Arabian Hotel Investment Conference (AHIC) returns for its 2017 edition at Dubai’s Madinat Jumeirah. The focus of this year’s event is being a catalyst for change and with that in mind, Hotel News Middle East hosted a special roundtable with students from The Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management to see how the next generation of hoteliers see the future of the industry
Hotel News Middle East gathered some of the brightest young minds from Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management on 15 March to find what they think about the hotel industry and what they want to see from it in the future.
What is the one area in which hotels can do more to appeal to younger people?
Akshita Vibhakar: In terms of marketing you have to fix your social media! Stop being so robotic and giving everyone the same generic reply. Hotels really need to step up their game on social media, what better place is there to book than directly from the source? Some of the biggest brands don’t promote their social media all that well, they don’t have the handles well represented on their websites, and if the knowledge isn’t out there customers won’t come.
Giuilana Giardiana: One of the main issues is the structure of the hotel industry. It is very difficult to empower the frontline staff, it’s very hierarchical. I agree it would be very strong and very effective but it is very difficult to do something like that within big brands because they have a certain standard of brand identity.
Rachael Gregory: Having brand personalities is important. This is how hotels can compete with Airbnb because people using Airbnb want to have that sense of being included in a community, that is something they can capitalise on.
Akshita: Brands need to keep an eye on guests’ social media, for example they could send a bottle of bubbles to guests who have got engaged at one of your properties. If you do that they are bound to take a picture of it and post it on social media. It would make such a difference and would cost you one bottle to get the word out and make your guests your ambassadors. If I saw something like that posted from a guest at a hotel I would listen to that more than pictures on TripAdvisor. It comes straight from the source; you’ve had a good experience, why won’t I?
As millennials, where do you stand on the rise of Airbnb?
Michael: I hate to be the pessimist but I really don’t think there is much that hotels can do. It is very clear this is what people want, it is not something you can protect yourself from and you will have to diversify and adjust. You would have to completely change the way a hotel runs to compete with Airbnb.
Giuilana: That’s an issue you still need to address but Dubai is not as strongly affected as other countries where hotels are closing because of Airbnb.
You have cities where the people within a community are starting to be hostile against tourism itself. Airbnb is a platform in itself and so it is much more difficult to create regulations.
Rachael: Prices are going to have to drop with the changing markets. We have already lost the Russian market and the Chinese market is down and they were the ones paying for the luxury. Dropping prices is the only way to go. We are going to see a lot more three-and-four-star hotels because the five-star market has got so saturated we are going to have to give options. Not everyone can afford the hotels here, especially with Expo2020 coming up, we have to give them the accommodation they can afford.
Is data security an issue for young people?
Michael: At the tender of age 23 my credit card is not so valuable that my life would be ruined if it were hacked. But hotels are not tech companies and it is up to the corporate office to have access to the right sort of people to take care of it. If I knew there was a significant risk for me to stay at a property, after hearing that something could go wrong I would personally not stay there, I would definitely think twice. It is dangerous when you look at what’s going to be spent in a hotel each day and how many people are using credit cards. As the Internet of Things takes over, security protocol will definitely have to evolve.
Rachael: We have heard stories about hackers breaking into a hotel’s system and controlling the AC – turning it up full blast and guests leaving
because it is too hot.
Speaking of the Internet of Things (IOT) are hotels embracing technology correctly?
Akshita: We run the risk of losing out on the human aspect in hotels. You have to move ahead but a lot of hotels are taking it too far. They are making everything so personalised that people won’t interact with anyone else at the hotel, you could check in and out and realise you have not interacted with one employee from the hotel.
Michael: A lot of hotels are jumping on the technology bandwagon and providing technology for the sake of it and don’t fully understand the application and benefits it can provide. It’s a case of “we know this big thing is coming and we need to be part of it”.