How innovative is your hotel company? Does your staff provide exceptional service or do they go through the motions, content to offer the same old, same old? What is your hotel doing to differentiate itself from the competition?

Service innovation, experts say, is poised to be the next big trend in the hotel industry. Speaking to a crowd of hoteliers at last month’s Canadian Hotel Investment Conference in Toronto, Jeneanne Rae, co-founder of Global Service Innovation Consortium in the U.S., spoke about the importance of customer experiences and service innovation, stressing the need for industry to focus on providing experiences rather than just rooms.

“There’s been a macro shift in the past 20 years in the U.S.,” says Rae.  While the majority of GDP traditionally came from manufactured goods, Rae says 80 per cent of GDP today comes from services. “People don’t want goods and services anymore, they want experiences.” Rae believes today’s “ongoing relationships are defined by multiple touch points,” citing Starbucks as the ultimate company for “stimulating your senses and creating an iconic experience.”

That shift in mentality bodes well for the industry — if hotels can move beyond seeing themselves as just a place to sleep for the night, and if hoteliers can shake their fear of failure. As Rae told hoteliers in the audience, “Leaders have to fail in order to innovate.”

These days we hear a great deal about design excellence and the importance of aesthetically pleasing spaces — whether it’s guest rooms, bathrooms or lobby areas. Similarly, we’re consistently bombarded with information about the latest and greatest new technology. But apart from the interest and impact created by new design and technology, innovations should be viewed as tools to set your hotel apart from the competition, and create a unique and memorable experience for your guests.

That’s why a growing number of hotels are reinventing lobby spaces and transforming them into interactive meeting areas. Westin’s “Unwind” program, for example, aims to revitalize its lobby bar area by turning it into more of a cultural and social centre where — depending on the hotel’s location — guests can learn to pour the perfect pint of Guinness (Dublin) or be privy to a candle-lighting ceremony, tai chi lessons or watercolor painting (in Beijing). As part of its prototype, Staybridge Suites now features a “home theatre” area adjacent to lobbies, with a dual function: it’s a place where guests can assemble to watch a special sporting event or a small meeting space ideal for business presentations.

As competition intensifies and consumers are inundated with more choices, it’s no longer enough for hoteliers to simply provide a great hotel room in a great location. More than ever, they also need to deliver a unique hotel experience that stimulates all the senses. Welcome to the age of experiential living.   


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