From an innkeeper greeting guests to a consummate businessperson focused on the bottom line and latest technology advancements, the role of the general manager (GM) has evolved hugely over recent years. And it’s an evolution that’s only set to continue. Yet, while the GMs who will succeed in 2016 and beyond must be ready to adapt to technological developments and macro-economic trends, they should equally never lose sight of the importance of their vision, their team or, most crucially, their guests, as some things about this evolving role never change.

Just a few years ago, the purview of the GM was almost entirely centred on the guest experience. Is Mrs Jones happy with the view from her room? What should we add to the à la carte menu? Is the breakfast buffet to everyone’s satisfaction? But today, while the guest does remain the number-one priority, the questions they’re asking themselves are much more wide-ranging. Is the hotel operating as profitably as it could be? Are we attracting the right market during peak season? Is our online booking strategy working?

"A GM has to be a businessperson," says Ian Edwards, chief executive of Celtic Manor Resort in Newport, south Wales (pictured, opposite), and the 2015 European Hospitality Awards’ hotelier of the year. "Although looking after the guest is at the forefront of everything we do, you’ve got to make sure you’re a profitable business and you’ve got to make sure the guest keeps coming back. It’s so much more strategic now than it used to be – you absolutely have to be at the top of your game in the business world as well as at the top of your game in terms of hospitality."

Panos Almyrantis, general manager of Daois Cove Luxury Resort & Villas in Crete and the European Hotel Managers Association’s (EHMA) most recent general manager of the year, agrees wholeheartedly.

"It has become the GM’s responsibility to ensure that the finest service is delivered profitably, so the GM had to become much more involved in marketing and finance, among other areas of the operation," he explains. "You really need to be able to comprehend numbers and keep pace with financial changes."

It’s also become more important than ever for hotel bosses to stay abreast of and ready to respond to macro-economic trends – as Almyrantis has learned the hard way since he took over leadership of Daois Cove in 2010, a time of extreme financial difficulty for Europe and, in particular, Greece.

Challenged to keep hotel occupancy high in a country a hair’s breadth away from economic collapse – a situation that came to a head when capital controls were implemented in 2015 – the GM not only had to keep staff morale high and employ aggressive sales tactics, he also had to control booking flow to make sure that if bookings dropped off from one country, the team could relatively easily ramp up traffic from another. The combination of tactics worked and he managed to slightly improve the hotel’s performance in 2015 compared with the previous year.

Technology: turning negatives into positives

Technological developments – from the surge in social media use to online booking innovations – have also impacted the role of the GM immensely. Today, not only do online booking systems, in-house and third party, mean business can be turnedon or off almost instantaneously, reputation management tools like TripAdvisor, and social-media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, allow guests to give immediate feedback – whether it’s good or bad. And GMs need to beable to respond just as rapidly.

"The feedback loop is almost instantaneous and, as hoteliers, we have had to find a way to use this feedback to our advantage and turn it into something meaningful and constructive," says Darren Gearing, executive vice-president and general manager at Shangri-La at the Shard, which won the 2015 European Hospitality Awards’ Opening of the year.

Technological developments – from the surge in social media use to online booking innovations – have impacted the role of the GM immensely.

At Celtic Manor Resort, this has led Edwards to make changes to how his marketing team operated over the past year. While previously, the team would work Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm, it’s now a seven-day-a-week department, so the hotel can respond instantaneously to the guest. Operational managers are also available on Twitter all week. "It’s not about just damage limitation but also so guests can see how quickly you can react to a situation," Edwards explains. "A negative can be turned into a positive very quickly."

The GM also needs to respond personally to guests on some platforms. Almyrantis, for example, always makes sure he replies to any questions on TripAdvisor within four to six hours. "The guests love this because firstly they know they are speaking to the GM directly and secondly they get accurate information," he notes, adding that strategies like this can go a long way towards driving future bookings to a property.

Three mainstays: the vision, the team and the focus on the guest

There are some things about the role of the GM that will never change, however; first and foremost, the constant focus on the guest. At Celtic Manor Resort, a 440-bedroom property spread over more than 2,000 acres, for example, it’s no coincidence that occupancy levels exceed 90%. "The reason we do so well is because our teams are totally focused on our guests and the guest experience, as am I," says Edwards. "I’ll make sure I meet as many guests as I can; I’ll go and stand in the lobby during busy periods and make sure I see guests checking in and out, and interact with them. And my senior team does exactly the same. You can’t hide away in your office, you actually have to be out there, guest-facing."

"Knowing we’re making a difference in other people’s lives is partly why we chose the hospitality industry so the way we interact with our staff, guests and surroundings is crucial," agrees Almyrantis.

A strong vision and the ability to communicate it effectively are also key to the success of a GM, particularly in the early days. In the run-up to the opening of Shangri-La The Shard, the brand’s first hotel in the UK and third in Europe, Gearing’s role was heavily focused on ensuring that the brand’s values, standards and ethos were well communicated and that the hotel was able to deliver its legendary service and deluxe product to its guests. And although his responsibilities have slightly shifted a year on, a strong vision for the property is no less important.

"There is a tremendous amount of buzz and excitement when any new hotel opens, and, now in our second year, it is about giving guests a reason to come back, and thinking of new and interesting initiatives that will make us stand out in this highly competitive market," he remarks.

Finally, no GM will be successful without a strong and highly motivated team behind them, a factor Gearing, Edwards and Almyrantis all cite as the biggest one that’s contributed to their recent successes. As Edwards summarises, "Everyone’s mission at the resort is to exceed expectations and win loyalty – and that works both ways. For the guest, it speaks for itself, but between team members as well, if we exceed each other’s expectations and win their loyalty, we’re going to have a team that stays within the business, understands the business, learns the business and therefore can look after the guests as well."

Tools for 2016 and beyond

With technology set to continue advancing faster than it ever has before, the overwhelming consensus is that the capacity to adapt to new developments will be the most important tool GMs need as we move into 2016 and beyond. Whether those developments impact back-of-house processes like revenue management, guest-facing systems like mobile apps or sales tools such as the Shangri-La’s recently launched virtual reality headsets, the instruments will be there to enhance the GM’s role – they just need to embrace them.

Hoteliers can’t be ‘old school’, according to Edwards. The pace of technological change is unrelenting and the GMs of today have got to make sure they’re au fait with that technology and how it can enhance the guest experience, he believes.

"Going forward, GMs will need to bear this in mind when thinking of new processes, goals and training," Gearing concludes. "I look forward to seeing what is out there in terms of technologies and the new opportunities that they entail for all of us."