If last year's buzzword was disruption, storytelling is the latest word, according to Robin Sheppard, chairman of Bespoke Hotels.
Speaking on a panel discussion at the 2016 Annual Hotel Conference yesterday (13 October) at the Hilton Manchester Deansgate hotel, he suggested hotels need to exude local personality and get better at telling their own stories to give customers a reason to choose them other than for convenience.
Sheppard was joined by Stephen Cassidy of Hilton Worldwide, Patrick Divall of Wyndham Hotel Group and Deirdre Wells of UKinbound, who also suggested ways the hospitality industry can improve its ‘storytelling'.
Cassidy highlighted that F&B is one way hotels are able to add to the guest experience: "Telling that story isn't just about the local area, it's about the whole property. It needs to be a destination in itself, and F&B is the way to provide that point of difference."
Sheppard added that the industry needs to bang its own drum more: "You can get a better meal in London than you can in Paris now. We should stop beating ourselves up, there's so much to celebrate [in the UK]. If you tell people it's great eventually people will believe you."
In terms of the ‘seaside story' and the British Hospitality Association's call for a ‘seaside tsar' to regenerate struggling seaside resorts, Divall said he believed there are opportunities in seaside locations, but that there has to be a reason for travellers to go that is not just the sea.
He said: "The sea is not enough to make people visit one location. We have to be building a story behind what there is to make customers want to go there."
The panel also discussed staff shortages, and how to get the right ‘story' across to young people and encourage them into the industry. Wells said the industry needs to "keep banging the drum about what a great industry it is to work in".
"We need to lobby the Department of Education. We need to get kids excited about skills. We need to be doing so much more. We need to be saying that this is an industry that will provide you with fantastic skills and opportunities and can provide you with a career for life," she said.
On how the industry can weather Britain's exit from the European Union, Cassidy said it is critical the industry speaks to the Government in "one single voice" to ensure its ‘story' is heard and its interests are taken into account. Divall emphasised the importance of replacing uncertainty with answers: "The quicker that we can get any answers that we can tell our customers, our investors, and our businesses, that is where we need to get to."
Wells suggested a strong message of welcome to new markets is key: "Opening of new trade links with new markets is going to be critical and tourism can do well out of that. It is an opportunity to state as an industry ‘we are open'."
"Cautious optimism" was how host Michael Hirst, consultant at CBRE hotels, summed up the panel's feelings towards the future of the hotel industry. While Cassidy acknowledged there are "considerable challenges ahead" for the industry, he repeated that innovation is going to be critical for businesses to survive, and that "old solutions" will not work anymore.
Sheppard said it is no longer regarded as a "treat" to travel, which was echoed by Divall, who emphasised the growth of an increasingly global middle-class as being a big opportunity for hotels. However, he added: "We need to make sure we have the right products and the right quality of products to meet that demand."
Latest video from The Caterer