Former pub boss Deborah Kemp, now chief executive of De Vere Hotels, says hoteliers have something to learn from the pub industry's reinvention
With the advent of the smoking ban and the cheap sale of alcohol by supermarkets, the pub sector has had to reinvent itself to reconnect with its customers. After all, Ray Kroc didn't invent hamburgers and Howard Schultz didn't invent coffee; they just figured out how to sell more and how to sell better.
The one thing that made the difference between an average pub and a great pub was "mine host" and the front-of-house experience for the customer - in short, hospitality. This was often delivered despite limited cash, relying upon energy and imagination, creating a great atmosphere and a memorable experience.
This will be a critical role for hotel managers in the future, bringing personality to their hotels, helping their teams to engage with guests, as opposed to just serving them. Every day they have to balance control with spontaneity, making their guests feel special.
The reinvention of the pub was also about creating an atmosphere of smart informality. The need to diversify away from just selling beer brought about the emergence of the gastropub. Their success came from breaking down the barriers between eating and drinking, creating multi-functional spaces, and less formal surroundings.
The quality and choice of food and drink available in pubs now rivals many hotel restaurants, allowing people to trade up and trade down depending upon their budget and the occasion. Many hotels now have to flex their offering between business and leisure, and creating a less structured dining environment and menu that offers real value for money, will be key in persuading guests to dine in, as opposed to dining out at the local pub.
Finally, one of my key roles when I was managing director at Punch Taverns was helping individual pubs understand their new market opportunities. This was critical in some towns and villages where three or four pubs would be in direct competition with each other. It wasn't just about selling beer any more, but about creating an experience to emotionally hook new customers in to.
This is no different to hotels, where thousands of beds have to be filled every day. People don't buy beds; they buy an experience, whether it's a family gathering or important conference. If hotels are to stop competing just on the price of their rooms they have to start marketing themselves as an experience, not just a commodity.