Most hotel conferences focus on a review of the current and past situation of the industry and primarily feature presentations and roundtables led by hotel industry players.
On 30 April, a diverse group of about 120 high-level academics, hotel investors, serial entrepreneurs, hotel chain executives and consultants gathered at Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL) to debate about what the future holds for the hotel sector, and more broadly, for the society in which the industry operates.
'Window 2 the Future' 2018 was a Swiss Knowledge initiative of Lausanne Hospitality Consulting (LHC), the consulting division of EHL Group, and was a follow-up to the first 'Window 2 the Future' conference held in 2016 at which the Lausanne Report, a document detailing the future outlook for the hotel industry, was launched.
A revolution in education
So what can be seen through the window?
First of all education will have to change radically to adapt to the coming societal and professional environment.
Basically, MOOCS (massive open online courses), which were launched about a decade ago, have not lived up to expectations, according to James Larus, Professor & Dean of the School Computer and Communication Sciences at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), who was speaking on a panel devoted to the future of education.
However, the technology can still be used in regular degree programmes.
For instance, it could allow the professor to forego standard lectures, letting the students watch the MOOC presentations; meanwhile he/she circulates in the classroom interacting with students on an individual level.
Another idea concerns TED talks, which can be sliced and diced into 2-minute snippets which are more amenable to the increasingly short attention span of today's youth.
In any case, the overall conclusion on the subject of education is that it should be a lifelong process.
For instance, young people should not feel compelled to spend 3 or 4 years straight in university studies; rather they should not hesitate to take courses interspersed with professional activities, studying subjects when the need arises, as their careers progress.
Hospitality at the Olympics
Hospitality has a greater role to play at Olympics, in the view of Christophe Dubi, Executive Director, IOC Olympic Games.
He bemoaned the fact that some stadiums used have had no food & beverage services.
For instance hotels could offer Olympics-themed activities. He believes that attendees at major events like the Olympics will more and more demand a 'personalised' experience.
In his presentation to the conference, he showed an example of participatory activities for children which were on display at the recent Rio 2016 Summer Olympics.
However, Andrew Katz, Partner at Prospect Hotel Advisors, cautioned that hotels have often fared badly in Olympics destinations due to the fact that the organisers require substantial contingents of rooms to be reserved – often at prices below what could have been earned in the ordinary transient marketplace.
Also, the result has often been that oversupply has been created in Olympic destinations, which has taken years to work off.
High Tech versus High Touch
A fundamental theme of the conference was the apparent dichotomy between 'high tech' and 'high touch' (i.e. highly personalised service).
The general conclusion expressed by most of the presenters was that the two aspects are not in contradiction. That is to say that high tech can be used to enhance the personalisation of a guest's hotel stay.
A particularly good example of this was cited by Quang Thai, Chief Strategy Officer, Jing Jiang Europe & Louvre Hotels Group. He explained that a person's mood can now be detected by video analysis.
Thus, for example, a hotel employee could use the technology to track the mood of guests and, if he/she noticed that someone appeared particularly stressed, could subtly enquire, "Is everything OK?"
This same approach could be used to monitor employees, he added.
Telephones out but TVs will stay
Probably one of the easiest things to forecast in the hotel industry is the disappearance of telephones from guestrooms, now that virtually everyone is using a personal mobile device, noted Andrew Katz, who added that every hotel will have an app that can be downloaded, which will serve as a key, connection to room service, the front desk etc., thus eliminating the need for telephones in the room.
However according to Ted Teng President & CEO, Leading Hotels of the World, TVs will still be present in rooms in ten years' time, due to the fact that guests will want to project their own content from the mobile devices they bring with them to the hotel.
Otherwise, he predicts that AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality) will become more prevalent as prospective guests will want to 'experience' hotels virtually before actually booking.
Outsourcing to continue
Ted tang and Andrew Katz were adamant that outsourcing is a mega-trend.
They note, for instance that that there is no reason to use up valuable hotel space and resources by operating an in-house laundry service.
Andrew Katz expressed satisfaction with the outsourcing of food & beverage services at the hotels that his group asset- manages. He also noted that outsourcing of chambermaid services is widely prevalent in Europe. In his view even revenue management and client acquisition could be profitably outsourced.
Round the world in a solar-powered car
The conference ended on a high note with a presentation by Louis Palmer, the first and only person to circumnavigate the globe in a battery-powered automobile – a feat accomplished already over a decade ago.
This last session was both inspiring and entertaining, but also drove home a key theme of the conference - that of sustainability.