Thinking About The Future Hotel

16th Jul 2004

By Chris Luebkeman |

Introduction: The future is a subject which is very high on many individuals’ minds. It looms like an awesome sheer stone mountain face for those who are uncomfortable with change. It stands impenetrable as a dense winter fog before those who ignore change. It can be as mind-numbing as a straight highway with the road markings converging in the distance for those pre-occupied with it. Yet, those who embrace it and flourish will find the future an incredibly rich and challenging space to occupy. Those who continue to adapt to the ever increasing pace of change will find the future an incredibly exciting place to be.
It is important to have a context in which to think about the future. Everyone brings a different context to the way in which they work. These different contexts are highly dependent upon each individual; their personal history, their needs and desires of the moment as well as their hopes and fears. The personal context also depends upon issues ranging from professional to cultural to temporal… Each one important to understand and respect as one begins to form a basis for debate about the future. We have developed a context that has helped us to frame our thinking at Arup that we call the 3Ns: the Now, the New and the Next. The Now encompasses those issues, techniques and technologies which enable and/or inform our projects today. The New are those issues, techniques and technologies which are about three to five years away [approximately the length of a large building project]. The Next is that which is, or will be, found ten or more years into the future that can be culled into coherent visions.

A balance must be found which allows everyone to consciously engage in all three of the Ns. The balance will by necessity be different at different points in our lives. Yet, it is critical to a healthy professional career as well as for promoting a sustainable profession that this balance is found. If one only keeps one’s head down and works in the Now, then at some point in the near future a big wall will appear that was not seen. If one only is looking to the sky thinking of the future, then the hole in the sidewalk will soon swallow the dreamer. If one is only thinking about the day after tomorrow, then there will never be any satisfaction with what is possible today. Thus, the challenge is to engage all three.

There are some very practical ways that this can be achieved. One is to ensure that the 3N framework is integrated into the thinking that goes into the beginning of each project; that the thoughts, techniques and technologies are identified which are standing still, those which are stretching and those which are leaping forward. Another is to look to set goals which are clearly three to five year [New] targets with identifiable steps and milestones along the way. Yet another is to develop scenarios which force the contemplation of a broad spectrum of possible futures [Next] which include the seemingly impossible or unthinkable.

It is hoped that the articles in this issue touch on all of the 3Ns in some way. They should encourage us all to be conscious of our balance.


R&D in the Hospitality sector: a view

There have been many articles recently about the relationship between the profitability of an industry and the amount that it spends on Research and Development. It is not surprising that there is a documented correlation between the two; those that spend more seem to be more profitable. In times of economic turmoil, one of the first areas to be reduced, after the marketing budget, tends to be spend on R+D. In most cases, this has lead to a terminal downward spiral.

There tend to be three types of R+D that take place. On one extreme there is work which is done for the public good. This typically relates to issues around public health and safety and is therefore funded by public monies. At the other extreme is that work which is conducted by a company directly for their benefit in the marketplace. This is typically work that is commissioned and might not be shared within the industry at all. The third type of R+D is that which is of benefit to the industry as a whole. This is typically completed by consortia and depending on the general health of the sector, can be very beneficial as it can build consumer confidence. Once an exemplar, the hospitality industry today is not currently known for its high investment in any of these.

Even though it might sound trivial, there are three areas that one should always be considering in all R+D activities: People, Process and Technology. A balanced project will be engaging all three and the impact of each on each other. It is clear that the hospitality industry depends upon people in many ways. There is the guest at the centre of all of the activities. There are the interface staff and the back-of-house staff. There are those people who influence the decisions and feelings of both of these. What technologies can be implemented, are emerging or would be wonderful to have that could enhance their lives? What processes need to be changed? A recent comparison by students at the EHL of the staffing levels of a Grand Hotel in Paris over the past one hundred years was very revealing. It seems that the total number has hardly changed at all over the past century, only the re-distribution of more staff to management roles rather than customer interface/support roles.

There are many areas that are calling out for research and development in the hospitality sector. The following is by no means a listing of any kind, rather an example of one of the areas that either is, or will continue to be, in need of attention. The impact of aging will impact the sector in ways which are unimaginable. The effects demographic changes have on both the patterns of the guest, as well as the staff, need to be clearly delineated for every sector. The impacts on the room infrastructure are fairly well known, but the impact on service offerings is less clear. What new opportunities will arise from the guest that has an ever increasing median age? What new opportunities will be generated by ancillary services? How will guest patterns change? How will this differ in various geographical settings? These questions need to be clearly and cleverly investigated, prototyped and disseminated. Some of the results will be for the good of the industry, and some for the benefit of the funding partners.

How can this work be accomplished? It is my opinion that the best way to move this forward is to create research collaborations between different partners. These need to be holistic in their configuration and very tight in their expected results. These collaborations leverage individual sector segment knowledge in order to achieve what can only be dreamed at the outset. And, in order to achieve this, high goals must be set that are GUEST focused - not return focused. The return will follow if the guest service is correct. In order to get this right, it is essential that one is clear about the differentiation between the NEEDS and DESIRES of the guest.

The Needs and Desires of each guest will be different. The days of the Henry Ford-like offering of ‘you may have any colour as long as it is black’ are gone forever. Guests will have higher expectations for personalization of all parts of the experience; rightfully so. The exact impact on the hospitality sector cannot be clearly stated as we are in the middle of the development. What is clear is that the needs and desires are changing; as they always have over time. A fine example of this is the en-suite bath. At one time this was only a dream for most; today it is an expectation. Internet access will be the same. Today, it is a desire; soon it must be offered for free as a ‘normal’ part of a room.

The hospitality industry must change. There is an opportunity to radically alter its landscape. Those who are embracing this landscape of change will be investing in developing tomorrow’s ideas. Those who are not, will not survive.

Drivers of Change: MetaTrends

There are certain drivers of change in the world that can be observed. These are what can be called Meta Trends as they are very large scale. There will always be other drivers at a national and local level. The following are those which are affecting all on the planet.

The first is one which is imminently serious: potable water. The earth is made up of 70% water, of which 97% is too salty to drink and most of the rest is locked up in ice. Most major rivers are part of two or more nations [the Danube has seventeen along its length]. More than thirty nations receive at least a third of their water from outside their borders and nearly half of the world’s land mass consists of river basins shared by more than one country. The seriousness of this is perhaps sharpened when it is realized that water consumption has quadrupled since 1940 while the population has only doubled. Humans cannot survive without potable water. It is estimated that by 2020 one in eight countries will be experiencing high water stress leading to concerns about global political stability. Many solutions are political, some in uncomfortable life-style choices soon to be forced upon populations, others lie in new technologies to clean and desalinate water as well as the infrastructure to distribute it. In every case, there will be implications that will significantly impact the hospitality sector. How long will toilets be flushed with drinking water?

The second driver is potentially huge: the hydrogen economy. The vision of ending the economic and political reliance upon petroleum by replacing it with a clean renewable resource has been around for decades. Now that available liquid reserves are anticipated to peak in 2012, the technologies for an alternative are slowly being released to the public’s eye. The success of the consumer level fuel cell is highly dependent upon the technological development of efficient production of hydrogen, its storage as well as its safe transfer. Each a major hurdle in itself. If these issues are resolved, there is a huge potential for this to change the world. But it is a very large if.


The third driver is uncomfortably predictable: the aging population. The global population will age faster in the next 60 years than ever before. The number of people aged 60 will triple by 2050 as the world median age is predicted to increase from 27 today to 36. There will be a shortage of workers in the countries which are considered to be the developed nations. In Europe, 62% are currently classified as of working age [15-59], but with population growth rates plummeting, this will fall to 49%. The implications on the standards of living for all are quite significant. How will we be able to afford to travel as an increasing amount of income is needed for survival? Who will take care of this growing population? The trends are quite clear. The scenarios for the future of the hospitality industry are very uncomfortable for some, yet offer huge opportunity for others. In any case, this driver cannot be ignored.


The fourth driver is very conceptual: global connectivity. The global population has adapted the web and its associated technology faster than anything before. It has even rapidly permeated our vocabulary with a multitude of new terms: always-on; hot-desking; digital divide; linked communities; asynchronous meeting. New hierarchies for achieving collective solutions that belie, or even go against those in power have been enabled by the web. An example of this is This is a network of on-line activists which, with more than 2 million members, builds electronic advocacy groups almost overnight to generate public opinion campaigns, or to collect a mass of individuals, to confront issues which would have been impossible even at the turn of the millennium. Another example of the impact of connectivity was SARS. This was one of the first very public successes of knowledge sharing to combat a shared threat. Information was exchanged at an incredible rate as the virus spread around the world. But then again, the connectivity presented the threat to begin with. The changes that global connectivity is bringing are as yet difficult to quantify since they are deeply profound and continue to play themselves out every day.


The fifth driver is essentially irrational: an increase in Spirituality. There is an apparent rise, especially in wealthier societies, in questions of meaning and belief. At the same time, economists are attempting to measure happiness in a data drive to assess levels of personal and professional satisfaction. Changing expectations are being felt in the desire for a new work-life balance. The continuous drive for more professional gain at the expense of personal lifestyle has essentially played itself out. Young people of all ages are ratcheting up the importance of leisure-time choices over professional promotion. Some are drawing a parallel between the environmental movement initiated by Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. That was first seen decades ago and viewed as the domain of the radicals and quacks. What are the implications of employees making decisions based on personal quality of life rather than professional gain?


The final driver is more of a wild card; for some it is the realm of the uncertain and for others it is clearly a fact: climate change. It is almost so obvious that even the most stubborn can hardly refute the fact that the global climate is indeed changing. The cause of this will probably not be proven until it is far too late to really care. The fact remains that Earth is a closed system. Due to this fact, everything that is extracted from the earth must go somewhere; everything extracted from the ground must go somewhere; and in both cases the place of return is not necessarily of benefit to the total system. Many believe, and even more hope, that pricing which reflects the real cost to the global system will be in place by 2020. Ray Anderson, in his book entitled Mid-Course Correction, describes some of the thinking behind his conversion of his global carpet business to reflect this realization. It is impossible to predict the future; there are simply too many uncertainties. Yet, climate change will affect everyone in significant ways. It cannot be ignored.


Four of these six drivers are guaranteed to affect the hospitality sector. The timeline for the impact is variable. It could range from immediate to decades. It is highly suggested that one should be developing scenarios based on the possible impacts so that one is ready to deal with the changes as they occur. The implications of each must be carefully considered in the local context; the major impact is always local. Be prepared.

Scenarios : the healthy suite

By 2020 there will be over 1 billion individuals who are over the age of sixty and three quarters of them will be in the developed world. The implications of this include increasing difficulties with pension provision, an aging workforce overall, a general change in the availability of human resources and the provision of more facilities for the aging population. It is only now becoming apparent that the standard of living the developed world has enjoyed for the past fifty years is at or nearly approaching its apex. With this, is a parallel in the standard of care. The aging of the population will place an increasing strain upon the health services around the world. Imagine the potential benefit of offering a ‘healthy suite’...

When a guest makes a reservation, their preferences are queried and their hospitality experience is automatically crafted. Part of this is a ‘health check’. This could be especially popular for the guest who leads a stressed life. The health check is quite subtle. It is completed by the room itself without intrusive questioning. Then after the stay one receives the ‘health check’ at the check-out desk. The information from this is private and contained within the hotel’s secure database… Waiting for the guest’s return.

The health check is accomplished by a few items within the room. The toilet bowl takes a urine sample to examine enzymes and sugars. The toilet seat checks galvanic skin response for blood health. The bed listens for the patterns of the heart and expiration. All of the appropriate analysis takes place overnight and is ready in the morning. A frequent, or repeat, guest can then receive a comparison of their values. They can also receive predictive and preventative advice based on their ranges from the Hotel that cares about them.

This scenario is also based upon the fundamental shift from descriptive medical science to one in which predictive tools will be commonly applied. Consumer BioTechnologies will allow self-assessment and access to diagnostics which will interface with vast libraries of medical knowledge enabling real-time monitoring of one’s own physiological condition. Bio-sensors will be integrated into fabrics of all kinds which will transfer data to the computational grid which will shunt it to the appropriate service. Thus, the Hotel could offer services through the ‘healthy suite’ which are not commonly available in the corner drugstore.

Scenarios: the happy hotel

Can you imagine when the building tells you that it doesn’t feel well? Or perhaps the day when the building is depressed because it decides that it is not being treated very well? Embedded sensors in buildings will provide remote sensing capabilities that will enable the data capture required for the personalization of space. This will also generate building performance data to aid in its maintenance and redesign. Remembering that the personal computer was only introduced about twenty years ago it is perhaps not too difficult to imagine that in the near future that the building itself will contain and maintain the computational power to become its own ‘entity’. Of course, ‘happy’ has many implications.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that when function can be taken for granted, it is the immaterial that makes the difference. The most important factor to success in hospitality is the level of happiness or satisfaction of its staff. It is well known within the industry that there is a direct relationship between guest and staff satisfaction. There are also ever changing expectations of the staff in the hospitality sector. The design of the physical infrastructure of the sector will have to evolve to reflect these changes. In this way, the physical factors can begin to positively influence the immaterial.

The future of the business lies not in offering a product for sale, rather for selling dreams and emotions in the form of a service. These services change the notion of the hotel from consumption to experience. Thus, there are enhanced emotional markets that sector must consider: nostalgia, togetherness, caring, adventure, conviction etc. The level of emotional fulfilment of a guest will be enhanced by the hotel which meets the needs and desires of the traveller.


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