We who have worked in the hotel industry for many years (or weeks, for that matter) know how unpleasant it can be. It’s not glamorous. There are messes to clean, unhappy customers to comfort, and occupancy rates to worry about. If you and your team are doing a good job, then the “shine” of the hotel will be spotless both in terms of the physical space and the guest service. There is always work to do below the surface.
The hotel industry is glamorous due to the formality and perfection of its presentation. Whether traveling for pleasure or business, checking into a nice hotel can make you feel special. You might feel pampered as if you were in a different world. This is another sign that the hotel staff and management are working together. Our industry is built on the fundamental principle of making guests feel special.
Given the glamour of the hotel industry, it makes sense that retail and fashion brands would want to enter the sector. We might dismiss the idea at first. What does the German fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld with his white ponytail, black gloves, and iconic style, know about hotel management?
The scope of the hotel chain he plans to launch will surprise us. The tagline on the teaser website — “See the World through Karl’s Lens” — epitomizes a glamor-friendly fusion.
Other retailers, such as Restoration Hardware and West Elm in the US, are also pursuing a more low-key approach to entering the hotel business. Both companies are experts in chic retail and contemporary furniture, so the transition to hotel design isn’t a giant leap. These companies are expected to save a lot of money by utilizing their existing inventory and supply lines to develop branded hotels for the American market.
Why is this trend growing, and what does it mean for those in the hospitality industry who have worked for many years?
Industry in flux
There’s a good reason why so many conversations in the industry recently have centered around a San Francisco-based firm. Airbnb always comes up when you examine the changes in hospitality over the past decade. Let’s face it: If they hadn’t done it, someone else would have.
In reality, the real story in hospitality is a paradigm change, a questioning and refining of values, and a move towards a new set of values. In such an environment, new players can enter the fray and declare, “I’ve got a set of values that work in this business.”
A culture that is cool and focuses on service
Zappos is a brand of footwear and clothing retailer that Amazon owns. Although the company has not made official hotel plans, it continues ruminating about the possibility. When asked on Twitter what the company would look like in 2019, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh tweeted, “No idea what Zappos will look like in 2019… Maybe Zappos Airlines or Zappos Hotel w/ service/culture/community focus?”
This refers to Virgin, a giant that began in music but built a reputation for being calm and customer-oriented. These brands (especially those that have built up assets) can be more flexible in what industries they enter.
Brands with unique retail spaces, especially selling furniture (such as West Elm and Restoration Hardware), bring appeal and strength to the industry. It is a barrier-breaker that you can stay at a West Elm Hotel. This partnership is unique and demonstrates that AirBnb is just the beginning.
The conversation will shift as the hotel industry absorbs new players. These new players may be successful and do some exciting things about service and amenities. They might need to hit the right notes and lose a lot. Experienced companies manage these ventures, so everything from the furnishings to service policies is carefully considered. Existing hotels must react to this industry development in a small way. These new players represent a small percentage of the overall hotel market. Ikea has already entered this market through a partnership with Marriott. This Millennial-focused hotel brand is slowly gaining traction and taking the traditional path to growth.
It’s worth trying to get into their minds and understand what they are thinking. What do they think these young guns can offer? What do they believe they can offer? Will they deal with the “unglamorous” side of the hotel industry?
Inspiration comes from a new, fresh idea. Glamour is an asset. Name recognition doesn’t hurt. A flashy concept and a new name are only helpful with a focus on service and people.