7 -min. read

The lucky ones amongst you will already have received your full Leadership Lab report, exclusively in hard copy for the LE Miami 2016 collective. Until then, get a preview of the topic PLUGGED IN VS LOGGED OUT by hearing what Josh Katz (Proper Hotels) and David Bowd (Salt Hotels) had to say about the true meaning of connectivity for today’s traveller.

Leadership Lab 3

To read the full findings from this year’s Lab on the topic of PLUGGED IN VS LOGGED OUT, look out for your hard copy of the report or request a copy here

Josh Katz - Creative Director, Proper Hotels
Josh Katz – Creative Director, Proper Hotels

Can you explain the analogy between the music and travel industries in more depth? How will the shift to a predictive, subscription-based model that we’ve seen in the music industry translate into travel?

The old music industry paradigm was: Artists/labels/records/radio + record stores. Innovations in digital technology (and other cultural shifts) have helped to establish a new paradigm that has upended the old power structure (labels, FM radio, record stores) and replaced it with something that looks more decentralized, fluid, spontaneous, accessible. Instead of buying individual records from a trusted record store, we now have access to an infinite selection of individual songs and entire albums for less than it used to cost us to buy one album a month. And because of this, it is now conceivable that we can find the perfect song for the perfect moment, whatever it might be, in that very moment. Or better yet, it can be found for us—based on contextual data: who we are, who we are with and our past experiences. Are punk rock zines dead? Probably not. But if Google Play’s high profile acquisition of Songza last year is any indication, algorithms may be the new record store clerks. So what is the parallel to travel and hospitality? The travel industry is changing. The old power structure is being challenged. Technology has enabled the advent of the sharing economy (AirBnB, Uber), made the traveler’s voice heard (Twitter, etc.) and created more choice and more access for everyone. Most importantly, advanced information technology and mobile/social/virtual platforms are moving from novelty to necessity. A robust CRM system isn’t just for the big players anymore. Everyone needs one. Smart technology integrations into rooms and airplanes are status quo, no longer getting above-the-fold mentions unless they are truly groundbreaking or truly silly. The next step? Well, it’s already here. Like the music industry, the travel industry is beginning to embrace today’s technology platforms and tap into the growing data sets that exist for each of us in order to help their customers find the perfect “song” for the perfect moment, in that moment.

How can travel brands use technology to provide a better experience? Where should they be looking for inspiration?

Technology is only cool when it works. One of the worst mistakes a consumer-centric business can make is to put the novelty of technology over the fundamentals of  consumer experience. So, it seems like a basic rule of thumb could be that technology should solve people’s problems or, at the very least, make them feel good. If it creates more problems than it solves or if it makes you feel bad more than good, then it’s probably not a good use of technology. Is a keyless entry system that helps you bypass the front desk delivering you a better experience? For a lot of people, yes. Is a robot valet going to deliver you a better experience? It might make you laugh but it’s probably not the future of hospitality. I am most inspired by the simple, seemingly obvious uses of technology that drastically change the whole game. I am also inspired by data and information technology—“Big Data”—and the infinitely awesome ways that hotels and travel companies can use information about their guests (and the world at large) to make the experience frictionless and fun.

The idea of check-in and checkout is fast becoming outdated, as people want to be connected to each other and the things they love all the time. How can travel brands facilitate this connected mindset?

I like the front desk. I like the lobby. I like room service. I like many of the things that have long been central to the mythology of hotels. Hopefully, the ongoing shift in the traveler’s behavior as a function of new communication technologies doesn’t mean that travel brands can or should forgo some of the things that once made hotels great. If hospitality has historically been about “meeting people where they are”, then hospitality in the new era should still be about meeting people where they are—but now it has to happen in the digital/virtual space and at the front door. If guests want to provide feedback to a hotel on Twitter, the hotel should be there to respond. If a traveler wants to bypass the front desk and go straight to their room, they should be able to do that. But if they want to stop and have a chat with the concierge, they should be able to do that too.

What role will tech have to play in bridging the gap between our physical and digital selves – particularly within the hotel landscape? Is technology changing the definition of ‘community’?

This makes me think about the recent dialogue around the importance of the hotel lobby, and its reemergence as a community center of sorts. We are all aware of this scene, particularly in urban boutique hotels. A congregation of men and women in their late 20s, 30s and 40s sitting around communal tables staring into their MacBook Airs. At a glance, it seems like a “community”. But you have to wonder how “connected” the individuals are to each other while they physically occupy that space. The technology at their fingertips allows them to be incredibly “connected” to people around the world. It also taps them into an endless stream of information and entertainment content. But is it making them less connected to their local surroundings and physical experience? Probably. Is it the Hotel’s fault? Not at all. And it’s probably not the Hotel’s job to change it. The same thing plays out every day at the office, in schools and at home–places that are, like hotel lobbies, community venues. In all of these examples, the advent of the digital self has changed the behavior of the physical self, as an individual and as part of a group, therefore changing the communal dynamic of the space. Hotels, however, have a unique opportunity (dare I say obligation) to foster both modes of community—the digital and the physical—as an acknowledgement of the new way of being. A traveler’s digital self needs to function successfully and seamlessly in a hotel, as it does everywhere else it goes. But a chat room can never replace a lively rooftop bar with live music. And a night with an Oculus Rift will never be more exhilarating than romantic rendezvous in a hotel room. Although technology definitely changes how communities function, it doesn’t change what they fundamentally need. So let’s use technology to enhance experiences, make communication easier, and service more fluid. And let’s also make sure to push for great design, serve memorable meals, start provocative conversations and throw good old-fashioned parties. All together, these are the things that build great communities.

David Bowd - Founder, Salt Hotels
David Bowd – Founder, Salt Hotels

If travel is an escape, how can travel brands inject more fantasy and magic into the travel experience? 

I believe that travel brands can take the thinking out of the experience once you are in it. For example, you shouldn’t have to hunt for the necessities of a stay/trip – power, WiFi and so on should be at your fingertips immediately.

‘Connection’ is being redefined to mean not just digital, but also spiritual, environmental and communal. How can travel brands get people to unplug digitally and connect in these ways? 

By offering these as a choice. For me it’s a balance: when I travel I want to be connected to both the inside and outside world. The timing of offerings needs to be considered for the location as well – 6am sunrise yoga offered every day without fail is a way to connect with people, start the day correctly and then allow the guest to choose their own journey for the rest of the day.

How important is the location of a hotel when it comes to encouraging people to connect with their surroundings and themselves?

Very important – for a retreat and to connect internally you need to be isolated, at one with nature and away from the distractions of urban life.

Do you think that travel has an opportunity to become a ‘treatment’ that makes you feel better when you check out?

Yes I do – I strongly believe this is the future of many things. Imagine feeling better leaving work than you did when you arrived: it’s the same for a hotel stay. With thoughtful amenities and services we can make this a reality in the hospitality sector – spa services, caloric knowledge on what you are eating, a nutritional expert helping you chose your food – it’s all possible and coming, I believe.

The increasing urbanisation of our communities is leading to a craving for a rural lifestyle. How will this affect the next wave of contemporary hotels? How should rural offerings differentiate from their urban counterparts?

I think this is critical. Hotels like Concordia on St John have integrated themselves into their surroundings and not the other way round – the experience is full and enriching, reminding me as the traveller that I am a visitor and this is someone else’s natural habitat.

As physical health becomes linked to spiritual health, how do you see trends in culinary, wellness and fitness evolving?

As above – it’s about choice and range of offerings. No longer is a standard room service menu with club sandwich and burgers enough – I want a 1-day juice cleanse or a high protein meal to be a standard offering.

Tim Snell

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