This article originally appeared in The Drum.

Running a hotel business isn’t a walk in the park. The challenges of the COVID-19 years and the cost of living crisis have added fuel to the fire, bringing further layers of complexity to a beleaguered sector. The industry is rebounding, but it’s not out of the woods just yet. Despite promising signs of recovery, the sector still faces challenges related to guest experience – perhaps the most important hurdle hoteliers must keep an eye out for.

How are hospitality companies still getting it wrong? Once again, we’ve gotten down and dirty to look at how brand experience can be improved with a focus on simplicity, and we’ve crunched the numbers that matter in the latest iteration of our World’s Simplest Brands study.

Hospitality has bounced back – and has a bright future

According to our research, there’s been good improvement in the sector globally: out of 25 industries, hospitality and hotels ranked 13th in terms of the ability to deliver simple brand experiences to customers. Just two years ago, the sector was ranked 20th, reflecting the chaos of the pandemic at the time: travel bans, health and safety restrictions, and new sanitary requirements made nailing the perfect hospitality experience a moving target. It’s only natural that the sector became increasingly complex to navigate.

After the dark comes dawn, and our study shows how hoteliers have adjusted to capitalize on pent-up demand for travel. The sector made notable improvements in both the check-in and check-out experiences, through investing in mobile apps, artificial intelligence and virtual reality to help save time and cut costs. The next time you crave late-night room service, you might find yourself ordering through an always-on chatbot. These improvements were felt particularly by those 55 and older, a cohort that grew up before the digital age and tends to find technological innovations to analog processes more of a step change.

Generation Z proves a tough nut to crack for the industry

Unlike the older generations who are able to notice how the sector is progressing relative to how they traveled in the past, 18-24-year-olds provide most challenges to hoteliers. This demographic has a different stance on the world, placing importance on sustainability, unique and local experiences, and active engagement through digital platforms. Their high appetite for technology means they will tend to compare experiences across industries and have less patience for processes that lag behind. These form base-level expectations still unmet by most hotel brands.

When analyzing the guest journey for our ‘World’s Simplest Brands’ study, we found that Generation Z struggles most when planning their trip and understanding how loyalty schemes work. How can hotel brands provide focus and tailor relevant information to help streamline the planning of a new trip? I’m sure you’ve been overwhelmed by the amount of information when researching a last-minute beach getaway. We’ve all been there. Countless review sites. Inconclusive customer ratings. The fear of making a bad decision, only to let our travel buddies down again. Yes, planning can be dreadful.

Loyalty schemes are no different. Hard-to-understand policies on how to accrue points, where and how to redeem them, what to do to keep them, and when you actually get to spend them. What’s worthy of a guest’s loyalty? And how flexible can these schemes be to cater to the different needs and expectations of a wide range of guests? With so many hospitality alternatives available, achieving guest satisfaction is perhaps the biggest step towards loyalty. So before thinking of the nuts and bolts of reward programs, hotel brands should focus on winning guests’ hearts and minds first – creating memorable moments that surprise, delight and engage. All aspects of simple brand experiences.

Smart improvements win customers and boost profits

We’ve proven time and again that simplicity pays. According to our research, brands that simplify see the impact on their top line: 13% of hospitality customers are willing to pay more for a simpler experience when traveling. That means, all too often, money’s being left on the table by hotel brands.

But global juggernauts like Hilton and Hyatt are listening. Both companies made a quantum leap since our last global ranking, moving up 34 and 32 places, respectively. In Hilton’s case, the company introduced a ‘digital key’ enabling guests to bypass the front desk and select and unlock their rooms directly from their smartphones. This not only makes the check-in experience easier but also frees staff to focus on in-person interactions, further enhancing guest experience.

Simplicity in hospitality can lead to improved guest satisfaction, operational efficiency and savings. Regardless of demographic, simplicity reduces frustration and dissatisfaction for guests, contributing to hassle-free and enjoyable experiences – an essential ingredient for the long-term success of the hospitality industry.


Patrick Kampff is a Senior Strategy Director