115 – The Hospitality Show: 5 Key Takeaways

by | July 6, 2023

Join Suite Spot Host, Ryan Embree, as he covers the top 5 takeaways from the inaugural event of The Hospitality Show presented by Questex and the AHLA.

Episode Transcript

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Ryan Embree:

Welcome to Suite Spot, where hoteliers check in and we check out what’s trending in hotel marketing. I’m your host, Ryan Embree. Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of The Suite Spot. This is your host, Ryan Embry for a special edition of the Suite Spot. We teased it on social media. Hopefully you are tuning in. But we are here for our five key takeaways from the Hospitality Show, which just happened here at the end of June, 2023 at the Beautiful Venetian. This was an inaugural event. We had been talking about this for a while. We had the opportunity to show up to the hospitality show as press and media interview some of the industry’s top influencers. So if you get the opportunity, head to our YouTube page, follow us on social media. We’re gonna be posting all of those great interviews, insights, and data. Everyone we talk to at the Hospitality Show over in Vegas to our YouTube page. So check that out. But today we are going to be talking about the top five takeaways from the event. This was filled with some incredible panelists and guest speakers at this event. That’s why I love these industry events so much. And I was interviewing someone at the hospitality show, and I know we always talk about this pent up demand for travel, but it certainly feels like there’s been some pent up demand for these industry events. It’s so industry to get these blend of industry leaders cuz you get just such different perspectives that sometimes we get siloed in, uh, for a brand show or other industry events. So this hospitality show was certainly special because it had a lot of point of views, but even though there were some competitors at this show, there was a lot that we agreed on here. And one of the biggest things, and my first key takeaway is staffing continues to plague our industry right now. A H l A did that study recently that found 82% of hotels are still struggling with staffing shortage. That’s just an absolutely crazy number to think of where we started and during the pandemic, we were furloughing so many and that’s, that’s really where the panelists kind of started. And, and it’s such a u unique perspective cuz we talked about the millions that went into furlough during the pandemic and how there could be some that have left our industry for good. We’ve never had and experienced a wave of hospitality professionals leave our industry and choose not to come back. So what’s happening now is this, uh, very unique opportunity for people that have never been in our industry before. Right? If I’m switching from one hotel to another, I’m familiar with the whole check-in checkout process. Property management systems might be different here and there, but I understand all the complexities of working in a hotel as a hospitality professional. Now, the people that are coming into our industry, they might not understand those at first. So we’ve gotta do a better job of kind of simplifying these processes for people new to our industry. And that’s a big challenge that they talked about at the Hospitality show, is figuring out ways that we can make our processes more efficient. So someone that might have not worked in the hotel industry but before can come in and seamlessly really get into a groove into their role because that first 90 days is absolutely critical to retention for our employees. That’s why things like TMGs respond and resolve and responding to reviews and taking that off the plate of our employees is so important because that could be something that someone new to the hotel industry, that’s a skill they might not understand the nuances right away of how to respond and show service over a review response. So outsourcing to a company like Travel Media Group to help respond to those reviews, uh, certainly could be a way to make those, uh, those processes more efficient and simple. Like we were talking about today, you know, this panel was talking about how we need to be the aggressors when it comes to recruiting and not just looking through the hospitality school lens, right? How many times have we run into other professionals in other areas and said, you know, I went to school for hospitality, but now I’m doing something different. We need to go after the marketing degrees, the business degrees and show that there is a real clear cut career path. Someone used this phrase I absolutely love, come for a job, leave with a career. We need to be able to show those stories to our potential employees. And one of the places that we’ve talked about on this podcast, uh, especially younger generation, is gonna be looking, is online reviews, right? It’s very easy for me as an employer to say, if you wanna understand a day in a life, go to our review sites, go to our TripAdvisor. These are the people that are expressing how their experience was at their property. And if you’ve got a bunch of one star reviews, people yelling, complaining, saying that the service, they might choose the competition down the street. And you can guarantee that Gen Z and younger travelers, they are doing their research before they are applying to these jobs. So super interesting. A lot of creative ways I’ve saw to try to combat this shorting staffing. One, Sage Hospitality did a pilot or a trial of a four day work week for GMs in Denver. You know, what is our biggest knock on our industry? Sometimes that we’re 365, 24 7. Other industries could be using that as leverage to capture talent. Maybe we start thinking about that differently. We also had the idea of these employees and associates picking their own schedule. I thought that was super, super unique. I’ve never heard that before of saying, okay, you get the opportunity to choose where you wanna work. So if you’re a hotel management company in the LA market, for example, you might have, you know, a dozen hotels, I could pick the shift and property that I wanna work with that works best with my schedule. That’s a competitive advantage that in our industry we haven’t seen before. Another panelist during this discussion decided to go a completely different route. They shifted all of their dollars for recruiting and actually shifted it to investment and develop in their current associates. They figure, you know what, it’s better for me to try to build someone and develop someone from interior, then try to recruit someone on the outside that might be job hopping. That we’ve seen so much of a lot of unique ways that these hoteliers are trying to combat this staffing, which is a lot stickier than I think we all anticipated was happening. But the sh the conversation then shifted to Gen Z. And we’re gonna hear more and more about this. We talked about this on this podcast about how to attract Gen Z and how to capture market share from Gen Z travelers. But what about capturing the interests of Gen Z employees? And that’s where I was saying they are going to be doing research. It’s not just Glassdoor anymore. We have the amazing opportunity to work in hotels and, and hospitality where our business has so much transparency, right? Through reviews, social media, you can guarantee that Gen Z is doing research on your property before applying. I thought a really cool exercise that someone on the panel suggested is looking at your job descriptions. So back in the day, a job description used to just be skills and what description of what to do in this job, right? This particular person suggested putting the mission of your organization at the top of that because that is what Gen Z is really focused in on. They’re focused on relationships and experiences and the impact that they make. So moving that mission statement maybe from a little bit, you know, lower down on the priority list in your job description to the top, this is their why and understanding that why is super, super important to that generation. So really, really love that exercise because it’s something that I think we overlook a lot of the time. When’s the last time you’ve taken a look at your job description when an open position has become available, right? Most of the time we’re just kind of copy pasting and put it back up on those places. So might be a time to look at that, you know, and the way that they receive feedback is so critical as well. A very funny, uh, line about kind of annual reviews up on the panel, about talking about how this generation is not gonna wait an entire year for you to tell them that they’re doing a good job. And one of the things I talked about is social media. We are constantly getting instant gratification, especially younger travelers on places like Instagram, TikTok likes, they’re getting shares, they’re getting comments, they’re getting constant feedback with everything that they’re doing online. And they’re expecting that not only in their social life but professional life. So no, gone are the days that annual reviews are the only time that we can really share with our associates how they’re doing. They are going to be expecting, especially this younger generation, gonna be expecting constant feedback from you as an employer. So something to keep in mind, having clear cut path outlines with maybe quicker milestones, right? Uh, you know, I I’m sure a lot of you have listened to this may have gotten that a g m or front desk manager job after maybe even months, maybe even years being at a property. This generation wants very trackable milestones in order to hit a different career path. And I think that’s going to honestly serve us better, is to show these stories. And, and speaking of showing these stories, they had a brand new announcement of a new TV show that was gonna highlight working in our industry in a way that hopefully appeals to younger travelers. So H l a is doing some really unique things in order to attract more talent to this great, great industry that we all work in. So staffing continues to be issue. That was key takeaway number one. Still an incredibly large headwind in our industry and something we’re gonna have to figure out to combat. But my second key takeaway might actually help with that. And that is technology, right? So we had multiple panels on technology, AI and chat G P T, that is just the tr trending word right now. And in fact, I think they shared some statistics about how it was one of the number one search items on Google and written about as of late. So chat G p T. It’s funny, in an industry where we’ve had so many TMG hospitality trailblazers on this podcast and that series that we’ve been doing, you know, the question has always been how do we speed up technology in our industry? We, uh, historically are an industry that lags behind in other industries in implementing technology. Uh, and this guest speaker actually really cautioned us with going too fast and figuring out, uh, what exactly we can use this for. And I thought he brought some really unique perspective. Obviously when we think about AI and chat, G P t, we’re thinking about we first rushed to our customer, to our guest, right? But what about our associates and, and employment? We just talked about how difficult it is to retain talent, acquire talent in our industry. I thought he posts some really unique kind of examples of how we can implement technology to help on the employee retention side or acquisition, uh, talent acquisition side of our business. But, you know, at the end of the day, I think some of the most, you know, the quickest ways that we can implement this technology would be through the guest and consumer side. In fact, we’re already seeing it right now with Expedia with a chat j p t, uh, Expedia plugin. Now, if you haven’t seen this yet, it’s, it’s super, super cool technology where as a traveler, I could type in dates, I can type in a, a location or a destination of where I’m looking to travel to. I could type in a budget, I could type in the amount of stars that I want to stay at the hotel, and it’s going to just search across the internet and give me all of these results. And I think this resonates with what we’ve been talking about on this podcast because we could be in a place here in the near future where your hotel is not even a part of the conversation anymore. When guests and travelers right now Google, uh, hotels in your area, it’s got a duty to kind of give you every single hotel. Now, you might not be on the first page, that’s obviously our goal, uh, but you’re at least in the running, we could get to a place where the parameters set by a traveler are so unique that your hotel might not even be visible. And that’s very, very scary for some hotels. So what I would say in order to combat that, or even to say, you know, there is that glimmer of hope, it’s going to be the hotels that are getting feedback from guests. Because what chat g p t uses is the information that it finds online. And what better ways to find information for a hotel than what user generat rated content and reviews. If someone says, I want to pet-friendly hotel that’s for stars on TripAdvisor in Orlando, the amount of feedback that we’re getting directly correlates to whether you will be in that search, kind of like it does right now with Google, but to an even more degree and specific degree with chat G P T and this Expedia plugin. So things are gonna get really interesting here, but keep that in mind. And there’s a lot of caution behind rushing this technology and using it to potentially replace employees at a hotel. And, and we’ve talked about this is a people serving people industry, and we need to figure out ways like AI and chat G P T not to necessarily to replace our associates, but to empower them, make their jobs easier so that we can retain them and they can be more effective at what they’re doing because there’s no substitute for customer service in our industry. We’ve learned that. We’ve had a couple lessons specifically from the pandemic that have shown that, that guests are looking for that face-to-face interaction, even though we’re giving them options like mobile check-in, right? They’re still coming to the front desk sometimes and having those face-to-face conversations with us. So technology, ai, chat, G P T, it will be super, super interesting to see, uh, the next few years what this has in store for us and how quickly our industry specifically adapts to this stuff. So first two takeaways already zoomed through. We are up to number three. Number three is sustainability. Sustainability is back. This was something that I noticed as I was doing the travel circuit pre pandemic, this talk of sustainability and environmentally friendly options within our industry. And it, and it really started gaining steam and then pandemic happened, right? And we kind of had lost focus a little bit, but we are back. We had panels, there were breakout sessions all about sustainability. And some of the leaders in our industry are saying that they’re hearing from corporate America right now. People talk less about monetary budget and more about carbon footprint budget. I think this is absolutely fascinating. I think it’s a trend that’s gonna continue to grow. This list is not in any order, but if it is, I would say sustainability is going to be at one point the number one travel topic and pattern that we can use to leverage guests. And I wouldn’t be surprised if in the near future there might be some sort of rating or score for sustainability and carbon footprint within our industry. You know, obviously in in other industries they have that. But in hotels I’d be very curious to see if, if hotels don’t start to use this as a way to market and advertise, especially to younger generations like Gen Z who really care about this stuff. They’re looking at this carbon footprint and the impact that it has on, on travel right now. So, uh, sustainability, they gave some really great examples right now with daily housekeeping. Some, some, some sustainability. You know, when we talk about going green, I think a lot of hoteliers shut down because they think it’s gonna be more expensive to them. But some sustainability practices actually benefit them. You know, they talked about two of them at the conference, which is daily housekeeping and service, right? Uh, since the pandemic, we kind of use that as a, uh, little trial or pilot on pulling back, uh, going into the rooms every single day. Now it’s only housekeeping by request in some parts of the country. This is a great way to spin this as going green sustainability, but it’s certainly more efficient on the operating budget from a hotelier standpoint there. And then what about the shampoo bottles, right? So the little shampoo bottles that we’ve been so accustomed to for the past decade or so, those are starting to disappear into more dispensers. And again, this is all behind the trend of sustainability going green and not being as wasteful as we’ve been in the past. So again, huge opportunity here for hoteliers to go in there, start marketing and advertising this. I’ve been saying this on this podcast, if you have locally sourced food, if you’re doing anything, uh, you know, any sort of going green efforts that you’re implementing at the property, those need to be recognized, showcased, and highlighted on places like your website, social media, and hopefully that’s then reiterated from your employees and then it’s highlighted in your reviews as well. And that you have that snowball effect there. You’re certainly gonna put yourself in the best position to capture occupancy. So three, sustainability, four personalization and the guest experience. So this was very interesting because, uh, I thought one of the most brilliant ways this was described was before an issue or a problem that you encountered at the property, you could actually turn that into a positive right service recovery. So let’s say something small happened at the property and you fixed that, that actually could have been sh that actually could have improved the guest experience. We are at the strange place right now where rates are so high that even if there is one tiny little minor problem, uh, out of the hundreds of things that the guest experience at your property, it could have a major impact. And even if it is recovered the best way that you can from a service recovery, it might not be enough because of the rates that they’re paying because they haven’t traveled and this was the trip that they were looking forward to. So the guest experience is, is changing and we’re on, I’ve said it before, we’re on very slim margin of errors and sometimes it doesn’t even need to be your fault, right? Coming back from the hospitality show, I was delayed and had to go through multiple airports to get to my destination. Now luckily, I was coming back from the hospitality show and not to it, but let’s just say I know I was thinking as I, I was on those delays and had to be diverted and then our plane was canceled. Uh, I was thinking about if I’m going to a hotel right now, I’m not gonna be in the best mood. I might that that might not even been in my final destination. So again, it might not even be an issue that you’re having, but because of the circumstances right now with the rates being so high travel, being so crazy, you need to think of service recovery as less as an opportunity to improve the experience. And you need to focus on the things that are going to essentially make your guest experience as close to perfect as possible there because it could really, really hurt your reputation very, very quickly there. So the guest experience is clearly changing and we’re talking about personalization more and more. How can we figure out what Ryan Embry the traveler wants in comparison to, uh, the next person that’s checking in? And we had a lot of talks about this before the pandemic, and I think we’re in a different place now with social media and the way that we, uh, handle ourselves digitally, where we’re more open to sharing information. You know, the big discussion in 2019 and before was, how do we do this without being creepy, right? So as soon as I walk up to the front desk, they go, hello, Mr. Embry, are you checking in? Um, you know, I see that you like a high floor with feathered pillows. We, and were very, very afraid in 2019 before of that just being a little too creepy of knowing too much information about our guests. Where’s that data coming from? Since the pandemic, we’ve been a lot more open, right? We, we ha and and we actually have a new look on that. Um, if and, and think of that as actually maybe the expectation and the guest experience that if I’m paying this type of rate, I should have that personalization. Um, so it’ll be very curious to see. We obviously, uh, have a lot. Uh, we’re at this inflection point. We’re in the middle of summer right now. Travel is taking off. Uh, there’s just been a boom of travel. Uh, so I’m curious how if we learn some lessons during this heavy occupancy time that we can use and lower occup and, and slower occupancy times to really improve personalization within our industry. And five, the last key takeaway that I have from the hospitality show, and I labeled this one, the Future of Our Industry Destination Unknown because there were so many panelists that just had a wide spectrum of where we are at and where we are headed. There’s so many variables inside, domestically, internationally that are impacting our industry. One panelist said, and I thought this was super insightful, that the new normal is not even here yet. You know, we’ve talked about this new normal. She said that three years is way too early to tell which trends are really here to stay. And I thought that was so impactful because when it’s too early to know which trends are to stay other, another panelist talked about a pandemic boom. In fact, they went and acquired 75 hotels and added them to their portfolio during the pandemic. And, and the c the c e o cited, uh, one thing and that was consumer behavior. After the previous two pandemics, there was a travel boom, this YOLO mentality, and people were focusing less on stuff and more on experience. And that made so much sense because you think when we were under quarantine in 2020, what could we do? The only thing we could do is maybe go online shopping. We tried to buy goods and now we’re, we’re out of this. And what do we want? We want to experience and that’s why we have such unique industry and we’re seeing such a boom right now. We’ve heard recession could be on the horizon. How do hoteliers manage that? Do guests have less expendable income? Will that impact rates? Right? One trend that is not happening as globally, but Taylor Swift, that same c e o mentioned something, he coined the swift effect and, and actually claimed that he thinks that by the end of this year there will be a percentage of re RevPAR associated just to Taylor Swift concerts, which is just absolutely incredible when you sit down and think about one <laugh> individual having that type of impact on an entire industry global travel opening back up, is that going to hurt or help the industry? Right? We’ve only talked about how international travelers are coming to the United States to travel, but when more and more places open, will we take the dollar and go to other destinations, uh, which could actually go, that that dollar could go a little further than it has. So a lot of great questions here, but again, there hasn’t been a consensus of where we’re headed, which is, is fascinating time. Uh, cuz I haven’t left one of these conferences before thinking really anything could happen. Uh, so, you know, I had a fantastic time at this hospitality show. So insightful. Uh, can’t believe that this was, uh, this was put together in just nine months. Looking forward to 2024 and October where they’re gonna have the hospitality show for the second time in San Antonio. Hope you will join me there. But hope you enjoyed today’s key takeaways. Like I said before, if you want all the interviews, all the people we talked about, footage from the event, go to our YouTube page, follow us on social media, travel media group. I wanna thank everyone for listening to the Suite Spot and we’ll talk to you next time to join our loyalty program. Be sure to subscribe and give us a five star rating on iTunes. SuiteSpot is produced by Travel Media Group. Our editor is Brandon Bell with Cover Art by Barry Gordon. I’m your host Ryan Embree and we hope you enjoyed your stay.