The hotel industry is facing more tech disruption now than it had at any other time in its long history. Thus, innovation is key for hotels and hospitality institutions to remain part of the game.
In line with this idea, Marriott Hotels have nothing but led in this wave of innovation. Marriott TestBED, is a 10-week accelerator programme that gives startups an opportunity to test their products within an operating Marriott Hotel. Three selected startups are currently implementing their products at UAE-based Marriott properties, following an intensive bootcamp.
As big companies typically struggle with innovation, entrepreneurship poses itself as a savior. Besides the growing number of startups and entrepreneurs tackling hospitality with their innovative services and tech products, intrapreneurship is becoming an essential enabler within the new norms of the game.
Intrapreneurship is a concept that defines individuals within a company that have entrepreneurial traits. These intrapreneurs can be distinguished by their inventive ideas that bring positive change in the business. Unlike normal employees who simply function in a role, intrapreneurs are business-minded and focus on how they can best improve the processes of the business to achieve success.
In an interview with Wamda, Adam Weissenberg, national managing partner, audit and assurance clients & industries, and global leader, travel, hospitality & leisure at Deloitte & Touche, accentuated the fact that today’s hoteliers need to have an entrepreneurial mindset to succeed. “Every hospitality segment, from luxury to midscale to hostels, is going through somewhat of an identity shift at the moment. And that’s the result of industry leaders challenging the status quo, looking for opportunity and being receptive to how their customer is changing,” he said.
Obstacles and opportunities
With every evolution and growth attempt, several obstacles may pop up. One of the main challenges would be the managerial and operational approach to adopt, as entrepreneurs follow an untraditional way of running things, believes Fabrice Cavarretta, associate professor of management at the ESSEC Business School. However, opportunities are multiple. “This implies being less managerial, less obsessed with planning and predicting the future. True entrepreneurs know how to do with what they got (sometimes little, or sometimes only connections), and make experiments,” said Cavarretta. He explained that experimenting is the key to true entrepreneurship. “Therefore, what might need to be developed for managers in the hotel industry is this ability to imagine some experiment, in parallel to running existing operations, and test them. And do it again, and again, until one of the various experiments seems to work…”
According to Weissenberg problems such as long-lines that still sometimes exist at the check-in desk, require “an entrepreneurial mindset to confront and resolve.”
With the new intrapreneurship mindset, comes new skills. Hiring the right people is key however, “I would go even further by saying that we don’t hire skills anymore but rather attitude. No more of the basic questions during interviews but a real test to see if the new person is a good fit for our organisation and has the right attitude,” explained Olivier Verschelde, senior consultant at Lausanne Hospitality Consulting, a subsidiary of Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne in charge of executive education and consulting. There are of course some traits HR can be attentive to but again they relate to attitude or soft skills rather than hard skills. Such elements include high level of flexibility (having no problems with change or changing environment), good communication skills (at all levels including non-verbal), and being goal-oriented and risk taking (shows clear signs of this in past work or projects), Verschelde detailed. He told Wamda that some companies have started to get new ideas from creating and sponsoring an incubator platform such as the Marriott Canvas project. In short, companies need entrepreneurs to get the company on the road but in the end it is intrapreneurship that will keep them on it and advance to future growth goals. “This attitude can only be fostered by the company’s management buy-in and it is something that needs to be lived throughout the company on a daily basis. It is also important that people within the organisation have the available time, platform and flexibility to come up with new or even disruptive ideas,” he detailed. To sum it up, this underlines the management’s capability and willingness to trust their staff, and ultimately, give their teams more autonomy to succeed or sometimes fail.
Despite the disruption that started leaving its impacts on the hotel industry, many experts still believe that we are far from full integration. “The hotel industry remains fairly traditional,” said Verschelde. He said that summing up all the happenings within the hotel environment, nothing has much changed since 50 years. “Same old rooms, mini bars, breakfast, and bars. Believe it or not, but some (too many) hotels still charge for Wifi in 2017,” he added. He explained that there is no doubt that new things came up with new environments but that is mostly linked to the design. “We have been integrating technology in hotels up to a certain point but we are nowhere near calling it an industry standard,” he said.
Unlike the mainstream, international hotel chains are trying to pave new roads. “The best students are international chains because they often have allocated teams as well as budgets for these so-called intrapreneurship projects in order to launch new ideas,” said Verschelde.
When it comes to independent/family owned/boutique hotels follow different bibles. According to Verschelde, these profiles/managers/owners very often “lack the time and the right tools to scope out the opportunities in the market and mould them into an actionable plan.”
Studying hospitality entrepreneurship
Entrepreneurship is increasingly becoming an important and strategic initiative at universities, as it helps forging the next generation of leaders for global innovation. Hospitality schools are no strangers to that tendency. Major universities around the globe have already started integrating entrepreneurship-related courses and curricula. Le Cordon Bleu for instance introduced the bachelor of business - food entrepreneurship. It is a three-year undergraduate degree offering courses about food-related businesses and food business management skills, in addition to specific workshops.The Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne is also offering an ‘entrepreneurship and F&B specialist’ certification. It caters to entrepreneurs or those who aspire to become F&B managers, and provides the necessary skills to achieve future career goals.
Entrepretality is a new term that Cornell University created to describe the objective of entrepreneurship education in the hospitality industry. The word is a blend of ‘entrepreneurship’ and ‘hospitality’. Entrepretality is the process of using available resources to create value by enhancing the service-value proposition to a customer, client, or other being.
What needs to be done
“I think the real catalyst of change isn’t about a specific technology, but perhaps more about a changing mindset. I see an emerging group of pioneering executives and innovative startups who are growing bolder with each passing year— less afraid to take risks and think outside the box,” Weissenberg said. To follow up, Weissenberg advises hospitality stakeholders to pay close attention to how competitors are innovating, and to pay even closer attention to how customers react to new services and products. “2018 is going to be a busy year for innovative technology pilots across the travel industry, and there is a lot to be learned from how customers react to new products or services. Also, it helps to be open-minded about who your competition might be—because these days it’s not always so clear cut,” he continued.
Even if the hospitality industry is being digitally transformed, it should not lose sight of the human connection. “At its heart, travel is still very much a people to people experience. For today’s travel brands (and tomorrow’s), technology must be leveraged to produce elevated, authentic experiences without losing sight of the human connection. For travel brands, people and culture will always be a competitive advantage,” Weissenberg concluded.
According to Verschelde, new generations are becoming more prominent in the hotel workspace. “For them technology, entrepreneurship/incubators/startups is something that can be considered the norm as they grew up with the success of the Silicon Valley crowds,” he said, concluding that fewer big-size projects will be seen, ceding their place to small to medium sized ones.