New York, New York – it’s a wonderful town! Ask Linda Chin, the newly appointed and promoted Director of Operations, New York City, for Kimpton Hotels, and she will not only tell you “it’s a wonderful town” but that is vibrant, exciting and at the forefront of trends in hotels.
Linda speaks with some authority as she is responsible for overseeing four Kimpton hotels in the city: 70 Park Avenue, Eventi, Ink48 and The Muse. During a recent visit to New York staying at Ink 48, I was able to discuss with Linda the trends and challenges that face New York hotelier’s and how these trends and challenges resonate with hoteliers across the world.
The trends are being driven by changes in the guests expectations, the changing nature of guests and those seeking to use hotels perhaps in a different way from the past. Informality is a key change here. Many hotels are moving away from the use of the hotel in a more formal setting into creating vibrant public spaces that are more “designer living rooms” than traditional and formal chandeliered grand lobbies.
The impact of Wi-Fi
In Linda’s opinion, one driver of change here has been the introduction of Wi-Fi throughout hotels and the reduction in size of the personal technology. In the days when guests were using large laptops, they spent time hunting through the lobby for somewhere to plug them in. Now they are carrying small tablets and smartphones that seem to be permanently attached to their hands. This change has meant that rather confining guests to the rooms where they needed to have direct cable access, Wi-Fi technology enables them to now use their tablets and smartphones anywhere within a property. This has increased the use of public spaces which are now much more interactive areas – where guests spend time meeting and greeting, working and being part of the hotel community.
As hotel lobbies and public spaces have become the focus for guests interaction, they now need to be much more welcoming and create almost a “home living room” atmosphere. A good example of this is the Happy Hour where the hotel guests assemble in the lobby for a wine hour provided by the hotel. This is a networking opportunity and it creates a particular atmosphere that encourages people to use the facilities the hotel offers.
As lobbies become more vibrant, with artworks and comfortable seating, the design changes to reflect this need. This, of course, in turn can impact the guest room. The trend of spending more time in the lobby areas rather than in the room has led to a more minimalist approach to the room design. In many new guest rooms, for example, the work desk has been taken out to create a more flexible and comfortable living and working space around the idea of a “bistro table”. Once you do away with the need for trails of wiring everywhere to accommodate guests business needs, it frees up the space to be used with more innovative designs. An important consideration is making guests feel comfortable in the space, through art works, external views and comfortable furniture to sit and work.
Business users are using lobbies as informal meeting rooms. To further accommodate business users, many hotels are developing meeting room spaces outside the lobby areas, where more formal and confidential meetings can be scheduled. These need to be flexible spaces with a focus on technology and design to accommodate the needs of those particular guests.
As Linda points out, guests are seeking something special in the experience of staying in the hotel. They are looking for a local experience that creates the difference between being in New York and being in Los Angeles. They are looking for a degree of authenticity in the service experience, not a sanitised, you-could-be-anywhere-in-the-world experience.
Turning to challenges, in New York in particular, there is an excess of supply, in part created by the advent and impact of Airbnb. The development of this is in part a reflection of the guests seeking authenticity in the local experience. The growth of this particular sector is clearly a challenge to established hotels. How long it lasts as a major challenge and how hotels respond is still hotly debated. The New York hotel occupancy is still strong, although this new entry into the market has had an impact on rates.
In any discussion with hoteliers about challenges, the area that always seems to be top of mind is the area of labour shortages and New York is no different. The cost of labour is high and perhaps surprisingly to some, the industry is widely unionised. The recruitment challenge is finding staff with professional skill sets and the capacity for further development. Whilst training is provided on multiple levels, it is the areas of emotional intelligence, leadership skills and communication skills where potential staff seemed to be lacking. The challenge of finding the future generation of leaders seems to be a recurrent theme. Whether talking about chefs, front-office staff or General Managers, the issues remain the same. How do we find potential staff in an increasingly competitive market? And importantly, how do we develop these staff to have the heart and emotion for the industry and that “gut instinct” that drives success?
Linda Chin’s personal success has been through that real emotional connection with the business, having great mentors and manifest professionalism.
Discussions with hotelier’s are always interesting and insightful and this has proved no different. The trends evidenced in New York are gradually being seen emerging across the globe. Guests seeking greater authenticity in the experience and more flexibility. The idea of becoming part of a hotel guest community is a reflection of their changing expectations and a move towards a greater degree of informality. This has to be reflected in the way that we design and operate hotels. We have to be able to be flexible enough to respond quickly to changing guests expectations. The challenges for hoteliers are much the same whether they’re in New York, London, Dhaka, Berlin or Sydney. The key challenge remains that of developing future industry leaders to ensure we can continue to provide that essential authentic guest experience.
About the author
Professor Peter A. Jones, MBE, is the Dean of the eHotelier Academy. With a distinguished career in hospitality, education and training, Peter has been involved with national and international projects with clients involved in hospitality education. Peter is a Director the Edge Hotel School and of Hotel Future, a new education and training initiative in Greater Manchester and is a Visiting Professor at the University of Derby. He was also awarded a Member of the Order of the British Empire for services to the hospitality industry.