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Why Design Thinking Needs to Blow Up the Current Hotel Experience

Here is a bold statement: the current hotel “experience” does not work, and most hotel brands just don’t get it.

Many of us travel extensively, and one can predict before entering a hotel exactly what the experience will be: walk up to the counter, behind which hide some relatively junior staff; give them your name and credit card; receive a plastic key in a small envelope (these are getting smaller and smaller); being pointed to the lifts; remembering that one has to ask for the wifi password; and then wheeling one’s luggage to an elevator, walking down a corridor, and then entering a room that looks very much like every other hotel room; trying to work a very smart television that has now cut down on movies as they want you to pay for them; turning out the lights and going to sleep!

Does that sound exciting? Inviting? Innovative? Disruptive? No wonder AirBnB is such a success!

So how come? If you read the rhetoric from the hotels, they are all engaged in Design Thinking. For example, here is an excerpt from a recent interview with a Hyatt executive, the Global CMO:

A few years ago, Hyatt made a big effort to apply design thinking and even went so far as to hire a Chief Innovation Officer. One fun thing that we have been piloting recently is called “Text Me.” This allows guests to text in their requests. Through research and empathy interviews we found that women in particular didn’t want to call down to the front desk when they wanted a towel or something brought to the room. So using design thinking we developed a system where guests can actually text the hotel to make that request. It’s also led to us partnering with the likes of Uber and onefinestay to address evolving guest behaviors and expectations.

Hyatt has a very longstanding relationship with design. It’s not a coincidence that Jay Pritzker and his wife founded the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1979. The Pritzker family, who started Hyatt Hotels, has always cared about architecture and its influence on people’s lives. So design is definitely core to the company and its culture. In hospitality, design ranges from the amenities that are in your room, to the hotel, to the service—they’re all part of the design of the experience.

So something is seriously wrong. With all this focus on design as described above, why does the experience change around the edges, and not in the core?

Our view is that the large hotel chains still have their head in the sand at the Board and executive levels. They do not realise that they are sliding down the slippery slop of the S Curve, and that ventures such as AirBNB are not only disruptive at the edge, they have the potential to eat into the core.

It’s not about adding a “Text Me” feature to the existing experience, it’s about the redesign of the entire experience, and being bold enough to execute before the disruptors eat their business for lunch.


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