Industry Update
Opinion Article30 January 2018

Focus on the Future - Emaar Hospitality Group

Service in the time of the digital era - by Olivier Harnisch, Chief Executive Officer of Emaar Hospitality Group

By Olivier Harnisch, Chief Executive Officer of Emaar Hospitality Group

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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.

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Let me ask you some not-so-rhetorical questions: Do you want to be greeted by a robot? Do you want a bot to respond to your queries? Do you want your holiday to be a virtual reality experience?

While there are no definite answers to these questions – especially because people's preferences are varied – there is a bottom line that I wish to emphasise – and which, I believe, is mission-critical for the future of our industry. It is the power of the human mind; the gentle, unobtrusive 'human touch'; and the art of personalisation of service that has indeed been the very foundation of the hospitality industry.

The future of our industry will be defined as much by the all-encompassing digital transformation we see today as by the extent to which we redefine our service standards for the digital era. It is a fine balance – and in achieving that lies in the art of hospitality.

Striving for that, where the potential of digital technology will be leveraged to enhance the guest experience, and assuring every visitor – young and old alike – the true home away from home experience, will set the template for future success.

Why is this approach inevitable?

To start off, our industry's guest landscape has evolved and is changing dramatically. The millennials are rewriting the rules of hospitality and seeking experiences that suit their modern lifestyle aspirations. They are fuss-free, want to stay connected, be mobile, and seek enriching social experiences.

For them, hotels are hubs where they connect and meet like-minded individuals. Be on leisure or business, they pursue convenience and value. They are eager to discover more, and seek not only in-room amenities that keep them connected but also dining and leisure selections that satisfy their soul-cravings.

On the other end of the spectrum are the 'Boomers,' exploring the world at a more leisurely pace. While they may be more 'conventional' in their expectations of hotels, they nevertheless demand value and regard the service standards offered as the benchmark for a repeat visit.

For the hotel industry, finding the balance in meeting the aspirations of both groups of travellers is further challenged by several other factors. The first is the emergence of newer 'feeder' markets. Young people with higher disposable income from the high-growth emerging markets are touring the world.

Two, the rise of the MICE market – after a temporary dip in the past – demands higher levels of efficiency from the hospitality sector to serve larger-sized groups of guests. Three, a new group of culturally inclined guests are bursting into the scene with their interests centred on diverse cultural activities – be it a visit to the new museum or pursuing the trail of their favourite musician. There are also the industry's ever-so favourites – the business travellers, who are mostly on short-haul visits but demand utmost efficiency across every touch-point.

Integrating the aspirations of all these segments is the true challenge before us as an industry. Of course, brand differentiation would help in addressing specific market niches.

But the binding thread in the future narrative of our industry is how we relook our service standards. We need to bring in the possibilities offered by Virtual Reality, Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, and the Internet of Things to have a specific customer interface.

From relooking the regimens of check-in and check-out time to the amenities that are offered in-room, our focus for the future is to make digitisation as user-friendly as possible. To cut back to the questions I raised, a robot that greets you in your native language, and a Virtual Reality tour before you commence your journey are all possibilities that can elevate the guest experience.

From an operational point of view, the future of our industry will be set by how efficient our internal processes are. The application of Blockchain technology and efficiency improvement tech-modules will be a driver of success. We are already relooking at how the guest experience can be further enriched through three key digital projects, while enhancing our operational efficiency.

With the Arabian Hotel Investment Conference serving as a window on the industry for investors and other stakeholders, it is also important to take into consideration the investors' perspective. As hotel operators, how can we generate more value for owners and developers?

We are addressing this through a new model in hotel management agreements that is based on an incentive fee and not a base fee as percentage of gross revenue. The incentive fee is based on gross operating profit, whereby operators are encouraged to generate more profits.

All the shifts that we must make for the future are underpinned by that one differentiating factor: Your commitment to deliver the most efficient service, which is personalised for every guest, to ensure they return for the outstanding memories that you help create.

Related Event

Arabian Hotel Investment Conference (AHIC)2018

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AHIC Village, Waldorf Astoria — Ras Al Khaimah, United Arab Emirates
event information

Olivier Harnisch

An international hospitality management leader with over 30 years of experience, Olivier Harnisch is the Chief Executive Officer of Emaar Hospitality Group. He is mandated with driving the overall operations of the organisation with a focus on setting new benchmarks for Emaar Hospitality Group in Dubai and other international markets.

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