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“Innovation is new value creation by applying creativity, in depth relationships with consumers and customers, and new thinking” – Michael Graber
What is Innovation?
Innovation is a term that we hear often, especially due to the rapid developments in technology and its integration into our daily lives. Although it has become a common term, do we truly know what innovation means?
To put it simply, innovation is the process of translating an idea or invention into a good or service that creates value and satisfies a specific need.
I recently came across with a vivid metaphoric explanation of innovation by brand identity expert David Brier. It was mentioned that life is made up of dots and most people believe that the dots they see every day, are all the dots there are. Life goes on along according to these all-known dots, which is called the status quo; business as usual. Then, someone comes along and sees there are more dots beyond the commonly agreed dots, which are the ones others missed and ignored. And, it is these new dots that potentially change everything. Many of today’s common dots were one time the uncommon dots. So, what is innovation? It is those other dots; the ones others miss. And, having the certainty to know that the dots you see are not only valid, but also necessary if the world is to move forward.
Uber and Airbnb are two of the most popularly-innovative companies of our time. They represent unique examples of how to challenge the status quo with strong proposals that genuinely create value – that even allowed both entities to bend laws and regulations. How? With the help of a political theorem called Travis’ Law. This law that is named after Travis Kalanick, Co-founder and CEO of Uber, suggests “Our product is so superior to the status quo that if we give people the opportunity to try it, they will defend its right to exist.” Uber users’ pressure over the DC city council worked and the company’s path for the future was cleared. Similar applied to Airbnb when an initiative called the Proposition F that restricts short-term rentals was on the ballot, but again was defeated by the users who demanded the existence of the company’s unique offer.
Innovation & Hospitality
It isn’t always the case that companies need to bend laws or to go to court to have the green light to introduce their innovative products or services. However, sometimes the established traditions, norms and common beliefs in an industry could contradict with the dynamism and creativity of innovation. Since my studies at École hôtelière de Lausanne, I have always found it fascinating to discuss innovation and hospitality in the same context because of their contrasting natures. Hospitality industry is one of the most traditional industries that contain a plethora of established protocols, norms and procedures, yet, hospitality firms are not indifferent to the changes occurring at the level of their competitors, the fast-paced market, or emerging technology breakthroughs.
Today, technology is no longer only about making sure that services are continuous. In the last few years, the role of IT in the hospitality industry has evolved, and it is now at the center of not only the innovation of superior guest experiences. Most of the innovations in the hospitality industry take place in the frontline of a service where customers can observe and utilize the innovation. The light-censored rooms of ARIA Las Vegas, Radisson’s iConcierge app that allows guests to access a wide variety of services, Starwood’s “Phone Become Key Cards” initiative are a few examples that currently and will transform and enhance the guest experience.
Nevertheless, what about the core of this industry, which is the human aspect? “Service is a monologue, hospitality is a dialogue”, Danny Meyer said in his bestselling book, Setting the Table. I believe that people are the most important asset of our industry and no technology can replace the effect of receiving a warm smile and having a genuine interaction with a staff member. At least for me, a great service by a specific employee or a unique human touch in an outlet has made my visit in a hotel more memorable.
Hospitals for example, don’t just share the same root word with hospitality, but also the people aspect is equally significant for both of these fields. Mike Packnett, the CEO of Parkview Health, suggests that the staff are the nucleus of the business and a major determinant of patient satisfaction and loyalty, as well as profitability. He adds that it is vital to train, engage and empower employees to be able provide the ultimate patient experience.
Jumping back from hospitals to hotels, it can be said that in order to holistically improve and innovate the hotel operations, performance, and the overall guest experience, it is crucial to address the human aspect. The largest costs in a hotel’s balance sheet is manpower, with the 40% of these manpower expenses are directly linked to housekeeping. This department is responsible for bringing in the largest share of profit to an accommodation operation, but this fact is hardly acknowledged. However, in the recent past, the long neglected housekeeping department has been steadily adopting technology to increase efficiency, provide guests with a seamless experience and add to customer delight.
Novility for instance, is focusing on improving employee – specifically housekeeping related – efficiency and productivity by providing solutions that adequately train employees, lead to cost efficient practices and contribute to the guest satisfaction; a win-win-win situation for the employees, businesses and guests.
Sir Richard Branson has a mantra that runs through the DNA of his companies. The mantra is A-B-C-D (Always Be Connecting the Dots). In the world of hospitality, there are a plethora of dots to discover, transform and connect. People is the most fundamental dot of the industry and addressing it with the right innovative tools would allow businesses – and the industry – to move forward.