Hotels, you’re on mute

IHG announced this week that it had set up a series of webinars designed in lieu of physical owner, investor and developer meetings and European roadshows. The webinars focus on the group’s core brands and, well, you only had to look at M. Macron’s earnest face this week to realise that Europe isn’t going to be a development roadshow hotspot any time soon.

And good on IHG. Here at NewDog we love a webinar. It’s not great news for sellers of business trousers and skirts – something to bear in mind if you’re keen on your suits being equally worn, top and bottom – but they’re a great way to see friendly faces and stay in touch with the sector. And good grief are they efficient in terms of a commute. 

For IHG, it’s a lot more accessible than downloadable brochures and, even once their executives are on the road, a library of such information is a great idea as an entry point for owners. One can see the webinar itself hanging on after the pandemic on all manner of topics. After all, they’d been around before it, it’s just that they had been a little too associated with How To Paint Your World Of Warcraft Figures.

And this brings us to a relevant point about technology and the hotel sector. Or, for the purposes of this column, Technology. Because that’s how the sector traditionally saw it – all on one lump. Fancy tellies, PMS systems, minibars which could tell you how often they’d been opened. 

This made it very hard for hotels to understand it and very likely that errors would be made in making purchasing decisions. This is how we have ended up with some hotels still using abacuses and some where you can control the heat of the toilet seat from your taxi as you leave the airport. 

This is also how the sector developed a reputation for being technophobic, when it’s not. Hotels have always been eager to stay ahead of trends – really –  but, as any early adopter will tell you, that doesn’t come cheap in terms of technology. Expensive and contractually restrictive legacy wifi systems are behind a lot of hopeless hotel wifi, not the belief that the internet will never catch on. 

Likewise all manner of gadgets and gizmos and, as we know, people in this hospitable sector do talk. And when they’ve paid thousands for buggy gadgets which didn’t deliver, it was chatted about. Technology got a bad name – and that didn’t half help when the OTAs caught everyone napping. 

Click back to the pandemic and the sector is being forced to look again at what it thinks of Technology, in all its forms. But it’s not like it was in the 1980s. With the cloud, accessibility is now there for all – the burden doesn’t fall on one hotel, brand, or even company. The good news on the black box front is that guests bring their own gadgets, you just need a telly to hook it all up to. 

Just as with webinars, Zoom and all our pandemic connectivity, hotels are querulous about what’s going to stick after the world goes back to what it hopes/suspects will be The Same. Hate to break it to Zoom, but after a year of messing with everyone’s spectacle prescriptions, it is going to find a drop-off in usage. A place, yes, but not the only place. 

Hotels are having to work out what fits in with that occasional goal of hotels: service. Criton’s Julie Grieve, who was tremendous on our podcast this week, put it well: having got used to table service, why would you make people jostle at the bar again? Likewise mobile keys and automatic payments. These things make life better, and people who have better lives like those who made them better. 

This past year has worn out our patience for time wasting in all its forms. There’s pent-up demand for hotels, but no last straws left for anything which gets in the way of releasing it. 

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