Tim Arthur explains why hotels should be lovable

(IHIF 2019)

The former creative director of Virgin Money and CEO of Time Out Group, Tim Arthur is the newly appointed creative director of Need to Know Club and will open the second day of the International Hotel Investment Forum 2019 with insight into his experiences and the skills required to perform in a changing market. 

During the presentation “The View from Outside: Customer experience and performing in a changing market,” Arthur will discuss his experience leading the Time Out brand into digital transformation and becoming creative director of a banking brand.

Ahead of the conference, Arthur shared his insights on how to make a brand “lovable” and how technology is changing the game.

1. You described being the editor of Time Out London as “the best job in the world.” That’s a pretty big statement. Can you help us understand why?

As editor, you get to see and feel the heartbeat of the city; it’s a very privileged position. And then you get to share all the things that make the city incredible with an audience who are equally passionate about it and eager to learn. To add to that, the team at Time Out were a fantastic group of extremely creative and talented individuals. My time as editor coincided with London 2012 and the buzz and pride the city was experiencing over hosting the Olympics was exhilarating. I fell in love with London all over again. It’s all sounding fairly idyllic so far but to give you some context, on the third day in the job, the CEO called me into the office and dropped into the conversation that the company was bankrupt and we had a month until we’d have to close the business!

2. There followed a period of significant change to maneuver the business to a position of profitability: taking the publication free, establishing Time Out Live, initiating a digital platform as the foundation of the business. How did you manage this change among customers and colleagues?

Through celebrating success, constant communication and storytelling. There are always going to be a small group of people who resist change and will sabotage it to try and ensure it fails. There are some difficult conversations to be had with those individuals. However, for those who are on board and excited, I always encouraged a culture of engagement so everyone knew their input and ideas were welcome. There is no hierarchy on good ideas and all the team knew they were empowered to make change. We encouraged innovation and regularly held competitions and hackathons to generate solutions to challenges the business faced. Often, they didn’t lead directly to the solution but they started the conversation, which ultimately led to ways to solve problems and make things better. 

3. The hotel sector is grounded in understanding and exceeding customer needs. A large part of your career has involved considering the customer journey. How do you stay relevant to understanding what customers want? 

The world is certainly changing quickly, as are customer needs. A business needs to understand what makes it lovable and then weave that into its operations, strategy, employees and customers. To me, love isn’t soft. It’s a powerful motivator, driver and value proposition that can differentiate a business. The hospitality industry has fantastic opportunities to play a very special part in a customer’s journey and deliver heartfelt service that can genuinely enhance a person’s business or leisure trip.

4. A sizable and notable global trend is technology, it’s implementation and co-existence with people within the workplace. This naturally permeates across the hospitality industry. What insight do you have for those trying to balance the benefits of technology with the human element of hospitality?

People have to trust technology and be certain that digital can deliver. During my time at Virgin Money, our manifesto around anything digital was that it must deliver ease, empowerment and joy. On occasion, we actually built friction points into our software so it reflected the human interaction and frame of mind. Applying for a mortgage is a massive decision and requires considerable time and thought from the applicant. A digital system that gives you a decision on a mortgage in six seconds made people feel uneasy, so we added some additional questions, not necessary to the application process, but that enabled the customer to feel at ease with the technology. Equally technology within a hotel must reflect the human experience, put the customer and staff at ease, empower staff to deliver that heartfelt service and bring joy to guests, staff and management.

Tim Arthur will be presenting "The View from Outside: Customer experience and performing in a changing market" on March 5 at 9:10 CET during the International Hotel Investment Forum (IHIF) 2019. 

Emily Newman is the Content and Communication Manager at Questex Hospitality Group, the parent company of Hotel Management Magazine, which will be presenting IHIF.