In the whole history of professional hospitality – and that’s a reasonably long history – I don’t think there has ever been a more exciting time to be a hotelier. It would have been fun to be the manager at Dukes Hotel in London when the writer Ian Fleming sat down at the bar and coined the phrase ‘shaken, not stirred’ – or at the Hotel Chelsea in the New York during the 1960s, when a never-ending list of famous guests came and went through the doors.
The hotel world is full of great stories, but today is the most stimulating time to have a career in the industry. I can think of many reasons for this, including that the world is smaller and more connected. Technology changes more quickly, and people on the road more often. When I started in the hotel industry I had to communicate with a guest from Iran however as I didn’t speak French or Persian and he didn’t speak English, we both had to rely on bad German! With the advent of multiple mobile translators though, language difficulties are no longer such a big issue. The industry now is immense and the traveller has almost an infinite choice where to stay, where to eat and how to travel.
All of this leads to an important point: To be effective hotel managers in the 21st century, we need be aware of these choices and identify a new approach to creativity and vision.
It used to be that creativity was the exclusive trait of outliers or mavericks who would break with convention for the sake of standing out. Today, creativity and vision are necessary qualities for good management.
None of this is lost on the leading hospitality schools of course, who now have to focus more of their management curricula on subjects like technology and the impact of share-economies. None of it is lost on hotels, either. People around the industry are aware that creativity and vision are becoming less of a luxury and more of a necessity and we can see this in the plethora of “lifestyle” and microbrands emerging.
This has led to an outpouring of new ideas and experiments in the hospitality world – which sometimes, have to be held in check. Not every idea that comes to market is a good one that will last, and as hoteliers, we can’t change so often as to appear unmoored to the principles and brand ideas we embody.
So how do we reconcile quality control with creative thinking in hotel management? How do we find the ‘sweet spot’ between a creative approach and a guided one?
Networking with a broad scope of industry people, and actively building social consensus around various ideas, is arguably the main answer. People are the bedrock of good creative management and individual career development in this profession. On the other hand, if we only do the things that others agree is a good idea then we are unlikely to come up with any paradigm-busting ideas.
Setting aside hours every week for industry reading is also important. As hotels try new things to capture brand loyalty, hotel managers must sharpen their ability to process and analyse information. We must find out what’s working, what’s not, and how to tell the difference. This allows creativity and vision to be guided, social, and worthy of implementation (and even copying). Expanding our horizons spurs ideas that can elevate the performance of a property, or a chain, or the career of an individual. Innovation can be discovered or applied at every level of the hotel product, from the finer points of kitchen organisation to the next interaction we have with a guest.
This is why I would choose to be a hotelier now more than other time in history. Creativity and vision have become a way of life in our industry – a necessity for survival. Hoteliers are no longer bound by history or tradition as such. Business is booming but the bar is high, and there are a lot of experiments to learn from.
Establishing firm and valued principles will of course always be a hallmark of good management – but creativity and vision share equal billing. As a long-time hotelier, I’d say that’s one of the most exciting and most challenging developments we could hope for.
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