The Then and Now of the Hotel Industry
Neels Bezuidenhout (N.B), operations manager of The Capital Hotel School, was recently interviewed on developments within the hotel industry and the necessity of continued training for employees within this industry.
SLOW: Between when you started in hospitality and now, how has the hotel industry changed?
N.B: The single factor that has caused the hotel industry to evolve most is increased guest awareness. In the past, hotel brands could create perceived value of their product through marketing, customer loyalty programmes, and relying heavily on word of mouth. But now it is possible for first-time guests to easily compare properties, view facilities, and read reviews in real time due to the advances in Internet use and the availability of information. This level of access to information has given guests a form of silent bargaining power where, what is not communicated to them through electronic media, is deemed to be non-existent. Guests tend to miss out on great hotels not marketed correctly online.
SLOW: What is your honest opinion on Airbnb versus hotels?
N.B: In a way I believe that Airbnb has in fact assisted the hotel industry in keeping it honest. It has caused the industry to start thinking outside the box and to realise that their guest service is ultimately what sells, more so than the facilities. Airbnb properties often simulate some grand hotels in the availability of facilities but are unable to create an unforgettable guest experience through interaction. In the words of American entrepreneur and motivational speaker, Jim Rohn: “One of the greatest gifts you can give to anyone is the gift of attention.” I like to believe that this will ultimately become the deciding factor when guests book a place to stay.
SLOW: Which challenges do you think the hotel industry faces?
N.B: The influence of the Internet on public perception of hotel lodging, labour relations and union issues, continuous rising energy costs, keeping up with guests’ technological expectations, cost of construction and maintenance in the built environment, recession-like economic conditions, and budget-cutting in the travel spend of businesses.
SLOW: Where are the opportunities for new hoteliers in the local market, if any?
N.B: The current evolving trend is for people to steer away from chains or groups. Consumers are constantly on the lookout for bespoke, boutique experiences. This leads to a world of opportunity wherein one can sell experiences that are outside of the norm. With South Africa having a moderate climate, entrepreneurs think in the line of open-air hotels and restaurants, rejuvenating decaying city centres, and pop-up hotels (like those seen at musical festivals). These type of opportunities can be seized for relatively low entry investment compared to classic, fullservice hotel ventures.
SLOW: Which is your preferred hotel brand when travelling locally and why?
N.B: I like Protea as a truly South African brand, but I also lean towards private, intimate, and out-of-the-box experiences that individual/owner-run hotels offer. These type of hotels are a rare find, therefore Airbnb is always an option where one can look to create one’s own experiences in unique settings.
SLOW: How do you feel South African hotels compare with international hotels?
N.B: I believe that South African hotels generally compare very well with international standards. If one takes price into consideration, and the effect of a weak rand, South African hotels generally offer some of the best value for money internationally. Also, with South Africa being such a beautiful country, the settings, surrounding landscapes, and atmosphere of many of our top hotels are frankly unmatched.
SLOW: Where is the industry lacking at the moment?
N.B: Guest service. Hotel staff are not appropriately trained and properties or groups hold back on spending on training as costs in other areas keep rising. However, without extraordinary customer service, I believe hotels will be a dying trade. We need to start focussing on “making the guest’s day” and creating those “moments of magic” in whatever way it is we can contribute. People are tired of being considered as transactions, numbers, data, or percentages, and are seeking to once again be cared for like human beings with emotions, wants, needs, and desires.
SLOW: How does training aid the hotel industry and why?
N.B: Training encourages personal growth while it addresses apathy. Trainees realise very quickly how their actions or lack thereof can easily affect the organisation’s bottom line. This is true whether they are being trained in cost management, guest service, garment care, or even software. Once they are made aware of the impact of the specific training, they buy into the reason for the training and they can grasp why it is necessary. More importantly, a culture of training means a culture of investing in people and in the words of Henry Ford: “You can take my factories, burn up my buildings, but give me my people and I’ll build the business right back again.”
SLOW: What, in your opinion, is the next big thing in the hotel industry?
N.B: Personalised experiences. In the future, hotels will be more resourceful and adaptable in order to offer guests a bespoke experience. Modern technology ensures that we now have the ability to know exactly what makes every guest tick. From his or her preference of food, music, entertainment, and décor to daily routines, travel history, and other interests. The hotels that yield to as much information as each guest allows them to access, and tailor a guest’s experience accordingly, will be the pioneers of the industry going forward.