There was a time when hotels could offer their guests a range of services and facilities that exceeded the comforts they enjoyed in their own homes. Not any more. The pace of technological change in the world is remarkable. People's homes are full of gadgetry. I for one have now come to the view that hotels are simply unable to keep up and indeed, it may well be commercially imprudent to try.
So what do guests want from hotels? I believe the answer is efficiency and experiences.
Over the past decade or so we have witnessed the rise of relatively small hotels or chains of hotels, variously known as boutique, design or lifestyle brands, which have managed to punch well above their weight in the industry context. Now we are seeing the incorporation of spas into a range of hotel properties. In short, the provision of memorable experiences to people who are cash-rich but time-poor is the common thread.
Over a longer period we've seen minibars, tea and coffee making facilities and iron and ironing boards make their entrance into hotel rooms to the detriment of room service and the valet. Instant gratification and convenience triumph over cumbersome and inconsistently delivered services.
Moreover, both leisure and business travellers choose budget hotels from time to time, quite happy to hunt down their own food, drink and other required services in the locality. The same travellers will seek different types of hotels during other stays. I would argue that the experience they're seeking causes the differentiation, but the efficiency of the facilities and service is now expected to be a given (although it's all too often not the case). Failing that, hotels become a commodity and commodities trade at market, not premium, prices.
Thus there are rewards for innovation, for pleasant surprises and for proactivity of service above and beyond the call of duty. Those things stick in the mind and drive loyalty, referrals and repeat custom. But how often do they really occur in the typical midmarket hotel (or others)?
We're a service industry that's finding it increasingly hard to innovate. Yet in many hotels, at all levels, there are innovations and surprises which drive customer loyalty and a brand premium.
I'm convinced that the truly successful hoteliers in the years to come will be those that deliver memorable, differentiated experiences and efficient service.
Over to you
What matters most when you stay in a hotel?
Jon Brown, managing director, Virgin Hotel Group "Reliability is imperative - basic things like early-morning calls, ease of check-in and checkout and quality and availability of room service. Cleanliness of rooms is also important, as is fresh air. In a lot of hotels, especially in cities, you can't open the windows, and I for one really crave a bit of fresh air."
Bryan Williams, general manager, the White Hart hotel, Lincoln "The location of a hotel is probably the most important aspect. Service and facilities must reflect the price, so if you're staying in a one-, two- or three-star hotel there probably won't be much of a difference, but a four- or five-star hotel has to include a ‘wow' factor and a level of attention to detail you wouldn't otherwise expect."
Tim Bacon, co-founder, Living Ventures "Peace and quiet. As a light sleeper, I've had hotel managers up in the middle of the night because of noisy air conditioning or a room right next to the elevator. A comfortable bed and a duvet - not a blanket - is another must. I hate having to queue on arrival, so more than one person at check-in is essential."
Keith Allardice, general manager, Conrad hotel, Chelsea, London "The most important thing is friendly and engaging staff. I've been so pleasantly surprised in the past when the staff smiled and even remembered my name. You forgive a lot when you encounter this. You can't train people to smile or be friendly, so it's great when a hotel has hired people who naturally treat their guests well."