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HSMAI ROC Europe: Travel Is Back

Travel is back – that was the resounding message from the HSMAI ROC conference, held at the InterContinental Park Lane, London, last week.

The European industry event saw the ballroom packed with delegates as industry leaders came together to discuss the burning issues of the moment: the return of business travel, changing customer behavior, combining humans with tech, and connecting commercial efforts across your hotel business.

Ingunn Hofseth, President & CEO at HSMAI Region Europe, welcomed the delegates and got the day off to a great start. The event’s theme was ‘Riding the Wave’ because, as Hofseth said, business is “not going to be the way it used to be.”

Bob Gilbert, President & CEO at HSMAI Global & Americas, gave an upbeat welcome as he declared that “Travel is back”.

His message for everyone in the room was that commercial excellence matters now more than ever. He talked about the cross-pollination of sales, marketing, and revenue and how teams need to work together.

“The alignment between disciplines helps everyone achieve premium performance,” he said.

Gilbert pointed out that companies with the right sales coverage in place can improve performance by 5%, and marketing can help increase engagement by 8%, but a connected commercial transformation brought about by integrating disciplines successfully leads to a 9% performance premium in revenue growth.

The Color of the Year

Duetto’s VP of Sales, EMEA, Michael Schäffner, was the day’s moderator. He did a brilliant job at keeping everyone on time and on message, as well as providing an inspiring talk on how this year’s Pantone, Viva Magenta, should be motivating the industry.

“It vibrates with vim and vigor, it is powerful and empowering, rebellious in spirit, audacious and inclusive of all,” he told the audience, explaining that those are core tenets of both Duetto and the hospitality industry.

Steven van Belleghem, Author and Thought Leader, delivered the day’s keynote speech, considering ‘Human and Tech: How to create the perfect CX by combining these two interfaces’.

His ‘diamond in the rough’ talk covered changes in customer behavior, new technologies such as the metaverse, and how despite the technological innovations a real human customer culture will still be desired and will be more relevant than ever.

The ‘Never-Normal’ Customer

According to van Belleghem, hoteliers need to be accepting of the ‘never-normal’ customer. He talked through how Gen Z and Gen Alpha have more options than ever before, and therefore it is more difficult to motivate these people.

“Because of that, the pressure on customer experience is often higher than it ever was.

Hospitality has the desire to be super customer-centric, but at the same time execution is often average. We have the potential, but we don’t always fulfill the potential. How can we go beyond that? How can we evolve?” he asked the audience.

“What does a human long for if it's dark for more than a week? Sun and bright skies. Customers have zero interest in your challenges. There is a need for positivity. Do that right and you will have a huge impact on the market,” he advised.

How Innovation is not Rocket Science

Van Belleghem was then joined on stage by Lennert de Jong, President of Hospitality at Planet. The two discussed how hotels are not getting the customer experience right at the moment.

“The average farmer uses more technology than a hotelier. His customers are sheep!” De Jong told the audience.

De Jong talked about how innovation is not rocket science. “Innovation is rarely about innovation. More often it’s about joining dots, connecting things to solve human problems. To solve problems for people you don’t have to invent things, you have to think differently. Think in goals, not in tasks,” he urged.

De Jong cited citizenM’s goal of a friction-free guest experience, showing how the brand uses tech for this but putting the goal of human happiness on a pedestal. Both van Belleghem and de Jong agreed that the front office phrase of ‘Have you been here before?’ should not be allowed in hotels anymore. Hotels need to know their guests better than that.

Revenue Management in Uncertain Times

Accor’s Shumi Khan, Global Vice President for Business Performance and Revenue Management, and James Wheatcroft, Senior Vice-President Brands, Marketing & Content NEW Northern Europe, rounded off the morning with a presentation and roundtable on the challenges and opportunities for hoteliers in these uncertain times.

Khan extended the riding the wave metaphor to revenue.

“In surfing, you change your body and form to ride the wave, to have a smooth experience. If you are not doing that, you are going against the wave. The same thing goes for revenue management. We have to make sure we exploit the right markets and use the right data. We must adapt to ride that wave in uncertain times; when OTB and forecast accuracy is volatile, and when we see different customer behavior. Chances are we will never go back, the new normal is just the normal,” she said.

Khan went on to explain how revenue and marketing work together at Accor: “What brought us together was data to help steer us through those decisions and navigate the waves,” she said.

Wheatcroft then picked up the success story, as he explained how Accor’s huge portfolio of brands in multiple countries brings benefits and complexities.

“How do you use data to drive the most profitable strategy in such an unprecedented time of turbulence? We had to rethink how we approached planning and move to a more aligned approach across all commercial functions. A key part was changing the culture of our commercial teams to be planning and expecting uncertainty,” he said.

Accor has made a data-driven change across the whole business, moving from siloed planning to a connected commercial strategy.

“The main change is moving to an agile approach,” Wheatcroft said. “Making sure we have the right indicators to look forward. Previous data doesn’t help you model forwards.”

This dynamic, agile approach to planning involves using media mix modeling to better plan and measure marketing at Accor. The team works in quarterly planning cycles, running baseline simulations of brand awareness and equity throughout the year. From that data, the team can make informed decisions on investment and strategy.

The theme of adopting a holistic approach to profitability, that aligns sales, marketing, and revenue, continued throughout the day with plenty of best practice sharing and industry learning.

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Sarah McCay Tams, Director of Marketing Communications.

Sarah joined Duetto in 2015 as a contributing editor covering Europe, Middle East & Africa (EMEA). In 2017, she was promoted to Director of Content, EMEA, and in 2022 promoted to Director of Marketing Communications. An experienced B2B travel industry journalist, Sarah spent 14 years working in the Middle East, most notably as senior editor – hospitality for ITP Publishing Group in Dubai, where she headed up the editorial teams on Hotelier Middle East, Caterer Middle East and Arabian Travel News. Sarah is now based back in the UK.

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