A KISS on the bricks

The search for a pandemic trend remains strong and the push for digital nomads is still up there, certainly if you’re Brian Chesky and you’re trying to make your shareholders’ dreams come alive. 

For those of us not accessing multiple Tuscan castles this Spring, the reality of working all over the place is that a lot of phone chargers get lost and your suitcase suffers from an ever-decreasing lifespan as it gets hauled on and off trains, up concrete steps and drops onto the heads of fellow budget airline travellers.

The trend we really want after all those masked months is simplicity. Yes, during lockdown 1.0 there was a certain amount of simplicity to be had in terms of no commute and no movement from one square metre, but what we want is freedom to leave the house, but leave it without patting down multiple pockets. 

Even now, the UK clings to the passenger locator form. The days where you could decide on a whim to travel seem like a dream borne of exotic cheese which has now quadrupled in price. 

‘More hassle than it’s worth’ could be our catchphrase. We are looking to make our lives as simple as possible. There is a whole piece to write here on hotel operations, another on how the OTAs realised this years ago, but today we wonder whether we won’t see this come into play with ownership.

Look at the hotel stack. A person can spend a good half an hour boring people in the pub about how many different organisations are involved with getting you in between those crisp white sheets in the correct location and with no-one you haven’t invited in your room. 

The days of the hotelier who lived above the shop and died on their feet wringing out the bedlinen are now largely the stuff of reality TV. The rise of models such as sale and leaseback led the way for multiple participants, from owner to brand to asset manager, third-party operator, franchised F&B, dark kitchens, outsourced housekeeping, outsourced revenue management, seven different types of PMS and on and on and on. 

Each fresh layer has the potential to bring with it an outstanding level of specialism which could revolutionise the hotel and how it serves its guests. And without proper communication between the layers, or one weak link, a hotel can wobble and fall.

During the pandemic we saw owners being forced to do that which few owners want to do: get close to the hotel. As a result, those blind eyes which were being turned as long as the cash came in could suddenly see and it was shocking. Hiding behind a brand or an operator was no longer possible and it was all laid open.

Much like a soothsayer reading the entrails, while the story it told may have been gripping, it wasn’t pretty to look at. But now done, stories are coming into the sector about an increased grasp of, say, the potential of technology. Or what that restaurant space could be better used for. Or whether team members were stretched or just badly deployed.

But will it also lead to a simpler life? Exposing the stack exposes unnecessary layers. Having opened the doors again, owners would like to keep more of the money generated behind them. What gets the chop? Cutting out the brands would be an easy slice to lose, with many investors wondering what their purpose serves without a feisty corporate market. But that’s too easy a jab to make and the brands have been scurrying around to prove their worth; bolstering tech, throwing themselves at those digital nomads. 

There are plenty of layers in the stack looking to make money and plenty with contributions to make. But one of the best ways to make money in the hotel world is to own hotels. Recent years have seen investors come into the market with no previous experience and make off with rewards for their risk. The sector is now just another segment of a portfolio. But for those who really know it, will they put more than just their expertise into the stack? Will more brands? Will more asset managers? Tech companies? 

It seems simple. 

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