The blending of news and entertainment—especially in the realm of online journalism – is clearly with us for good. Just visit your favourite news site—Herald Sun, SMH, BBC—and you’ll find stories about travel, dining and lifestyle right alongside the “hard news” of the day. Indeed, you will also have numerous tabloid advertisements (“click bait”) right under your nose, demanding that you move your attention to something shiny and new.
From a business perspective, getting your business profiled alongside more serious headlines just about the best thing that can happen. Look at Apple, a company whose new offerings are routinely covered by global news media. Given the power of social media, a timely headline can be very good for business—but it can only happen if your ideas are sufficiently unique and powerful to start a conversation. It can only happen if what you’re doing is noteworthy (or at least interesting enough to put alongside more sombre matters).
So how does this relate to the hospitality industry?
Put simply, headlines and hospitality are a powerful combination. Hotels get to the heart of how we do business and how we enjoy ourselves. Sharing economy companies like Uber and Airbnb have proven that parameters can shift radically and quickly and they have become masters at gaining headlines because they challenge the status quo. People want to know about the next novel idea. And in hospitality, customers like to see how businesses are innovating on their behalf.
First, let’s look at some examples of hotels who have managed to grab headlines. Then we’ll discuss what they mean.
The novelty attendant
If you search for articles on “unusual” or “amazing” hotel amenities, you’ll quickly discover that the traditional concept of the sommelier is rapidly expanding to other specialties. Sommeliers of course are historically the custodian or curator of the wine list and are the experts at guiding guests into a more enjoyable beverage experience. Move forward to the 21st century and guests at the Ritz Carlton in South Beach Florida, for example, have access to a tanning butler who will apply a sunscreen of your choice, mist you with a cooling spray, and even clean your sunglasses while you lounge poolside. Rosewood Hotels & Resorts introduced 24 hour “fragrance butlers” at many of its properties, allowing guests to select from an array of exclusive perfumes for an evening out. Soap, chocolate, tea, art, tattoos—hotels around the world have produced in-house specialists in all of these areas, and they’ve all been discussed in the media.
Guests today are more attuned to fitness and healthy living than ever before, and some very large hotel groups have responded with novel ideas. Westin Hotels & Resorts has introduced the concept of running tours, in which a guide leads guests on three or five mile jogs through local landscapes. (Having said that, when we opened the Southern Cross Hotel in Sydney many years ago we had our own jogging track printed on a cutout of a foot, so we were well ahead of the curve!). Kimpton Hotels stocks rooms with yoga mats, and several hotel groups are experimenting with free yoga classes for guests. In-house childcare is appearing on the list of available services at several hotels, including the five star Athenaeum in London. And if you have a big night out, the MGM Grand in Las Vegas offers intravenous hydration and energy supplements to aid in the recovery process. (Now banned in the Australian Football League!)
Kimpton Hotels again made headlines by implementing pet-friendly policies and staffing several locations with a Director of Pet Relations (i.e. a resident pup with whom guests can interact). For many years various hotels have experimented with gold fish - the Roxy Hotel in Tribeca, NYC for instance now deliver a goldfish to your room on request (watching goldfish is said to relieve stress and support relaxation). The idea of “animal companions for hire” has long been popular in Japanese coffee houses, and hotels have made the news by emulating this trend.
To be sure, quality amenities and impeccable service are still the main story in hotels. They’re going to help you where it counts and build your reputation. They’re going to guide your brand in the right direction across social media channels and OTAs. But they’re not necessarily going to make headlines.
Novel ideas inspire the industry to re-think the way it caters to guests. They help dissolve old paradigms, generate fresh ideas, and compel hospitality professionals to ask the right questions. How can we create something new that guests will really want? Or how can our hotel give guests more of what they already want? How can we offer something that truly stands out? (There is of course a new restaurant fad including nude dining but I am not sure we want to go that far yet in hotels!)
Whether it is Robot porters at the Henn na Hotel, the chance to drive a resident Porsche, Ferrari or McLaren at a Waldorf Astoria Hotel, or a pinball machine at the Ovolo—the list goes on and on. The fact is, most of these amenities won’t apply to your hotel. Some of them might even sound ridiculous. But at the very least, they have the power to shift the conversation and stimulate a discussion – what can we do differently?
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