Hotel Management Summit 2015: game-changing travel trends and how to manage them

SINGAPORE — At the Hotel Management Summit 2015, here at the Marina Bay Sands, top hotel executives shared strategies and perspectives on essential hotel management topics, ranging from industry trends, operating processes and F&B business models to mobile technology, employee management and service culture.

Anticipating Game-Changing Travel Trends
In the opening keynote speech, Harish Shah, futurist and consultant at Stratserv Consultancy, highlighted three game-changing travel trends that will impact the travel industry: generational change, money and technology.

Millennials aspire toward enriching travel experiences, and will travel more frequently on smaller vacations or during work, Shah said. WiFi connectivity in hotels is an essential necessity, enabling them to keep up with their work while having a vacation.

The sharing economy, he went on, including models such as Airbnb, HomeAway and Couchsurfing, will disrupt the hospitality industry, and bring about the growth of a new demographic of budget travelers who otherwise would not be traveling. With dynamic packaging and smart database systems such as Zuji and MakeMyTrip, consumers have instant access to information on the best deals and services at their fingertips, while online reviews have the potential to create a positive or negative impact on brand reputation.

“Content is king. If your content is present, people can see and review you, and if they have good reviews of you, they will come to you. That’s what dynamic packaging does,” said Shah.

From left: Lothar Pehl, Senior Vice President Operations and Global Initiatives, Starwood Hotels and Resorts Asia Pacific; Soo Hin Yeoh, VP Finance – China, Kempinski Hotels – China; Sara Kearney, Senior Vice President of Operations - Asia Pacific, Hyatt Hotels & Resorts; Nikhil Nath, CEO, Knowcross; Ian Wilson, SVP Hotels Operations, Marina Bay Sands; Bart Buiring, SVP Operations, Asia Pacific, Marriott International

Reinvestigating Operating Processes and Service Offerings to Boost Productivity
In the past, standard operating procedures were established to define brand reputation and ensure consistency, but with that came inefficiency, duplication of effort, the need for supervision and an inadvertent decline in productivity.

“Do we still need multi layers of management for a generation that has been living in this sphere of absolute and utter information transparency?” asked Sara Kearney, SVP of operations Asia Pacific at Hyatt Hotels. “Take information from the systems that you use to define better processes. Identifying where those processes are actually removing value instead of adding value, optimizing technology to enable instead of hinder, looking for those hurdles that get into the way, could potentially find new areas of productivity that don’t necessarily require investment.”

Ian Wilson, SVP hotel operations at Marina Bay Sands, highlighted the importance of measurement as a foundation for productivity gains. “At its very root and foundation is doing a better job of measurement. That will be measuring our processes more effectively, as well as our outcomes, measuring from the departmental level all the way to the individual level.”

On the use of mobile technology to enhance operations, Bart Buiring, SVP operations Asia Pacific at Marriott International, said that mobility provides a solution across many areas from both the customer-facing and employee-facing perspectives. With Marriott’s mobile app, guests can check in and check out of their rooms, use a chat function to submit requests and, in the future, order room service and unlock their rooms with a smartphone, reshaping many aspects of hotel operations. “It’s a dynamic space, and we are very invested in mobility,” said Buiring.

For Lothar Pehl, SVP of operations and global initiatives at Starwood Hotels Asia Pacific, boosting productivity is a team effort that spans across every department in the organization.

“Past thinking of productivity was often associated with what people produce. This focus shifted as we now think of productivity by how much net current and future benefit/value we create out of your investment in a blend of people, equipment and time of use. In this conversation you consider carefully what is the right technology for your business, what are the services you have, how do you view operating standards and branded promises. It is a subject that involves multiple stakeholders, from human resources, IT, engineering, finance to the general manager. It is no longer a functional exercise, but a team exercise where everybody comes to the table to find out where the next boundary is,” he said.  

Successful Business Models and Innovations for Enhanced Profitability
Nicolas Kurban, VP of food and beverage Asia Pacific at Four Seasons Hotels, said that with F&B as such a huge investment, hotels need to identify a concept, think strategically and take a long-term view. Even though trends change, hotel restaurants need to be flexible and come up with something that will be relevant in the long term.

“Operators need to think like a freestanding restaurant. The trend is to really come up with something that is [like that] and very trendy, because your competition is the other independent restaurants and bars all over the city. You have to see what the other restaurants in the city are like, what are the trends, what made them successful, and how I can be even more successful than them,” said Kurban.

Fabrice Blondeau, VP global of food and beverage at AccorHotels, touched on four key elements that make a successful restaurant: product, people, design and marketing. Both Blondeau and Kurban observed that independent restaurants are stronger in marketing, while hotel restaurants are sometimes hampered in their marketing efforts. Kurban pointed out that it is common to have 90 percent of the hotel’s marketing budget focused on rooms, even though 50 percent of revenue may be from F&B offerings.

Investigating the Root Causes of New Hotel Opening Delays
Gert Noordzy, managing director of Northside Consulting, conducted a research project to investigate the causes of hotel opening delays in China. Seventy-three percent of new hotel openings are delayed by an average of 37 weeks, causing owners to lose US$19.9 million in opportunity costs. The research found that lack of project management culture was the main root cause of hotel opening delays.

“A hotel opening is in fact a project. If we were to use project management methodology, it is very suitable for opening hotels on a large scale. The process of opening a hotel is always identical; it means that plans and schedules can be standardized. We need to upgrade our knowledge of project management methodology and standards,” said Noordzy.

Debate: Is It Financially Justifiable to Achieve High Customer Satisfaction in Mature Markets?
With rising labor costs and constraints, how can hotels continue to maintain high service standards that customers have come to expect? Panelists concurred that creating a culture of service excellence among employees is the key to delivering high customer satisfaction.

“The most important thing for us when we open any hotel it is to ensure that the philosophy and culture are ingrained into the hotel, as fast as we can, and as pervasive as possible, because if you don’t have that foundation of philosophy and culture, you are not able to drive service excellence,” said K.C. Moy, EVP and secretary of board at Capella Hotel Group.

Frederic Flageat-Simon, CEO Asia of Commune Hotels, suggested that instead of managing labor costs by finding ways for housekeepers to clean more rooms, hotels should consider adopting a leaner management structure. He believes that customer satisfaction begins with cultivating the right culture and motivation amongst employees.

“Our industry has always been very traditional, and we need to revolutionize the way we manage people in our industry. In Commune, we want to focus our energy on making someone’s day, creating a culture of helping your employee create a guest day and realizing this is what makes a difference, this is why you should come to work,” said Flageat-Simon.

Panelists also had a discussion on the various tools and metrics to measure customer satisfaction. David Topolewski, CEO of Qooco, observed that many hotels have incorporated TripAdvisor ratings and response time to negative reviews as core KPIs. “There is just so much scale at TripAdvisor that it is being incorporated into the KPIs of many hotels,” said Topolewski.

“You have quality checks every day from your clients who are going online, and they will tell you whether or not you are a five-star hotel and whether you are worth the price they are paying. One of the best models that we use is Revinate. Revinate allows us in real-time to know exactly everything that is being said online for all of our properties,” said Flageat-Simon.

Top photo, from left: Lothar Pehl, Senior Vice President Operations and Global Initiatives, Starwood Hotels and Resorts Asia Pacific; Soo Hin Yeoh, VP Finance – China, Kempinski Hotels – China; Sara Kearney, Senior Vice President of Operations - Asia Pacific, Hyatt Hotels & Resorts; Nikhil Nath, CEO, Knowcross; Ian Wilson, SVP Hotels Operations, Marina Bay Sands; Bart Buiring, SVP Operations, Asia Pacific, Marriott International

Middle photo, from left: Chris Glaessel, Managing Director,  CIR | VIS; Nicolas Kurban, Vice President, Food & Beverage, Asia Pacific, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts; Fabrice Blondeau, Vice President Global, Food & Beverage, Luxury and Upscale Brands, AccorHotels;  Michael Ma, Group CEO, IndoChine Group

Bottom photo, from left: Symon Bridle, Chief Operating Officer, Rosewood Hotel Group; K.C. Moy, EVP and Secretary of Board, Capella Hotel Group; David Topolewski, CEO & Mobile Learning Evangelist, Qooco; Frederic Flageat-Simon, CEO – Asia, Commune Hotels & Resorts; Antoine Chahwan, Regional Vice President & General Manager, Four Seasons Hotel Singapore