The future of hospitality entrepreneurship

The hospitality industry has traditionally been more about evolution than revolution, but today’s fast-changing landscape stands in marked contrast to the industry’s past. Technology has greatly transformed hospitality, paving the way for disruptive business models like Airbnb and enhancing the guest experience through innovations such as the internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and data analysis.

Meanwhile, shifts in traveller preferences have given rise to new products and services, with millennials in particular redefining travel as they seek local connections and experiences that reflect their values. As Les Roches Global Hospitality Education has previously examined in a report with Skift, these changes all bring new business opportunities for hospitality organisations and entrepreneurs.

A conversation on hospitality trends and opportunities feels incomplete without mentioning technology, but as we marvel at the latest innovations, we should also remember one of the main purposes of technology: to provide guests with choices. Digital does not always mean better. A business traveller may appreciate the convenience of checking out automatically using a smartphone, but a leisure traveller may prefer to chat with the concierge in person, perhaps gleaning additional insights on the local area at the same time. Speaking of which, a key shift today is that the line between business and leisure is increasingly blurred – many hospitality businesses could benefit by offering well-equipped co-working spaces and other services tailored for “bleisure” guests.

Efficiency and quality of service are key to delivering an excellent guest experience, and if technology can enhance those aspects, then all the better. Messaging apps, for example, are one way that hotels, airlines, online travel agencies and other businesses provide customers with useful information on demand, either with the help of a staff member or an AI-powered chatbot. With an estimated two billion people using messaging apps globally, mobile messaging has become one of the most valuable channels for communicating with guests and receiving feedback. The growth of mobile communication has also inspired new hospitality business models, such as digital concierge services.

In hotels, robot butlers can quickly and discreetly deliver items to rooms and “answer” guest questions via AI, adding fun and novelty to the process. Examples of hospitality brands already using such robots (and their robots’ names) include Aloft’s Botlr, Yotel Boston’s YO2D2 and Henn-na Hotel’s entire fleet of robot staff. Meanwhile, hotel rooms are also getting “smarter” thanks to IoT connectivity. Marriott and Hyatt are already unveiling such technology, which enables guests to control temperature, lighting, music, window blinds and more using their smartphone or voice activation. Such features can help guests to enjoy a more personalised stay. But whenever we incorporate new technology, it’s also important to do so in a way that is intuitive – as a guest, I don’t want to be left second-guessing whether a button is going to open the window blinds or turn on the television. Technology should make things easier – not alienating.

Another area in which entrepreneurs and established brands alike can seize new business opportunities is in the creation of meaningful hospitality experiences. “Live like a local” has become a popular mantra among a new generation of young travellers, who seek a sense of connection with destinations through accommodation, food, activities and interaction. One of the most valuable resources that hotels have to cater to these preferences is their own staff: most customers appreciate it when staff can share knowledge about a building’s architecture, the surroundings and local customs.

For some innovative brands, connecting travellers with local communities is the mission that guides their business. Zita Cobb, social entrepreneur and founder of Fogo Island Inn, describes the Newfoundland resort as more of a “cultural centre” than a hotel. Located on a remote island off of Canada’s Atlantic coast, the luxury hotel invites guests to get to know the island’s unique community by learning about local fishing techniques or boat building alongside residents and discovering local artists.

Connecting with a destination also means developing a deeper understanding of a region’s food. With the global rise of celebrity chefs and growing interest in sustainability and organic food, local flavours can serve as inspiration for new business ideas. Spain’s Hacienda Zorita, founded as a vineyard in the 14th century, is today a wine hotel and spa that offers guests farm-to-table dining experiences and a behind-the-scenes look at cheese-making, olive oil production and raising pigs for Spain’s famous jamón ibérico. General manager and Les Roches graduate Duarte Cunha explains that the hotel aims “to get away from the Spanish idea of sangria, paella and the beach and go deeper into what’s authentic.”

The importance of fostering a welcoming community applies not only to guests, but internally as well. Being in the people business, hospitality entrepreneurs and managers have a responsibility to make a positive impact on the communities where they are located. It’s a duty that Les Roches graduates Sharon Lee and Javier Perez have taken to heart – the founders of Series of Intentions, a Singapore-based group of restaurants and bars, believe that building a community “starts internally – with treating our employees right and instilling service values.”

That’s the kind of broader outlook we encourage our students to develop through courses in sustainability and our specialisation in hospitality entrepreneurship. The fast growth and dynamic nature of the hospitality industry have generated many new opportunities for aspiring entrepreneurs. But whether introducing technological innovations or new guest experiences, business leaders would do well to remember the roots of hospitality: to make people feel welcome.

Dr Stuart Jauncey is managing director of hospitality management institution Les Roches Global Hospitality Education

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