SMPL Q&A: 3 questions on hospitality brands with May Shek

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SMPL Q&A is a blog feature in which we interview our experts on all things relevant to brand experience and design. Recently, we spoke with May Shek, strategist, about how the hospitality industry is changing, how hospitality brands must change with it and what can these brands learn from category disrupters.

What are the issues affecting hospitality brands today?

  1. Travelers are getting smarter: Travelers are no longer satisfied with traveling in the same old ways. Technology is enabling them to hack existing ways of travel and find cleverer ways to work around traditional limitations of the travel industry.
  1. The currency of trust is more important than ever: The hospitality industry can no longer be about selling just rooms. Hospitality brands that operate only transactionally cannot win customers’ hearts.

Both are opportunities and challenges for hospitality brands today. How they act upon the changing landscape will determine how well they fare in the next 10 years. This sets the tone for a new approach to brand strategy within the industry.

How have brands like Airbnb disrupted the industry?

Disrupters of the hospitality industry, like Airbnb, are tapping into the unmet needs of travelers desiring personal connections to their destinations. They are breaking the mold of conventional travel by rethinking the entire experience from the traveler’s point of view, reinventing both the online booking process and the in-person experience, tapping into and building communities along the way.

Airbnb is a product of the trust economy where the brand and its customers are equals. The community of hosts and guests is built on a sense of belonging and trust, telling the market, “Our home is your home.” Airbnb is bringing the original form of hospitality back to travel. As a result, trust has become an invaluable currency in the hospitality industry. As consumers shift from conspicuous consumption to experience consumption, the access to places and cultures as part of a community has become increasingly attractive to travelers.

What can traditional hospitality brands learn from these disrupters, and how can they rethink both their brands and business strategies to stay relevant?

Three things come to mind in today’s digital world for hospitality brands and the industry at large:

  1. Bring back the true meaning of hospitality: Some traditional brands have become so massive that they have become removed from their guests. These brands need to break down the boundaries between hosts and guests within the traditional hotel settings (e.g. formal reception fixtures, unintuitive booking systems) and bring back the core idea of being a host.
  1. Test, learn and repeat: Throw away the assumption that you have it all figured out. Hospitality brands need to start using their properties as living labs—constantly testing new ideas, learning and improving.
  1. Outsmart yourself: Hospitality brands need to challenge themselves internally in the same way others have challenged their way of doing things from the outside. When innovating, they need to ask themselves “what are the smart ideas that would put us out of business?” and prepare themselves to act on this challenge that newcomers pose.

May Shek is a strategist with Siegel+Gale.

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