Hotelier magazine reflects on the 25 hotel trends that have shaped the industry over the last 25 years.
1: Labour Challenges – During the lifespan of Hotelier magazine, labour has always been viewed as a huge challenge. Add a recession or two to the mix, and the situation becomes even more desperate. In June 2008, Hotelier reported a 38.2-per-cent rise in employee turnover. By the time 2009 rolled around, the recession had caused the number of people working in the Canadian hotel industry to drop from 423,000 in 2008 to 320,000 in 2009. Globally, the labour shortage is expected to reach 10 million in the next five to seven years, resulting in hotel and restaurants closures, exploding labour rates and aggressive retention of mature workers. The current global shortage is pegged at about two million and is already causing consternation amongst hoteliers.
2: Improved Room – Amenities Room amenities have changed dramatically during the past quarter century. The trend started in the late 1980s with plush bathrobes, mini bars, hairdryers, shoe shine and sewing kits. Slowly in-room coffee dispensers arrived on the scene, and these days luxurious sheets with higher thread counts, and even hypo-allergenic pillows, are de rigueur. And, as technology permeates our lives, guests are asking for the same tech toys they have at home, including flat-screen TVs, CD players, iPod docking stations, dual alarm systems, and, of course, free Wi-Fi.
3:Growth of Breakfast Offerings – Breakfast has always been the number-1 meal guests eat while staying at a hotel. But, when Hotelier debuted in 1989, the majority of guests were eating their breakfast in a fancy hotel dining room. By the time the 1990s arrived, hotel chains were featuring all-you-can-eat breakfast buffets while luxury chains, such as the Four Seasons, were introducing Japanese breakfasts, paving the way for other hotels to follow suit. Today, hotel guests are expecting breakfast to be included in their room rates while health-minded consumers are pushing for lighter breakfast fare. Not surprisingly, grab-and-go items such as yogurt and fresh fruit are now commonplace.
4: Mixed-Use – Development As the price of real estate soared through the last two decades, hotel developers have been forced to look at alternative ways to finance new builds. Combining hotels with condos, office space and attractions — such as casinos — has become the most efficient way to build new hotels. Witness Calgary’s Le Germain, Toronto’s Ritz-Carlton and the new Four Seasons, whose condos sold out in record time.
5: From Greening – to Sustainability During the past 25 years, an increasing number of hotels have jumped on the greening bandwagon. One of the early leaders in the field was Canadian Pacific Hotels (the precursor to Fairmont Hotels & Resorts), which introduced recycling bins to the guestroom and educated customers on reducing the frequency of laundering towels and sheets. Today, greening has given way to sustainability. No longer are hotels simply recycling; they’re planting herb gardens, producing their own honey from beehives, using Energy-Star-rated appliances, installing solar panels and building new hotels to LEED certification standards.
6: Focus on the Bottom Line – As brands become bigger, and corporate entities are taking over hotels, hoteliers are being forced to become more bottom-line driven. As a result, many believe the industry is losing its focus on hospitality. What started as a customer-centric system has turned into a profit-focused business. Additionally, as David McMillan, president of Axis International, an Oakville, Ont.-based hotel consultancy says, “The interests of publicly owned chains are vastly different from owner/operator private firms. Employees of public companies have different interests.”
7: Reinvention of Luxury Brands – What does luxury mean? That question was easier to answer in 1989 when the term luxury hotel was more static. But a few recessions later, the perception of luxury has changed. Today, as market segmentation continues, lines are blurred, and, with the growth in popularity of boutique hotels, the luxury segment is being redefined daily.
8: Boutique Hotels – In the good old days, there were chains and there were independents. And, in many cases, independents prided themselves on offering an unparalleled brand of personalize service. Yesterday’s independents, in many cases, have morphed to today’s boutique brands, serving up a level of personalized service that is gaining traction. Small, cosy and intimate, boutique hotels are succeeding, because they appeal to the customer, offering a lifestyle promise. The advent of TripAdvisor has also influenced a new generation of travellers to the benefits of boutique hotels.
9: Risk Management – Safety and security have always been important issues in hotels. In fact, in 1992, the AAA announced hotels needed to meet certain security standards to be included in its listings. Self-locking doors, peepholes, card keys, video surveillance and increased security guards were a few of the improvements made over the years. But, on Sept. 11, 2001, safety and security took on a greater meaning as consumers and business operators alike realized that life in North America, as we knew it, had suddenly changed. Risk management became a more applicable term. More recently, the November 2008 terrorist attack on the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai, India and the Boston Marathon bombing were additional wake-up calls.
10: Customer Service – In the hotel world, personalized service has always been important. But, these days, the trend is supported by evolving technology. Whether it’s loyalty programs, executive floors, business centres, or family and pet-friendly amenities, good customer service is based on the desire to please. With technology gaining ground, Internet and networking technologies have allowed for the development of personal profiles that can be accessed at any property throughout a chain, resulting in the ability to provide guests with previously requested services and amenities upon arrival.
11: Technology & the Digital Revolution – During the past quarter of a century, technology has been one of the industry’s most significant trends. But deciding which technology is a passing fad and which is a necessary tool has been one of the biggest challenges. From fax machines to video conferencing to property management systems, each new tech trend creates implementation and integration challenges. And, these days, the challenge continues as mobiles, tablets and cloud computing continue to influence ongoing change.
12: Focus on Culture – For an industry constantly struggling with labour challenges and shortages, creating an environment that nurtures and empowers employees is being lauded as a key guiding principle of success. After all, the notion that happy, engaged staff results in lower turnover and better customer service and customer satisfaction is now accepted as an HR reality. And, as Gen-Yers voice quality-of-life concerns, the need for a more caring work environment becomes front and centre, with greater emphasis on selection and training.
13: Mergers & Acquisitions – Since Hotelier’s launch in 1989, the pages of our magazine have been littered with news of the never-ending stream of mergers, acquisitions and consolidations. In fact, it was this frenetic M&A activity, as well as the growth of REITs that fuelled Hotelier’s Who Owns What poster in the mid-’90s. Today, consolidation continues with a handful of companies dominating the Canadian hospitality landscape.
14: Hotel Design – From the late 1980s through the late 1990s, hotel design moved away from the utilitarian functionality of the ’60s and ’70s. Monotonous tones and colours were replaced by bold and rich palettes. And, while the ’90s were largely dominated by European estate esthetics, by the late ’90s, differentiation was taking place with design catering to various target markets. Today, lobbies have taken on greater importance as social hubs, bedrooms and bathrooms have been updated to provide a more residential and chic feel, and restaurants and bars have become part of the local scene, with art pieces and installations serving as centerpieces in these designs. Today, design is about more than just a cosmetic look, it’s about engaging the senses, as witnessed by the recent rise in signature scents. Among the hotels experimenting with this current trend are Aloft, The Westin Ottawa and Toronto’s Trump International Hotel and Tower, all of which are trying to create a distinctive and inviting atmosphere that can’t be duplicated.
15: Branding – What’s in a name? Everything, according to branding analysts. Over the years, the importance of branding has progressively become more ambitious and far reaching. From name and logo changes to branded amenities, websites and social-media platforms, hotel brands are busily reinventing themselves and marketing their messages to an ever-expanding, and demanding audience, who are sometimes overwhelmed and confused.
16: The Struggle with Room Rates – The early ’90s saw room rates driven down by a period of economic recession that took several years for the industry to bounce back from. A “wait-and-see” attitude was adopted by most operators, which meant that rates didn’t meet their previous peak until the end of the decade. The recent recession brought similar struggles. Now, as we continue in a period of recovery, hoteliers are working hard to generate occupancy, at the expense of increasing their rates. As a result, average room rates remain lower than those seen in 2007.
17: Women in Hospitality – Twenty-five years ago, despite comprising the majority of the industry’s workforce, there were only a handful of females filling the top executive ranks of Canada’s hotel industry. The long hours and high level of commitment required by these positions meant that a status of “single and childless” was a preferred qualification in female candidates. As the years have passed, more women have entered management roles, however there is still a dearth of women at the GM level and even fewer in the C Suite.
18: Generational Divide – Through the last quarter-century, the hotel industry has had to keep up with the changing tastes and needs of various demographic groups. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, baby boomers dominated the workforce, driving the industry’s focus on business travellers and their need for functional work and meeting spaces. By the mid-’90s, “Gen X” was making its mark on the business world, implementing its own brand of business travel, and combining business with pleasure trips by bringing the family along. The phenomenon spurred a trend towards family sized rooms and attractions geared towards families with children. Around the same time, concerns about the impact of an aging population with disposable income gave rise to a focus on accessibility and experiential travel packages. Today, the millennials, or members of “Gen Y,” are influencing markets, catering to specific niches, such as the LGBT community, Air BnB and fuelling growth in hotel restaurants and bars.
19: OTAs – Back in 1989, if you wanted to travel, you called a travel agent. Today, many consumers book their own travel by visiting Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) such as Expedia and Travelocity. The relationship between hoteliers and OTAs hasn’t always been amiable. Originally shunned by the industry, hoteliers soon realized they could benefit from selling off room inventory that wasn’t moving through OTAs. Concerns about the effects of discounted rates through OTAs and frustration over the high commission demanded for the service saw large chains like the InterContinental Hotel Group pulling out of various sites, resulting in more modest commissions and a price parity guarantee that limited the pricing power OTAs wielded. Today Expedia does more than just sell hotel and vacation packages, it influences and informs consumers about travel destinations and hotel brands through traveller-reviewed content.
20: Signature Restaurants – Hotel dining is yet another area influenced by the trend towards differentiation. As F&B trends strayed further from fine-dining towards a preference for quick-service, traditional hotel restaurants/dining rooms began to go by the wayside. Having long been the bane of many hoteliers, a wave of co-branding and outsourcing occurred. Though it looked for a time like the hotel restaurant was a dying breed, those who stayed in the game and were successful did so with signature restaurant concepts that became social hubs for the surrounding community, thereby mitigating their reliance on guest patronage. Bold, targeted menus that reflect customers’ desire for more experiential dining options, renowned celebrity chefs and a more relaxed, subtly themed atmosphere are all part of what makes these ventures so successful. Recently, signature restaurants have put their hotels on the map.
21: Loyalty Programs – Loyalty programs emerged in the 1980s, and by the 1990s they had become an industry standard. The rewards offered through these programs became yet another way for hotels and hotel brands to differentiate themselves from the competition while enticing guests and strengthening the relationship with them. The early programs offered credits/points towards free rooms, upgrades and other in-house perks and services. These were later joined by products from merchandising partners, including flights, gadgets and sporting gear, coupled with the ability to redeem rewards online.
22: Customization – As the hotel market has become increasingly crowded, there has been greater need for differentiation. In the early ’90s, room design shifted away from the standard shoebox-shaped spaces to incorporate a wider variety of layouts and styles of rooms, including suites. The trend also included a shift away from neutral, painted walls, plain bed coverings and utilitarian furniture across brands. With the increased importance of product/property differentiation, came the growth of individualization and personalization (one-to-one marketing).
23: Growth in Chinese Tourism – For years the influx of American visitors kept hotels busy and tourism vibrant. But, as American visitors reduced the number of visits made north of the border, and emerging nations like China and India began to travel more, Canadian hoteliers started increasing their marketing efforts to the Chinese travel market. With Approved Destination Status conferred on Canada in 2009, the numbers of Chinese tourists to Canada has increased significantly, fuelling operators to get more creative in appealing to this market.
24: Emergence of Revenue Management – The concept of Revenue Management (RM) is hardly a new notion. Hotels have always endeavored to maximize their entire asset. But, as hotel business has slowed in recent years, due to a few recessions and an increasingly competitive landscape, more hotels are now placing greater attention on the revenue-management department. An article in Hotelier on RM by specialist Bonnie Buckhiester pointed out: “In today’s competitive marketplace, we’re witnessing a shift in revenue-management practices that consider all revenue streams and all costs of acquisitions.”
25: Power to the People – The growth of social media, and of review channels such as TripAdvisor, has fuelled a shift in power to consumers. In fact, it’s forever changed the landscape of the hospitality industry by allowing guests the opportunity to share their opinions and experiences with the world. As Ryan Murray, GM of the Harbour House hotel in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. explains, “Where once blanket ads and big marketing budgets stood as the only way to reach potential customers, we now have a free website that reaches more than 260 million of our target market per month.” Murray also credits TripAdvisor as levelling the playing field between the large brands and the small independent, spurring the growth of boutique hotels.