CEO David Keen: “We need to take the ‘hotels’ out of hospitality”

24 May 2018

The most successful brands today don’t play by the rules – they have the “guts” to change.

That was one of the key messages from our CEO David Keen in his THINC INNOVATE talk at The Anantara Siam, Bangkok – four years after he bemoaned hospitality’s lack of innovation at HICAP in 2014.

While we’ve seen more innovation in hospitality in the last four years than in the preceding 25, he said, today there are still very few examples of really visionary brands. Breakthroughs in vision, thinking and tech have augmented the way we buy things, watch things and even socialise, but the lion’s share of hotels were reluctant to get out of their comfort zones. A hotel stay in 2018 is fundamentally the same as it was 25 years ago.

He drew parallels to the British Royal family, who last weekend signalled a readiness to embrace change, to move into the future. If even the lauded House of Windsor can change, Keen asked, what does that mean for the hospitality industry? “Has hospitality had its ‘Meghan’ moment, or are we still waiting?”

‘Lifestyle’ had held some promise. It had driven evolution in the hospitality sector, delegates heard, and as a result there are now hundreds of boutique brands offering ‘moments’, ‘experiences’ and ‘authenticity’. The lifestyle space is overcrowded with ‘cool’, design-savvy brands seeking to lure millennial travellers with ‘unique’ concepts. But they’re all starting to sound the same.

Meanwhile, Keen remarked, players outside the hospitality sector have gained ground. By blurring the lines between industries and economies, they’ve changed the way we think about and utilise space. The tech revolution has enabled the success of disruptors such as AirBnB, Amazon, Apple and Netflix, and created demand for collaborative workspaces. Visionaries like these are now hotels’ biggest threat.

“Tomorrow’s leaders will be those who look beyond (far beyond) the four walls of hotels to any kind of space,” Keen said. “It’s up to them to consider space for its economic value and reconstruct the perception of the four walls of their hotel.” He cited different opportunities both inside and outside of hotels where space can be utilised in a more economic way.

Keen added that some major players had already started on this journey, pointing to AccorHotels and Marriott. But there was still a long way to go. “How can hotels embrace change?” he asked.

  • Change your attitude
  • Drive your vision
  • Reimagine your organisation
  • Tech yourself up

To this final point, he suggested that hotels needed to stop focussing on the minutiae and, like the disruptors of the world, embrace technology as the backbone of everything they do. “It’s not about a website, it’s about creating an entire digital ecosystem to project your brand,” he said. “Instead of thinking outside the box, get rid of the box!”

It’s time, he concluded, for hotels to start stretching their horizons, and thinking not just about the needs of customers today or tomorrow, but the day after tomorrow.

David Keen’s THINC Talk: The State of the ‘Brand Revolution’ took place at THINC INNOVATE, held at Anantara Siam Bangkok Hotel. Contact bek.vanvliet@quo-global.com for a full transcript and video of the talk.