Casper Overbeek, chief digital & experience officer at citizenM

The biggest acceleration during Covid-19 has been the need for digital. We were forced into one gigantic online experience: fully remote working, more online retail and even streaming festivals. Digital is now so part of the consumer mindset that no cool feature will surprise us anymore, it is considered normal.

I am fascinated by the emergence of the ‘flash delivery’. Here in Amsterdam, we have at least three start-ups delivering groceries within ten minutes. I was intrigued by the fact that their biggest audience are students. They admit that they are simply too lazy to walk 50m to a store and they don’t want to stand in line anymore. So, while this generation heavily influences consumer expectations, it also implies there is no ceiling in demand for convenience. In travel, the way we are able to live up to this demand will be a key driver of success: not in attracting new customers, but rather in not losing them. Digital innovation is key to convenience. Therefore, citizenM never stopped investing in it, not even in the darkest days of the crisis. We launched our guest app, we built contactless journeys, we built better websites, we worked on digitising food ordering, and housekeeping.

Ironically, this digital normality also made us appreciate the human touch even more. The joy of hugging our parents again, the first live concert or simply being served by an attentive waiter instead of endless takeaway meals. All these human interactions made us realise how much we need it. So, when we are travelling, the bar of good human service has raised as well. CitizenM thought about how to actually use digital solutions to boost the human experience. Now our app not only allows a frictionless journey, but also promotes chat interaction with the frontline team and takes the first steps in community thinking through badges and proactive communication.

A digital journey for our guests should also be accessible for our frontline staff. So citizenM invested in the first version of the employee app. Not only does it create convenience and mobility for the staff, but it actually frees up a lot of time for what the teams do best: creating memorable experiences for our guests.

Personally, I am most curious to see how hybrid working will prove to play out. It’s hard to imagine going back to the office five days a week. But what will I sacrifice? The monotonous commute or the opportunity to see new places and people, and discover novel things? If everyone thinks like me, travel will have a prosperous future. But this will again put new demands on convenience and guest experience. In this dynamic playing field, with some certainties and many uncertainties, citizenM tries to find its way. We will continue listening and innovating based on what they tell us.

“We are facing an incredible challenge, because it is undeniable that every adverse situation is also the beginning of something new. It is in our hands to change the course of our economy and the history of tourism.”

Carlos Díez de la Lastra

Carlos Díez de la Lastra, managing director at Les Roches Marbella

In the midst of transformation and uncertainty, some of the most positive new trends emerge. The Covid-19 crisis has given us the opportunity to bet on talent, innovation, entrepreneurship and models that really build values based on equality, sustainability and cohesion. It is subsistence, and tourism is no stranger to this trend because tourism is a reflection of our society. We see it in the new travellers who are more conscientious. They are looking for environmentally friendly hotels, committed to the local economy with transparent communication.

Tourism is in constant transformation, but it will not stop sustaining its essence in the customer experience. Customer service management is not only maintaining its importance, but the very technological pressure that tends to unify and standardise its solutions. This places much more value on something that has always distinguished the managers we train at Les Roches – the excellence in behaviour and customer service management.

Our responsibility, as an educational institution, is to ensure that our students are prepared to lead the change and face the future challenges of one of the most powerful industries in the world, which has once again shown us, in an incredible way, its resilience. We need to instil this same resilience in our classrooms.

It is not so much a question of providing technical knowledge, as one of activating the gene of innovative entrepreneurship and highlighting people’s ability to manage emotion and customer experience. In the coming years, the search for talent will intensify and this new reality will require more hybrid and complex profiles, capable of providing a strategic vision.

But above all, we must turn professionals into curious talent, with the motivation and intention to constantly improve, be resolute, intuitive and possess the ability to identify technological advances and know-how to integrate them into the value chain. We must not forget that some of the technological tools that we teach today in the classroom will become obsolete in a decade or, perhaps, sooner.

The SPARK Innovation Sphere by Les Roches project is just one example of the work that can be developed from Spain if we activate the synergies of all industry players. It is a project that will be a vital player in the new digital ecosystem of tourism. Our goal is to involve experts, leaders, innovators and companies in a great challenge: to generate a catalyst for innovation that integrates technology and humanity, transformation and service excellence.

Conceived as a bidirectional platform nourished by the talent of a multitude of countries and cultures, Spark turns Les Roches into an open innovation environment made up of different work areas. Its goal is to inspire while becoming a place to co-create, test and evolve experiential technology solutions. It will ignite by becoming a space for brands, companies, and suppliers to share market trends and evaluate the impact of technology and innovation.

As a business incubator, Spark is composed of teachers and experts from different areas who are helping new entrepreneurs to turn their technological ideas into a reality within the tourism sector. It is also a space with new teaching modules aimed at acquiring the best knowledge to compete with guarantees of success. Our partners are an example of this future; from Astroland, an interplanetary agency born in Spain, which has created the only subway station analogous to Mars that exists on Earth, to Macco Robotics, a company from Seville that develops robotic solutions, which are already transforming the restaurant industry.

We are facing an incredible challenge, but it is undeniable that every adverse situation can also be the beginning of something new. It is in our hands to change the course of our economy and the history of tourism. We can learn to build strong tourism destinations by relying on training, entrepreneurship and innovation, or we can let others take that place. At Les Roches, we are clear about what our aim will be.