Photo by Nick Wong

These are heady days to be a hotelier. With occupancy rates, room rates and other key operating fundamentals strong, operators are in a buoyant mood. But, as technology and disruption continue to impact the industry, hoteliers can expect a slew of changes to hit, to hit hard and to hit at a more frenetic pace than ever.

This year’s HAC conference, held in Toronto on February 8, focused on some of those changes. Susie Grynol, president, HAC, brought the hotel constituency up to speed on a few of the issues HAC has been working on — including short-term rentals (a.k.a. Airbnb) and labour challenges. She dispelled some of the myths surrounding this rental platform and warned of the fallout of $85 million in tax revenues that is lost. She also touched on the reality of labour shortages — a topic that the industry has been grappling with for years — pointing to a total of 7,200 new jobs required between 2012 and 2017, and heralding a new three-year program that will target refugees and new Canadians by getting them into a work pilot project. Grynol also boasted that Canadian hotels are outperforming the U.S. market in record numbers.

Through the day-long conference, attendees heard extensively about change, with host Tony Chapman, marketing pundit, talking about the headwinds impacting all of us when it comes to the amount of content we’re bombarded with. “There’s just too much going on,” he said, talking about power shifts, the currency of knowledge and the omnipotent pull of the mobile phone. But he was also quick to point out that the operating philosophy of today’s consumers is “it doesn’t matter unless it matters to me.” With competition intensifying and power shifting from the boomers to the millennials, the question of the day is “Who is going to own the customer?” — a question many of the day’s panelists attempted to answer.

At the core of each of the day’s presentations was the overarching theme that caring for the guest is the most important consideration. And, though technology is crucially important and excitement surrounding such new trends as immersive technology and virtual reality is palpable, there’s also concern that it’s moving at warp speed, leading to a sense of uncertainity. “It’s here to stay,” stated Alan Smithson of MetaVRse, speaking about immersive technologies on the opening panel of the day, adding “hotels have the perfect opportunity to leverage technologies at any price point. You can start leveraging immersive technology now.”

At the end of the day, many of the panelists, including operators and suppliers alike, agreed that though exciting, technology is only a tool that should be used to enhance the customer experience. And, with it hitting from all angles and the pace only expected to accelerate, it may lead consumers to gravitate to more face-to-face contact, warned Carlos Paolo, from Google.

“The human touch will be as important — if not more important in the future,” predicted Christiane Germain, co-president of Le Germain Group.


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