Where has the product and service disappeared out of hospitality?

by Robert Gilmour, Innfinite MD

I am in my fortieth year of ‘experience’ in the UK hotel industry, and never at any point, even in my earliest days, have i see an industry in such disarray and far as the product and service, and the control of it, is concerned. In 40 years, hotels have systematically lost control of their inventory and pricing, and a great degree of opportunity for innovation to, firstly, a whole industry of intermediaries and third parties who have little or no time for the quality of the hotel product or the customer other than as a £ sign, and now worse still to the new norm, the daily deal, which scores the quality of the hotel and its product and service even lower than the OTA’s do, if that’s possible.

Where has good old fashioned hospitality gone? Once the admiration of the world and our overseas visitors as well as those of our own, it has systematically been dismantled by today’s soulless approach to hospitality and service, where we’ll soon have hands free and ultimately people free servicer, finally eliminating the human input to hospitality altogether. More than ever before, people are a cost in today’s industry, not an investment. As such, lets find ways of reducing the ‘people cost’. Brands, our shareholders will just love us, after all that’s why we’re in business. Don’t expect a shareholder to know about. o even have the slightest bit of interest in, a service driven, customer focused, hotel – its too dear.

Review sites like Trip Advisor actually (unwittingly) called this approach’s bluff, much to the consternation  of the brands in particular. Best western – ‘Hotels with Personality’ – i have recently been at two which had ZERO personality. Look at Trip Advisor, pick the top 10 UK cities, and discover how many brands are in the top 20 results. Let me know if you find more than 2.

Where is the wow factor? Remote controlled bedrooms and automatic/electronic check in and out. Not a bit of it. Industry, can we please go back to selling the steak not the sizzle (and we do that badly). And service is going backwards, to servile, perfunctory, stilted, almost synthetic, robotic

The value of the customer is no longer the criterion, its the strength of the churn. Deal sites epitomise that perfectly right now. Pile them high,. Sell them cheap, there’s more where that last lot came from.

Imagine may delight when i stayed in a well known Scottish hotel recently to discover it was virtually full of daily deal customers. Firstly I had paid a goodly rate for the room on a dinner bed and breakfast rate, only to be royally gazumped by a mob of deal drinkers and diners in track suits and trainers, loud, lager drinkers – no consideration or respect for others, public order. Now I’m not a snob but this crowd were a million miles from the target c customer for that property, this is merely a warning to what you can experience with deal sites. I have expressed my views on flash selling sites many times elsewhere, no need to elaborate further. I also expressed to that hotel  that i’d be staying at a competitor next time. i don’t expect many of the deal customers will be back either.

The deal is becoming the norm. The industry, like with the unstoppable rise of the OTA’s is sitting back again playing right into their hands. When as an industry will we ever learn? Organise? Stand up for each other like the farmers did? (rather than try to take the shirts of each others backs?)

Hotel chains and brands (the ones who can afford it), spend millions on technology, gismpos, devices and gadgets, revenue management tools – and oin ‘strategy ‘ – and their board and management hierarchy is further away than ever before from the cola face, driving personality out of the shop floor and replacing it with copious corporate rules and procedures as a commoditised way to discipline and fire.

That’s it, a hotel room is now a ‘commodity’. And once again the hotel industry has been a contributor to this commoditisation, as much as the OTA’s and the deals sites, depersonalising the product offerings at every turn.

Let’s just c all it all ‘the new deal’ – the commodity, the depersonalisation, the total accountancy driven balance e sheet approach to the management of the business, the shareholder is king – don’t be kidded by the big brands telling you that the customer is – the customer is part of a process of making money, not the raison’detre of being in business, or anywhere near it.

A recent commentator made a big deal of hotels charging (or not) for wifi. This epitomises the state of the ‘hotel  nation’. Customers have told us, and we haven’t listened, until the cows come home, that they hate paying for wi fi. So, hotels, don’t charge for it, its simple – its pleasing over 90% of customers out there that’s the issue, not –that you need to recoup the cost of it’. Next thing you’ll be charging for the logs in the open fire over the winter. Let’s get real. You don’t need to say its free, you just say that YOU FON’T CHARGE EXTRA FOR IT – extras are hated by most travel shoppers. HOW MANY TIMES DO THEY NEED TO TELL US BEFORE WE LISTEN..

If you ever thought you were important as a customer, have a read at these

Customers, we are now a coefficient, a mathematical statistic – i ask you. Have these people that write this stuff ever been in the real world, worse still have they ever worked in, or tried to run a hotel.

Independent hotels are much maligned by some, especially with a brand connection, as if brands were the only thing that mattered today. Far from it. OK so taking the maths in the articles above, and applying it to Trip Advisor reviews, an equivalent independent 4 star has a coefficient of being 8 times more likely to provide a high quality Trip Advisor rated experience than a branded 4 star (notice i said ‘Trip Advisor rated’ not guest!)

I owned and ran independent hotels over many years, after the corporate game nearly drove me out of the industry altogether as i cared too much for the guest experience and didn’t want just to be a number cruncher. My piece de resistance was a hotel in the Scottish highlands in the total middle of nowhere  I rescued and converted into a £1million nett of VAT turnover 20% net profit, 80% 3 star AA rosetted hotel. Say no more. And we raised the visibility of the destination massively in the process, further leveraging this for the benefit of the business (something some brands take a dim view of, some positively denying the unit hotel to have its own brand compliant website ). Yes you got it, customer focused, service driven all the way. We were innovative, imaginative. Sales and marketing inexorably related to the target customer and product, rather than in the quality vacuum so common these days. And a happy long serving properly managed and motivated staff receiving countless accolades from guest from all over the world. Where has all that gone?

I was so sorry to learn earlier in the year of the death of Neil Salerno. He taught me everything i know about common sense and success in hospitality, and i followed him religiously, and it worked.

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