A new OTA Disruptor?

Airbnb is teaching people how to shop for lodging and what services to expect in a democratized environment that creates comfort with a very uncomfortable concept (sleeping in a stranger’s home).  Adding traditional hotel inventory into this process will be simple and is a logical extension of their service offering just as Amazon was able to extend their offering to more and more adjacent categories in rapid fashion over their 20 year history.

It is no longer a question of whether hotel rooms will be sold on this new channel – it is a question of who will be first.  Independent hotels, seeking more affordable sources of demand and alternatives to high-cost, low-margin OTAs, will begin testing the channel within the next few months.  Smaller chains should follow soon after.  It is predicted that within 18 months, one of the major chains will announce a partnership that includes listing significant inventory for sale on the site. While this will not drive any new long-term share gains for hotels, the first movers will be able to capitalize on travelers who are intrigued by what they’ve heard about the core Airbnb service but simply can’t pull the trigger – fleeing to the safety of the tried and true bed-bath-TV combo of a traditional hotel room.

4 keys of Talent Management

The four keys of talent management

  • Select for Talent
  • Define the right Outcomes
  • Focus on strengths
  • Find the right fit

 Conventional wisdom encourages you to

  • Select a person … based on his experience, intelligence, and determination.
  • Set expectations … by defining the right steps.
  • Motivate the person … by helping him identify and overcome his weaknesses.
  • Develop the person … by helping him learn and get promoted.

 However, the revolutionary insight common to great managers is

  • When selecting someone, they select for talent … not simply experience, intelligence, or determination.
  • When setting expectations, they define the right outcomes … not the right steps.
  • When motivating someone, they focus on strengths … not on weaknesses
  • When developing someone, they help him find the right fit … not simply the next rung on the ladder.

Snacking obliterating Dining?

We seem to be moving from three meals a day to none! Snacks are obliterating meals. It’s not just Millennials or dashboard diners as growing numbers of people snack four or five times daily. Snacking increased 47% from 2010 to 2014 in the U.S. of A. Restaurateurs (and hotels with minibars and minimarkets) should prowl supermarket aisles. They’ll find that the ground is shifting away from sweet to savory, and from high-carb, to nutrient dense high-protein indulgent snacks – evidence that sugar is this year’s culinary Satan. Even when sweeteners are involved, they’re often combined with spicy such as chili-spiked honey.

Root to Stem Dining

We’ve reached a tipping point for vegetables. They’re pushing animal protein to the side of the plate, or entirely off it. Relentlessly rising beef prices, horror over hormones, a scramble for ever-more antioxidants, health-and-diet concerns, growth of farmers markets, locavore drummers, increasing numbers of flexitarians – all the stars have nicely aligned. It helps that vegetables are more seasonal than animals, adding menu excitement for restaurants recognizing that buying seasonally reduces food costs and keeps menus fresh. Say hello to “Root to Stem” dining, a logical extension of the nose-to-tail movement with restaurants serving vegetables trimmings otherwise heading for the trash. Say hello to “Vegetable Forward” restaurants with increasing numbers of chefs deploying flesh as a condiment, not as the main act on the plate.

Carboholics shunning Pasta

In the last five years pasta sales dropped 8% in Australia, 13% in Europe and 25% in Italy. It isn’t a crisis in the U.S. yet but pasta’s down 6% as Americans focus on proteins and shed carbs, or shun gluten. Even carboholics have more nutritious alternatives, including quinoa, chickpeas, lentils, spelt, barley, chia. So it certainly looks like a trend. Vegetable spiralizers are selling like, well, hotcakes. Chefs will experiment with vegetables ribbons – zucchini, asparagus, beets, sweet potatoes, for example, replacing pasta. And look for pastas offering a full serving of vegetables such as purees of spinach, tomatoes, carrots incorporated into the dough. Maybe spaghetti squash will have its limelight moment.

‘Healthification’ of Food

After watching aggressive consumers attack Big Food companies over chemicals and additives (eg Maggi Foods – Nestle), Restaurants are all-of-a-sudden dumping some artificial (and other bad-for-you) ingredients from their menus. We’re looking at the “healthification” of fast- and fast-casual food. A recent survey found that 36% of consumers worried about “chemicals” in their food; in another survey, 40% of consumers report it’s “very important” that foods use all-natural ingredients, free of GMOs and artificial flavors or colors. But it won’t be enough. Consumers no longer equate pictures of pastured cows and leaves of grass on menus with health and wholesomeness. They’re searching for more holistic initiatives from restaurants such as control of waste, water conservation, human treatment of animals (and employees), and a host of other eco-social issues. Next culprits: sugar, salt and fat present even greater challenges.

High-speed food delivery

There is a revolution in high-speed food delivery. Consumers will have access to the world’s largest (virtual) drive-thru window without ever leaving home! Tech-driven delivery is 2015-2016’s Big Disrupter of food retailing and food service aimed at the ultimate consumer convenience – food brought quickly to homes, offices and even hotel guests. Smartphoners, latching onto the ease of locating a restaurant, ordering, paying, and getting loyalty points without ever speaking to a human being are driving this revolution. Muscling into high-speed food delivery are so many established & startup companies nowadays that one cannot keep count anymore. None actually make food as they are middlemen connecting restaurants and customers, collecting fees and personal information about who orders what, when and from which restaurants – all valuable additions to what they already know about you. In contrast, some startups are building commissaries in cheap rent locations.

Starved Sensibilities – The Selfie

Organisational, peer or social pressure dulls our sensibilities as individuals. Cultivation of senses is necessary to refine aesthetic experiences which act as filters through which individuals can be stimulated. If these filters are opaque, they would block out a lot of sensations that could otherwise have triggered a creative process in our minds.

The JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa in California has launched “Your Spring Selfie” package, which includes overnight accommodations for two, a hand-held selfie stick, a guide to the resort’s most photogenic locations. Guests are also encouraged to share their selfie stick photos with hashtags such as #SpringSelfie, #DesertSprings, #DesertPlayground, #HaveItAll, and #experiencejwm. Each month, the resort will select a winning Instagram post for a complimentary room upgrade for the winner’s return visit.

“Your Spring Selfie” package includes overnight accommodations for two, a hand-held selfie stick, a map of the property and a US$50 per night resort credit.

“Instead of guests choosing between the mountains, the palm trees, or their smiling face, we saw the selfie stick as an ideal solution for taking those quintessential shots, and still being a part of the picture,” says the general manager of JW Marriott Desert Springs.

Talk about starving one’s sensibilities!

Threats to traditional OTAs?

With the advent of Alitrip in the Chinese lodging market; Amazon planning to come into the hotel booking space; the potential end-to-end travel experience Google is capable of offering; or TripAdvisor’s Instant Booking feature, the future of the travel industry could be driven by these retail and tech giants and not necessarily the traditional OTAs like Expedia, etc.

More competition means better pricing. But in the longer term, if these retail and tech giants are transacting room inventory at a magnitude larger than traditional OTAs and on their terms, the bargaining leverage of brands, and worse, independent hotels, will be even less than in the OTA world we now live. These giants need consumer engagement and hotel inventory. They already have the first part, and it may be only a matter of time before they can get the second.

Hotels may have to work with these giants to collaborate so they don’t become expensive discount channels. If the industry doesn’t engage them, they’ll find rates and inventory from other places – like Expedia – and become just another source for room nights.

Selflessness Sells

It’s 2015, which means it’s no longer enough to simply respond to guests who are trying to reach out to your brand via social media channels like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. And for the brands that are not yet responding — you’re not only behind, you’re now irresponsible. That scenario is equivalent to not answering the telephone when guests are calling your hotel property.

Hilton Worldwide is an example of a company who is using an innovative approach to humanize their brand via social media. In more than 110 markets globally, Hilton has implemented a proactive listening program on Twitter called Hilton Suggests.

When someone tweets a simple question seeking advice about one of those 110-plus markets, an unprompted responder from the Hilton Suggests team will reach out and answer the question — delivering value when where and how the traveler wants to receive it.

They find travelers tweeting for help about where to go, what to do and what to see in their hometowns, and offer advice that only a local could provide. It could range from where to get the best slice of pizza between meetings in New York City to what to do in eight hours in London. The person responding is an expert because they’re a local in the market the traveler is inquiring about. The listening strategy and software queries have been set up accordingly for the Hilton Suggests team to respond to their specific local areas of expertise.

The key point is that the traveler (or guest) hasn’t mentioned Hilton in their correspondence. They haven’t even tagged Hilton. In fact, they may even be staying at a competitor’s property. The traveler is simply looking for help and Hilton proactively intercepts to offer a hand, looking for nothing in return other than to make a connection. And we all know connections lead to relationships and those do in fact convert.


Enhancing Guest’s Local Experience

Many hoteliers are rationalizing Airbnb’s entry into the lodging space as non-competitive. As the hotel industry learned from the dawn of vacation rentals and online travel agencies, ignoring groups that fulfill lodging demand at scale is a bad idea. Airbnb is now operating at scale, and just getting started.

Airbnb takes an asset-light strategy to a new level, operating a digital exchange that matches individuals to individual lodging units. Airbnb has A-tier investors, smart management and a sizeable valuation. Its next funding round will value the company at over US$13 billion. As of mid-December, that put the firm slightly below Starwood (US$14.2 billion) but above Wyndham, InterContinental and Hyatt.

One single night, during July 2014, Airbnb housed 330,000 total guests (20,000 in Paris alone). It should be noted that Airbnb offers three distinct types of product – host present/shared rooms, host-present/private rooms, and host absent/full unit stays. The third option may be most directly competitive to hotels, but as mainstream travelers become more familiar with Airbnb, traditional hotel guests, particularly Millennials, may start considering alternatives. The biggest difference, however, is the guest experience. Airbnb’s ultimate goal is to provide a great host to guest match. When it works, visitors are no longer tourists; they live like a local and get an expert insider perspective on local experiences that can make a stay truly unique and memorable.

Airbnb disrupts the hotel industry not only by introducing supply at a lower price point, but also while enhancing the guest experience through personalization. That improved value proposition is the future battleground for traditional hoteliers. To successfully compete with Airbnb, hoteliers must ask “why“ guests are staying and organize service delivery standards to offer unique guest experiences – just like Airbnb.

Top Dining Trends for 2015


Small plates: Small plates can be served at any time and are seen as ways to help dieters avoid overindulging.

Roll and go: Bun-less creations that are rolled instead of presented as traditional sandwiches are growing in popularity. Even the traditional hamburger filling and rolling the contents in flour tortillas.

Lose the fat-infuse: There has been an increased awareness over the past several years of the downside of fat, as well as the emphasis on gluten free and vegan foods. As a result, chefs are changing to beer braising, cider poaching and quick pickling to infuse flavor while avoiding exposing food to fat.

Back to the future: Traditional items are making a comeback on today’s menu such as meatloaf, liver and onions, shepherd’s pie and pan-fried chicken.

Grab-n-go: Grab-n-go dining is increasingly popular and spans from fresh exotic fruits to house-roasted Himalayan salted pumpkin seeds. Travelers are looking for healthy and convenient ways to satisfy their need to recharge, and stay on track.

Raging ramen:  Once thought to be a food for cash-starved college students, ramen is now breaking into the street food fad. Ramen applications include stir-fry and salad.

Tea mixology: Tea mixology involves infusing simple tea with a variety of herbs and spices.

Slow ride, cook it easy: Many customers are now on the slow food bandwagon at home. This has dramatically increased public interest in restaurants that practice slow food cooking methods. Consumers who appreciate and are willing to pay for slow foods are equally interested in the process used to create them. Many restaurants are showcasing these by putting the process right in the dining room with charcuterie drying, cheese caves and vinegar barrels.

Branding the chef: Guests today want to take home a little more from their favourite eatery. Many chefs are creating their own signature products that they bottle and package for home use.  Bottling items, like signature sauces and dressings are replacing traditional store-bought items in customers’ pantries.

Source: Benchmark Hospitality International 

Internet Marketing Trends 2015

The Internet is everywhere. Customers can browse and buy, anytime and anywhere. There are approximately 13.4 billion Internet-connected devices in the world and roughly two Internet-connected devices for everyone on the planet. Context is important to the connectivity conversation. For instance, hotel marketers need to think about where their guests are when they access information, what is most important to guests within those contexts and how marketers can use that information to drive consumers to book. Think about how you can segment customers by context: observe, measure and learn your customers’ pain points in each context.

We’re all publishers now. We need to help our customers find the content they need in the contexts that matter to them. Great content can lead to: product differentiation; more inbound website links; websites that are “sticky” and convert at a higher rate; engaged customers and an increase in loyalty; and the ability to leverage social media channels. Marketers need to cut through the clutter and create content that is: snackable: simple text, easy to read and easily scanned; shareable: use imagery to convey your brand because images sell; and sharp: content should be large, bold, clear and should answer customers’ questions quickly.

Deep customer insights. Guests are leaving digital footprints. This data gives access to deep customer insights into what your customers really care about. Data can highlight customer behaviors, wants and desires; leads to product, promotion, placement and pricing decisions; and cannot be easily duplicated by the competition. Marketers should be willing to start small. “This isn’t about big data; it’s about big questions. What are the things that matter to your guests? What are the questions that they have? And how can you use the data that is created to help them answer those questions and help them make a booking decision?”

Storytelling. Storytelling should be kept top of mind when it comes to content marketing. If you are trying to tell your story and differentiate, your website needs to be more like a book, more like you’re telling a story and more engaging. This is going to make people want to come in and visit and learn a little bit more: a) Sell the experience with a consistent story. b) Make pictures easily viewable across different devices             c) Incorporate video to engage customers (keep it short for mobile users) d) Use Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest to share photos e) Create a YouTube channel

Design for mobile. Hoteliers need to keep mobile in mind for marketing as travelers will often abandon non-mobile-optimized websites. When it comes to designing for mobile: a) Leverage unique capabilities (swipe, zoom and pinch features) b) Make the experience easy with features such as click-to-call and interactive maps c) A mobile-optimized booking engine is mandatory.

Revenue Managers must look at Bottom Lines

The future of revenue management is now in looking beyond the top-line sales that revenue managers typically look at. Having exhausted all revenue streams in managing revenues by looking at gross sales, 2015 will now have the advanced revenue managers looking at net sales. Thus revenue management is looking at more revenue streams besides the room and more variables to think about forecasting besides past history. Using top-line revenue as a guide for evaluating a hotel’s performance will need to be supplemented with measures that provide more of an indication of profit contribution, like Net RevPAR and sales and marketing efficiency.

Employees must come first

People — especially employees — must come first in 2015 on the operational front. This is just one of the predictions revealed in a wide-ranging forecast for the coming year published in the December print edition of HOTELS. Hoteliers need to be proactive about training and retaining staff, according to Russell Kett, chairman, HVS London.

So what is really new about this? Many international hotel chains truly follow this motto and that is why they have been so successful in spreading their wings internationally. On the other hand, many of our Indian chains barring the exception, just mention this in their credo but blatantly look the other way when other interests come up. Thus profitability, guests, ego, personal agenda, etc. take over and the employee is left behind.

In the current trough that we are undergoing since the past 3 years, it is only the ethically strong who have supported their employees through falling bottom lines and declining revenues. Don’t get me wrong – I am not talking of downsizing in the case of excessively staffed hotels… I am referring to the pink-slip being given merrily in some organizations with no thought of the employee. Even in the case of downsizing, I have yet to hear of hotels assisting the employees who are let go, to get new jobs.

What these hotel owners need to realize is that the atmosphere created is negative and will only take their business down further. Also, when the business trend begins moving north in a year’s time, as is forecasted; their employees will not be loyal to them.

Hence People — especially employees — must come first in 2015 on the operational front.