Sharing economy, OTAs and new kinds of tourists force hoteliers to make innovative decisions
Gabriele Piccini, UniCredit: “The recommendation is to ride the wave of change”
A sector that is coming out of an impasse that was particularly felt during the second half of 2015, a signal backed by the main activity category models. Gabriele Piccini, country manager for Italy at UniCredit, provides an overview of this reversal in Italian tourism trends. The bank has signed a strategic agreement with Confindustria Alberghi to finance refurbishment of hospitality establishments.
See Italy: After a long difficult period, the tourism sector seems to have turned around. What are the UniCredit observatory forecasts for the next few years?
“During our roadshow presenting the Tourism Project, the operators themselves told us that the sector seems to have finally left this im- passe behind. The second half of 2015 especially even registered a double-digit increase in seaside tourism and Milan’s success during the months of Expo. The results this year are also confirmed by the main activity category models that show a constant global growth trend in tourists for the next few years, above all relative to emerging markets. What is important is managing to intercept the largest slice
possible of these new flows with a competitive service above all in terms of quality of services and products offered”.
See Italy: You have dedicated the UniCredit 4Tourism project to sector operators; can you give us some initial results for the initiative?
“Since we launched the project in April 2015, we have set up a campaign to promote this initiative the length and breadth of Italy, touching 20 of the major tourist resorts and presenting the project to over 2500 entrepreneurs in the sector. In each of the regions we met operators desirous of attention from banks and institutions, signals that we had already gathered and that led us to dedicate a specific project to tourism. During the first 10 months of the year, we loaned around 600 million euros to this sector, well distributed across all our clientele segments. If we continue at this rate, we count on achieving our declared goal even before 2018. Our offer is not limited just to financial products; we have made insurance products available as well, in collaboration with top level partners, technology and hi-tech products such as hotel TV, spa equipment and gyms, evolved cash registers, business intelligence software and training courses for sector operators that all add up to make a truly complete range of services, tailor-made to suit operator needs”.
See Italy: You have announced that you want to gain 30,000 new clients in the sector by the end of 2018. What progress are you making?
“We have made huge public commitments and just 6 months after launch of this initiative we are seeing the first results. We have put our network and our products at the disposal of the sector, aware of the strategic importance for Italy of a sector that, if given adequate support, generates positive returns in economic and employment terms for the different regions. We have
already acquired 5,000 new clients and we expect to see many more arriving over the next three years”.
See Italy: What are the challenges facing hoteliers in the shortmedium term?
The hotel sector is today at the centre of great change. New players have entered the sharing economy; the OTA giants are becoming established and the market is seeing the arrival of new kinds of tourists, in terms of habits, spending power and country of origin. This is generating continual change in demand and consequently in supply. One of the most important challenges for a hotelier today is managing to innovate products and services, staying ahead of market requests”.
See Italy: What is the plus to be promoted?
“What may truly make the difference for the sector is working to relocate the hotel as the focal point of the tourist experience. Clients must start to see it not just as a somewhere to sleep after long trips, but rather as somewhere to spend time during their stay, making use of the public areas, restaurant, bar and spa, all important income generators for the hotel. We need to work on a change in approach and, by no means less important, rework what we offer and put in place high level ancillary services without forgetting that a sturdy integration with the local area must always be preserved".
See Italy: Are we ready for change?
We are lucky to have top level businesses on the Italian hotel panorama among our clients. These businesses have planned medium/long-term investments and on their part we have seen great dedication and perseverance, which have led them to make choices that are at times anti-cyclical. This means that they are on today’s market with all the right boxes ticked for bringing results, in other words with structural, technological, legislation and product adaptations. Our project is also moving precisely in this direction, aiming to work alongside entrepreneurs in their investment choices”.
See Italy: What new digital projects is UniCredit Start Lab dedicating to the sector?
Start Lab is a project that the bank has believed in since 2009. The startups we select every year receive awards in Italy and abroad and many of them have been turned into successful businesses. In the tourism sector, ferment around the issue is more
intense than in other sectors as the impact of digital arrived earlier with truly explosive results. We have made a choice, aware of the importance of our businesses’ technological adaptation. We have decided to distribute the startup product developed by Travel Appeal in our agencies. This software monitors the web reputation of hotels and restaurants to support strategic decision by entrepreneurs in the sector. We will continue scouting for new ideas and new startups throughout 2016, to enrich and make our range of services and products increasingly more innovative”.