Welcome to the world, hotels

We have always had a soft spot for the Pandox Hotel Market Day and this year left us as squishy as ever, albeit in a thoughtful, geopolitical way. You don’t hear a lot of ‘ethnocentric world view’ at the average hotel gathering, but maybe we should.

For hotels, looking out through the revolving door and down the road to find out what’s happening has never been a priority. Hotels should be a sanctuary. Newspapers aren’t allowed in DisneyWorld and hotels haven’t got where they are today by not stealing ideas from Disney.

And, unless your property is hosting Reuters in a war zone, hotels have managed to stay clear of current affairs. At IHIF a few years ago, protestors complained about hotels in Nepal, which they felt were taking sides with their nefarious being open. Nothing to do with us, said a passing executive, ‘it’s not like we have a seat on the UN’.

And they don’t, but hotels have more power than they are willing to embrace. Frequently first into a country as it is being developed, second only to the oil people, they have not quite the power to make economies, but certainly influence.

In his exceptional book Responsible Leadership, Mark Moody-Stuart, former chairman of Royal Dutch/Shell Group, talks about the moral dilemma when considering whether to go into a country and suck out its natural resources. It takes a former journalist to find morality in the memoirs of an oil man, but it makes for a gripping read, particularly the section on developing in Chad, a country which was described by NGOs and other organisations as “too poor and underdeveloped to be able to handle the income from oil”.

Undeterred, a strategy was created with the World Bank to manage the revenue and how it was allocated. Moody-Stuart commented: “I recall before the formal agreement seeing about $5m of executive jet with ‘government of Chad’ on the tail parked at Rotterdam Airport just after a payment had been made to the government.” The World Bank pulled out of the plan but Moody-Stuart remained convinced that global cooperation involving governments, companies and transnational organisations to meet basic standards on human rights and all those other mouthwatering things were very much the way ahead.

Back at Pandox, Per Schlingmann, strategist, author and entrepreneur, told the assembled that
hotels had to address the issue: “does adding value to society create profit?” and where they lay in the debate.

The world, he and Dr Kjell A Nordström, economist, author and advisor, posited, had moved on from globalisation (which had bought us Madonna, Lady Gaga and banking) and we were instead “evolving into value-based regions”. While that sounded like fun, it was really a warning to note that not every country shared your values. Don’t expect to celebrate Pride in Shanghai.

As hotels move into the mainstream as an asset class, they are also likely to see their position in society grow. The sector moans – with some justification – about how misunderstood it is by government, particularly in the UK (less so in the US and parts of Europe), but it as that oil money dies away and tourism becomes the driver of more economies, hotels will rise in influence.

What happens outside is no longer a matter of ‘will it mean more or fewer guests’. Schlingmann said that we were “moving from mass communication to mass conversation”. Hotels need to work out what they want to say. And how they’re going to stand behind it.

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