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Maintaining the competitive edge

Applying a new idea or service just to be in line with one’s competitors is neither innovative nor beneficial to guests

Gulf News

The hotel industry, especially here in Dubai, is so competitive that it has become a challenge to stand out from the crowd. One hotel comes up with a good idea and competitors clamber over each other to copy and implement it in their own properties.

Applying a new idea or service just to be in line with one’s competitors is neither innovative nor beneficial to guests. In the race to be the best, larger hotel groups can often lose sight of the actual needs of our clients; do they want, or even really need, an iPad restaurant menu, for example?

To really move the hospitality industry on, we should look further afield to other industries’ best practises, both within the travel sector, and out of it. What elements can we learn from other companies to adapt and apply to our own businesses? Airlines are a great example; compared to the hotel industry they always seem to be one step ahead.

Airlines have managed to simplify the process of travel; there’s attention to detail and clever use of technology that is commonly found across many carriers. Our core brand at Carlson Rezidor is Radisson Blu, and the majority of our customers are business travellers. This particular segment demands quick and easy solutions when they are travelling, and being able to check-in with just a barcode on your phone is a great example of this. Hotels have experimented with fast check-out systems, but nothing comes close to the numerous check-in options airlines offer.

Airlines manage to walk the tricky line between a fast and smooth process without compromising the personal experience, much of this is down to their loyalty schemes. I’m yet to walk onto an Emirates flight and not be automatically greeted and acknowledged as a returning customer, and many other airline loyalty schemes are exceptional at recognising the customer from the initial booking, right thorough to the ‘goodbye’. The hotel industry should be working towards dovetailing this service element into all their operations. Not just at check-in, but in the room service, in the spa or in the restaurants.

Retail is another industry which the hotel market could learn from. Fashion brands create a lifestyle, something their customers want to be a part of, often becoming the biggest brand advocates, by wanting to ‘show off’ the branding and logo as a form of status.

For luxury hotel chains this is something that should be embraced. Often people who work within the fashion industry live and breathe the brands they work with. Can the same be said for luxury lifestyle hotels, or even mid-market hotels? At Hotel Missoni in Kuwait, we focused on incorporating a ‘way of life’ into our operations and staff, in training and every day since. It’s called ‘Vita’. The hotel team in Kuwait strives to ensure each guest has a personalised and on-brand stay; by which I mean an immersive experience that one would expect, when entering into the world of an Italian fashion house.

The overwhelming influencer on changes across most industries today, such as newspapers, holiday bookings etc. is of course, technology. Without apps, downloads, ‘likes’ and tweets, the world would not have moved on at the pace we have witnessed. After talking to many of our guests, a common point of conversation is free WiFi – which is now seen by customers as important as free electricity, particularly for business travellers. Every Carlson Rezidor hotel across the globe, for instance, offers complimentary WiFi as standard, recognising that this need by guests can only aid business meetings etc, but this is not yet a common practice as it is in the retail industry.

Adaptations from advancements in varying industries can swing both ways, however. There are some elements of the hotel industry that would benefit other industries. For example, some retail and technology giants have recently been looking to recruit high-level executives from the hospitality industry in a bid to run their shops with a more customer service focus, similar to the service that has become synonymous with the hotel industry.

The year 2012 saw some major developments within the hospitality industry, with ‘green’ initiatives implemented by many of the global hotel groups, including ourselves, being under a particular spot-light. Perhaps 2013 will see another big shift in dynamics within the hotel segment. By really listening to customers and closely observing the successful strategies in other industries, hotels can continue to innovate rather than imitate.

Mark Willis is the Area Vice President, Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group