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3 Takeaways from Skift Global Forum 2021

By Deborah Pevenstein on Sep 29, 2021 2:00:08 PM

Topics: Blogs

Whether in person or virtual, the 2021 Skift Global Forum was marked with an all-star lineup of speakers discussing highly relevant topics, among them sustainability, technology, and customer choice.   

I wanted to take a moment to share some soundbites from the event and how they relate to hotel operations, as we continue to evolve operating models together: 

Sustainability: Starting with air travel, Ben Smith, CEO of AirFrance has committed to cutting its greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2024 for domestic travel and by 2030 for international business. Google, in its flight search, now displays the carbon emissions estimate for each leg. Sandals, the leader in all inclusive hospitality, continues to develop the communities in which it operates, starting with education, building libraries and schools, and providing access to the internet, which those of us in developed countries often take for granted. Adam Stewart, CEO of Sandals, remarks that these investments are the first step in creating a sustainable environment and leads to considerable cost savings. 

With more than 60% of Millennials and Gen Z saying they will pay more for sustainable travel, what does sustainability look like within the hotel operations? Here is some food for thought. It could be guest enabled, consider adding recycling bins in guest rooms, providing the option for more towels, or it could be hotel driven, perhaps providing limitations on water usage, cutting down on plastic products, using energy efficient appliances, or converting to smart thermostats.

Customer choice: While there is perception in the market that Hilton has nixed stayover cleans entirely, CEO, Chris Nassetta shared that he and his team are “maniacal” about providing a “friendly and reliable experience” for guests that gives them choice and control. If a guest wants a stayover clean, they have that option, and they will apply this thinking to other amenities as well. Meanwhile, Marlene Valle, blogger and founder of Deafinitely Wanderlust, was one of my favorite presenters. As a deaf, Mexican-American travel content creator, she is opening the industry’s eyes to guest inclusivity, being the voice of deaf travelers and those with other disabilities… in a world that is “not universally designed” for them, making travel accessible (and in Marlene’s case, a dream come true).

Let’s ponder the impact of customer choice on hotel operations: It means getting this information to the right people, at every guest touchpoint. That means having technology  integrations that work, training for team members, and checks to ensure quality. For a brand or a management group, it means saving these guest preferences in a database that is connected to all properties and having connectivity to multiple systems on and above property. 

Additionally, there is lots of talk these days about evolving hospitality bookings to an airline model. Some hotels have been doing this for years. I remember the launch of TravelClick's iHotelier 2.0 in 2012 where travelers could add-on hotel services within the booking process. It’s manageable for a small independent property. Nearly a decade later, can hotels really do this at scale without also updating their tech stack? We already have pressure on property: a global pandemic, labor shortages, the impact of which is hotel teams being stressed and stretched. 

Technology: This is one very critical piece of the puzzle and it was front and center at Skift. We heard George Turner, Chief Commercial & Technology Officer at IHG, comment that they will be “leveraging systems across platforms to make better guest experiences” via above property operating systems. That’s behind the scenes. Front and center for guests, there was also the consensus that “brands that have consistency will shine,” per Francis Davidson, CEO at Sonder

If we all agree that technology is the enabler of this consistency and that guest experience matters, how do we deploy technology now and in a way that helps hotel teams do more with less in this new normal? 

Hotels already have loads of technology that needs to be managed. I’d argue that most of it is revenue generating and likely to result in an added 3-7%. What if I told you that your hotel could shave off 15-20% on the expense line with a modern day housekeeping tool alone… and via a two-way integration to the PMS, we can ensure that guest preferences are respected?  

It would not be Skift Global Forum if it weren’t inspiring and pushing travel and hospitality leaders to think out of box, look inward on our current offerings, and ask, can my customer or user experience be improved? I especially enjoyed Made Music Studio’s President, Lauren McGuire’s, presentation on sound. Ever cringed by a noise? I learned to some extent, the obvious, that there are good and bad sounds, and more importantly, that we can influence customer experience with the right sounds. Effective sound strategies apply as much to technology as it does to walking through a hotel lobby. Absolutely worth an exploration!

If you can’t intuit my enthusiasm in writing, the Forum was fantastic. The added bonus was the extraordinary venue at the iconic TWA Hotel. Thank you, Skift, MCR, and my dear industry colleagues for a valuable few days of learning, thinking, and networking.