. More open conversations have created new opportunities for hotel brands to learn about guests and address their requirements. For example, business guests have long called for late check-out times, and the industry is responding to it, offering greater flexibility.
However, there is no one-size-fits-all approach; hospitality providers must focus on a one-size-fits-one approach, where different hotels in different locations catering for distinctive guest profiles must tailor their offering to the customers’ needs.
The young population is the new and future guest demographic. These tech-savvy professionals, entrepreneurs and leisure-travellers demand a new level of service that is personalised, and it is imperative that we evolve and adapt to meet their aspirations.
Nowhere is this change more relevant than here in the Middle East and Africa region, where over 60 percent of the population is below the age of 30, according to the United Nations Development Programme, Arab Human Development Report 2016.
The young population is the new and future guest demographic
Naturally, the primary focus of our business for the future must be on how we can integrate digital technologies to enhance their guest experience covering every touch-point – from building a strong online presence, engaging in online conversations to supporting them with effortless online booking and planning their itinerary and stay.
But the digital transformation of the hospitality sector does not mean merely putting in place a few online tools. It means integrating technology as part of your organisational DNA and creating your hotels not just to be design-savvy but also to serve as social hubs for people to connect. The hotels must be places for young travelers to be ‘connected,’ entertained and mobile.
However, the focus on youth shouldn’t deter us from a demographic of the more seasoned and senior travelers, who wish for the true ‘home away from home’ experience, seeking the comfort of hotels for the room service and concierge facilities.
While technology is a great leveller that adds value to both younger and older generations, it is also important to keep in mind the different needs of all guests, from the requirements of the business traveller, who might call out for a late check-out time, to the demand of large families for connecting rooms.
Not to be ignored is the need for delivering a new midscale value proposition.