With the new year well under way, Nicholas Northam, managing director for the UK at Interstate Europe Hotels & Resorts, says the hotel industry must innovate if it's to adapt to today's turbulent times
The world we live in looks very different compared with a year ago, and as an industry we have to adapt to the changes. We must face the challenges and capitalise on the opportunities that present themselves to us.
Above average supply growth (especially in London) and consumer and corporate uncertainty driven by the events of 2016 have the potential to create an unfavourable backdrop. The industry is also tackling ongoing disruption via the sharing economy.
Put simply, we must increase innovation and be nimble to address these challenges.
Firstly, we must look towards and embrace the notion of sharing and socialising. We're seeing owners and brands designing the public areas of hotels to accommodate the variety of guests' needs, which allows customers to meet, work or relax in the same area creating a real sense of community. The increasing use of mobile technology within the industry will only aid this process. From discovery to check-in to ordering room service, we are already in the world where a guest's smartphone holds everything from their booking to check-in, their room key, controls for the air conditioning and television through to check-out and making their next booking.
All along this customer journey, guests are sharing their experiences with their peers, becoming an even more important influencer for future business.
With innovative thinking and targeted resources, we could see some really exciting developments emerge in our industry that could change the hotel experience for guests, forever. Of course, this evolution of the hotel experience requires a shift in the way frontline staff operate and interact with guests.
Employees will need to be much more flexible and reactive to a broad range of guests' needs, as people increasingly expect services on demand to fit in with their busy lifestyles, and hotels must consider this when training their teams.
However, surrounding all this is the question of where 2017's guests will come from and how hotels can attract them. Will the unease in Europe drive more inbound tourism to the UK? I expect so, especially if the pound's value continues to fluctuate.
The EU referendum drove uncertainty but there are clear signs that the business community is coming to terms with the new reality and the fall of the pound has made the UK a more attractive tourist destination.
It's a trend we're already seeing, with reports of an increased number of staycations taking place in the leisure markets, as well as corporate events being moved from major European cities to UK locations due to safety concerns. For our industry, this presents both a challenge and an opportunity. Increased inbound tourism and more staycations hold the promise of more business, after all. But to win it - amid more competition than ever and in today's turbulent economy - hotel owners and their teams will need to become more entrepreneurial in their approach.
As an industry we must think creatively and not be afraid to change. We must listen to the wants and needs of the communities within which we work and use the tools and technologies available to us to maximise success and help the UK's hospitality sector to flourish in 2017.