From next-gen management to a rejuvenated countryside, we showcase the most important developments for the UK hospitality industry. Here’s our latest article from our Independent Thoughts Series for the Independent Hotel Show: 16-17 October 2018, Olympia London.

Writing in The Guardian earlier this spring, comedienne Diane Morgan compared Brexit Britain to “like waking up in a hipster hotel themed on a Victorian workhouse”. She was talking in her guise as satirical reporter Philomena Cunk of the hit Cunk on Britain series. Fortunately, the real experts are more cogent. Price Waterhouse Coopers’ UK Hotels Forecast 2018 points out that the past two years have seen stellar growth in the sector. So much so, that the accountancy giant believes occupancy, plus revenue per available room rates, are not sustainable and will slow – but continue to rise – in the 2018-19 financial year. One of the dampeners, its report claims, is the number of new openings. 7,500 new rooms became available in the first half of 2017 alone, many of them contemporary budget offerings.

So what will we all do to stay ahead of the curve and continue to capitalise on these times that PWC calls ‘as good as it gets’? Here we look at a range of developments that could really help your independent hotel business in 2018 and beyond.

HOTEL MANAGEMENT LEVELS UP

Once so mercilessly stereotyped, the hotel manager is about to be reinvented. This isn’t a ‘disruption’ of hotel management as a career; the role is as essential as ever. (It’s actually becoming a more aspirational vocation, with 80% of hotel management graduates employed within the first six months of leaving college and an £85,000 average salary in London.)

Indeed hotel management has been evolving rapidly alongside the industry itself, and the profession ‘levelling up’ to higher standards and new ways of working has been bubbling under for a good while.

So what will make next-generation GMs differ? The number of women in senior roles (currently only 20% when you exclude HR) is expected to rise as various specific initiatives bear fruit, and more flexible employment policies emerge. New technology based on cloud systems will streamline administration leaving more time for the human aspects of the job, from greeting guests to improving the hotel’s culture – management or otherwise. And while departments such as room service, or the concierge desk, will be pared back due to lessening demand, social skills and local knowledge will be called upon more by guests, who want to feel they’ve landed in a healthy community rich with ‘experiences’. But it’s not all conviviality and ‘hidden gem’ recommendations – some hotels will be importing tough-but-fair practices from popular restaurants, like stricter cancellation policies.

ROOMS GET SMARTER

Public areas will continue to be of high significance to the guest experience. Fortunately, you can divert budget to the lobby from the bedrooms, as those – or to be specific the range of amenities they offer – are becoming less important.

According to millennial newswire Mashable, “At Best Western’s new Vib brand [pronounced ‘Vibe’], bed headboards double as desks. Closets have been replaced with hooks on the wall and instead of a dresser there are drawers under the bed. Hilton’s new Tru won’t have closets. Instead there will be an open space with hangers and hooks on the wall.” Bunk bed rooms are available at the Ace Hotel NY for as little as $99 per night.

At the higher price point end of the scale, guests simply want a sumptuous bed and bathroom – they will bring their own clutter like screens, stationery, and telephones.The much-heralded Internet of Things rears its head here too, as smartphone apps replace banks of baffling light switches and winsome thermostats.

HERITAGE AND PROVENANCE

If you like restaurant menus that provide the finest details for the ingredients of each dish, you’re going to love visiting some hotels over the coming months. This trend breaks down into three areas – building, fittings and location.

A building’s heritage has become extremely important to property developers and, not least by proxy, consumers. It seems that in a rapidly changing world we’re drawn to a sense of history and longevity. Café Royal owners The Set, for example, are about to re-open Paris’ famous Lutetia ‘grand dame’ hotel on the left bank. Its other hotel, Amsterdam’s Conservatorium, is the previous home of the Dutch Philharmonic. Non-billionaire hotel owner-operators will be pleased to know that a historic inn will do just fine instead.

The hero of the provenance movement is Paddington’s recently opened The Pilgrm. Two cabinets in the bar were previously used to keep butterflies at the Natural History Museum, 300 man hours were spent restoring the timber staircase from the café to the lounge, and 50 layers of paint were stripped to reveal the original balustrades.

Even historic destinations are in fashion. The conversation-stopper example is Glennegales, the home of golf, recently revamped by the Hoxton Hotel Group in a magnificent example of the great British countryside rebooted for a new generation. Check out its new website for a dose of sexed-up rural recreation. Meanwhile, County Durham’s Rockliffe Hall opens its Lewis Carroll-themed experiential gardens later in the spring, with the famous Monkey Island retreat in Bray (home of Heston’s Fat Duck) relaunching in early summer. It seems the national nostalgia derided by comedians has an encouraging flip side.

DEALERS IN SPACE

Ian Schrager, the godfather of the contemporary hotel industry, once said, “If you call it a hotel, people will only want to sleep there.” In the 21st century, hoteliers are in the business of space rather than simply resting one’s head for the night. Schrager’s Sanderson also traded on being the place to drink, eat and be seen. In our less hedonistic times hoteliers are collaborating with coworking brands, local artisan goods producers and running clubs to name only a few, while also taking their services outside the property itself – hatches serving coffee and even managing on-brand Airbnb properties are extreme examples.

The takeaway is that there are many different ways to become a ‘community hub’ or indeed ‘the place to be’. Chose tactics that are right for your location, right for your guests, and excite your own passions. Look to engage local influencers and personalise your product according to your own tastes and story.

WHO NEEDS PROPERTY?

If you have an awesome idea but no large-scale investors backing you up, options are emerging. ‘Pop-up hotels’ have been ‘a thing’ to use social media parlance since a company called, yes, ‘The Pop Up Hotel’ quite savvily offered upscale tented accommodation around major outdoor events. Collective Retreats, the US firm that rents picturesque locations for its hip cabins, was founded by a former exec at Tough Mudder who noticed that hotels were cashing in on a lack of accommodation at the fitness event’s tour locations. And kitchen designer Vipp showcases its products at headline-hogging showcases including a glass-fronted box on the shores of Sweden’s Lake Immeln. Travel industry thought leaders Black Tomato invite their sophisticated customers to design their own pop-up ‘camp’ in far-flung climes. And the equally forward-facing 700,000 Heures is a ‘wandering’ luxury hotel – with facilities and other effects packed into 100 purpose-built trunks – that switches locations every six months.

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