Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 22 October 2019

Younger generation spurs change

Robert Welanetz, the chief executive of Majid Al Futtaim Properties, talks to The National about developments in the hospitality industry.
Robert Welanetz, chief executive of Majid Al Futtaim Properties. Victor Besa for The National
Robert Welanetz, chief executive of Majid Al Futtaim Properties. Victor Besa for The National

Robert Welanetz, the chief executive of Majid Al Futtaim Properties, which owns 12 hotels in the region, including Kempinski Hotel Mall of the Emirates in Dubai and the Westin city centre hotel in Bahrain, talks to The National about developments in the hospitality industry.

How do you believe the industry will evolve over the next few years?

The travel and tourism industry is seeing a series of trends impacting both business models and customer expectations. The technology age has had a disrupting impact on the hotel industry and the result of that has had a profound affect on not just operational efficiency, but also changing customer behaviour and demands. Today’s travellers use online tools and social media to research their future travel destinations and accommodations. In three to five years from now, the hotel industry will look vastly different, driven by an increasingly digitised community of travellers and their love for experiential, immersive travel experiences. In 2020, mobile booking is predicted to become the dominant form of online booking and will no doubt become the norm in the next five years.

What is driving this evolution for the industry and the customer?

The industry is in the middle of a multi-faceted demand shift driven by generational and demographic change. Hotels were historically designed to cater to the needs of the middle-aged business and leisure tourist but today, the hospitality industry needs to consider the travel habits and preferences of a new audience made up of millennials and ‘Generation Z’ travellers. They are budget conscious travellers with an affinity for all things digital and the expectation of seamless mobility. On the other hand, the world is also witnessing a significant shift in economic power. According toEY, the global middle class is forecasted to grow by another three billion people between 2011 and 2031, the majority of whom will come from emerging markets.

How much should hotels know about their guests and their habits without violating their privacy?

The pervasive adoption of the internet and smartphones has no doubt impacted customer expectations and demands. It has also given the hotel industry the ability to gather insights on individual preferences and behaviour to enable the customisation of services well beyond what was previously possible. While customers and travellers want everything, here and now, it is not really be possible if we don’t have access to the data to better understand their travel preferences and concerns, habits and interests to ensure we can add value to the entire travel experience. The hotel industry undertakes some of the most stringent data protection and compliance processes to ensure that all customer information is secure and used only for the intent and purpose of designing personalised experiences at the command and control of our guests.

What in your opinion are the most important amenities that a hotel offers guests? Is Wi-Fi more important than the comfort of the bed?

Today, just offering best-in-class amenities is no longer enough. As customer expectations continue to shift, their demands are shaped by their increasing preference for experience versus an exclusive or siloed product and service offering. We are already witnessing an increasing demand for experiential travel that engages and enthrals, from adrenaline junkies looking for the next bungee-jumping experience to arts and culture enthusiasts on the lookout for the best museum and history tours. Beyond the amenities, travellers are increasingly on the lookout for hotels that use technology and Wi-Fi as an essential component, to make the entire experience simpler and more convenient.

business@thenational.ae

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Updated: June 18, 2017 04:00 AM

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