MEED 1 February 2018
In the lead up to the 2018 Arabian Hotel Investment Conference (AHIC), we asked a number of industry partners what their focus for the future is.This year, AHIC 2018 looks to the future, which it sees as being defined by "the Four I's"- intelligence, investment, Innovation and Inspiration. I've been tasked with looking at what our particular focus will be, and, for a rapidly emerging tourism destination, the answer is simple: all four must be balanced and work together in harmony if we are to steer a steady course through 2018 and beyond.Looking at intelligence first, in the simplest terms, increased competition and ever tighter margins means we must simply "be smarter" in how we conduct business. Digging down a little, I think accurate, customised business intelligence will be the single most effective business tool that separates the smart destinations, investors and operators from the mainstream. To be effective, any strategy needs to be built on a foundation of solid evidence. How can we convince businesses that a particular sector or region is ripe for investment? How do we persuade customers to choose one offering out of dozens, or even hundreds? Where should governments focus their budgets to get the best bang for buck? And, at the end of the day, what do customers - be they holiday makers or business guests - really want from a destination or a hotel? Customised market research answers all these questions. And, in our tech-focussed world, automated survey technology and big data analysis are bringing down the cost of bespoke market research for all.We still need to ask the right questions, and I think the most important question is simply: what do people really want? For example, the past few years have seen a rush for investment in technology in the sector. Smart rooms with curtains that close at the touch of a button; on-screen orientation for hotels, apps replacing room service calls and other labour-saving tricks and tools. But is this really meeting a real demand from customers? The result may be more convenience for operators and customers alike, but it comes with a loss of strong brand positioning that is going to be detrimental to hotels and guests alike. If every hotel offers the same tech-focused experiences, what are the differentiators? Will booking a hotel room just come down to "order by price" and clicking the lowest?I like to think that travel - be it business or leisure - is about collecting memorable experiences. When it comes to innovation, therefore, the old maxim applies: just because you can do it, doesn't mean you should. It's about understanding the audience mind-set and determining what will truly enhance their overall experience. One size does not fit all and investment in technology needs to drive differentiation and fuel a unique and unforgettable stay.If we get the above right, inspiration follows. Good market research will inspire operators to improve their customer offerings; investors will be inspired to put money into more unusual and ultimately rewarding offerings; and innovation will create richer, more rewarding experiences for customers, and staff alike, inspiring loyalty and fostering strong, clearly defined brand growth.