You can always get what you want 

Coming up with catchy catchphrases to describe trends in the hotel sector has always been somewhat fraught and we are grateful when they get a decent shelf life. How pleasing it is to see Pretend and Extend getting another outing. 

So it was relaxing this week to be able to co opt Cancel Culture from elsewhere, most notably social media. Yes, we’re so hip. Although, true to its inception, the hotel version wasn’t much to get the bunting out of either. 

This week’s Leadership From Chaos conference, held in London, Rimini, Stockholm and online on laptops everywhere, heard Cris Tarrant, CEO, BVA BDRC, talk about a culture of cancellation driven by the pandemic, which he said posed a threat to hotels heading into 2022. 

Tarrant said: “Consumers have been conditioned to expect that they can cancel. When we move into 2022 we will think that the staycation market is holding up well, but people may be waiting for other markets to open up before then they cancel their booking. I would warn that rates of cancellation are going up and the sector needs to protect itself against that.”

It’s those customers, you know. They are getting into the idea that they can have things their way, be that extra hot with almond milk or leaving a hotel with an unused room 24 hours out from their arrival. 

Tarrant noted that the cancel culture was likely to skew any apparent domestic travel boom in the UK next year, as people booked early to be sure of a summer holiday (and to see off any of the price spikes seen this year) but could easily dump the booking if it looked easier to go to, say, Marbella. 

Hotstats’ David Bailey confirmed that early bookings for summer next year were underway and Legacy Hotels’ Andy Townsend confirmed that this summer “we haven’t delivered value for money ….we weren’t managing anything like generating demand, we were dealing on the supply that was there”. With that backdrop, the inclination of the guest to take the power back has been very much set. 

And this all takes us back to the era before the pandemic, when the brands were gnashing about direct bookings in their attack/defence against the OTAs. At that point, being able to cancel at a whim was being priced in as a loyalty member benefit. So much so that the OTAs were busy seeing how they could get in on the act, which is a sure sign that you’re barking up the right tree. 

Frank Reeves, CEO, Avvio, told the conference that OTAs would “start to align around the guest experience far more than the hotel experience.I will book with who I feel has my interests at heart, who is obsessed with the guest journey”. And a chunk of this journey is to do with not taking that journey at all – or veering off to take it somewhere else. 

So are we going back to the old wars? Or is it time to appreciate that sometimes guests should get what they want? Tarrant called for subtlety and variety in pricing, rather than panic. This was a theme repeated at the conference, with Tim Davies, MD, Pace Dimensions, reminding hotels that dynamic pricing was “taking hotels to a new level, allowing them to break down into products and rooms they are selling the most of, adapting pricing to meet market demands”. 

Attribute-based pricing, bundling, surcharges, non-linear pricing, group pricing, customer segment pricing, temporary price differentiations and lead time pricing could all, he said, optimise the revenue that can be achieved. 

Looking again at pricing strategies is not just for conferences in a variety of locations. Mews founder Richard Valtr wrote about membership models back in May, commenting: “New pricing models must take account of every inch of space and every second of time, as well as an openness to experimentation.”

Is it time to give everyone what they want? It could be complex, but if you try sometimes, well, you might find, you get what you need. 

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