At a time of rapid change in the world of hospitality and wider society, astute business decisions demand sophisticated strategies for the future. This means not only understanding emerging markets, technologies and generational preferences, but also developing a strategy that links short-term developments with a vision for upcoming decades.
This is the thinking behind Window to the Future, an initiative co-created by industry-knowledge provider Lausanne Hospitality Consulting and the Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL). Held every two years, the event brings together a select group of top academics, entrepreneurs, hotel executives and investors to explore the long-term future of the hotel industry.
While many conferences focus on current challenges and the immediate future of hospitality, Window to the Future offers a more far-sighted perspective. "Our strategies may differ as companies, but in the 15, 20 or 30-year scenario, we're all equal," says Yateendra Sinh, CEO of Lausanne Hospitality Consulting.
"If we can all sit together and discuss what could happen, there's a greater chance of us influencing it forward, or at least being ready as we go into that particular future."
The most recent event on 30 April 2018 saw CEOs, investors and university deans discuss topics ranging from the impact of sporting events on hospitality (featuring a keynote from Christophe Dubi, executive director of The Olympic Games at the International Olympic Committee) to the interplay between the vital concepts of high-tech and high-touch.
"The outcome was that high-tech will enable, not contradict, high-touch," Sinh says, explaining that the value of human contact will never be lost. "Ultimately, you'll get a premium on touch, so tech will work in the background, and you divert human resources to focus on touch."
Another discussion point was the concept of 'glocalisation' - the interplay between a set of standards and services that consumers can expect all over the world and the sense of a connection to the local community. "Ultimately, the tourist or the consumer wants a local touch. You don't want to be in the same experience whether you're in Hong Kong, New York, Lagos or Mumbai," Sinh points out. "Otherwise, it's not worth it - you're insulated from the world."
This approach extends to all aspects of the hotel experience, from aesthetics to gastronomy. Window to the Future highlighted new thinking on generational patterns: the replacement of broad groups such as millennials and baby boomers with micro-generations, all with their own preferences and requiring a more individualised approach.
The pressing question of sustainability and social responsibility, and the developing expectations of consumers in this area, were also addressed at length. "The values that people are looking for are not just price and quantity, which was the old paradigm of consumption," Sinh says. "They are price, quantity, community, environment and humility."
After the most recent event's success, Sinh is already considering the next one, to be held on 11 May 2020. "We intend to look at a lot more of the next generation of investors, and how they intend to take sustainability forward."
He highlights the value of collaboration in approaching topics that impact upon not only the hospitality industry, but also society at large: "A collective discussion and a collective estimate are far stronger than a small community."