Lead, don’t follow - Hans Koch on the EHMA 44th Annual General Meeting

20 April 2017

EHMA president Hans Koch discusses the key takeaways from the EHMA 44th Annual General Meeting, and how the hotel industry can stay ahead of the curve.

Are you disruptive? You’d better be.

For some years now, the hotel industry has witnessed an array of fast-growing phenomena that have made big impressions on the market. In addition to online travel agents cutting into room rates, home sharing has grown exponentially, revolutionising traditional distribution channels, offering lower prices and introducing a huge amount of new room supply to the market. Hoteliers are pushing for adequate legislation, ensuring parity when it comes to such concerns as regulations, taxation and security, but, all too often, they are playing catch-up.

The truth is that even the luxury segment needs to find new ways of differentiating itself from the competition and recognise that the operating landscape has changed for good. ‘Disrupters in Luxury Hospitality’ was the theme for the EHMA 44th Annual General Meeting, which afforded an opportunity for us to really ask ourselves whether we are truly doing enough to face up to the challenges of this fast-changing world because, if one thing is clear, more disruption lies ahead. 

As our business environment becomes increasingly competitive and challenging, instead of always relying on our instinct to react, we must learn to be more proactive and move ahead of the times, rather than merely follow them. If we fail to challenge the status quo and find new ways of doing things, it will mean ultimately losing out. Change is to be embraced rather than fought.

Digital revolution

The way Airbnb has evolved in recent years is just incredible, and OTAs also continue to grow their influence – we heard from Booking.com and Hotelchamp at the meeting in the Netherlands, and both parties made it clear that long-term projections for online platforms were only travelling in one direction.

The whole idea of digitisation is something we have no option but to welcome and embrace. It certainly cannot be ignored as the integration of digital processes into everyday business practices becomes the norm across all industries.

And believe me, anything that can be digitised will be. I recently attended a marketing conference where a speaker declared that all the jobs that are routine today will inevitably be replaced by robots. We are already seeing that in hotels, with robots starting to perform an array of tasks, from housekeeping to the concierge desk. Again, it is a trend that will only gather pace.

From booking platforms to robotics, so often now, these new players come from outside the industry, having reimagined a service or a product that those on the inside hadn’t yet realised needed reinventing.

That is where we really need to see a fundamental change in mindset. Look around you and think of something disruptive you can do yourself. Spend too much time investing all your focus on perceived threats and you’ll inevitably miss out on opportunities. Maintaining a positive, creative outlook is paramount. We know our market better than anyone, and should be thinking of ways to disrupt the disrupters as and when they arrive. If you fail to do so, if you only focus on legal ramifications and protecting what you already have rather than finding solutions, you risk ultimately wasting time while these new competitors gain market share.

Adapt to new business models and try to move away from traditional ways of thinking. Really invest in using the data and tools at your disposal to create a better business and an enhanced guest experience. Encourage proactive thinking and calculated risk-taking, for yourself and among your colleagues. At the same time, be sure to have fun doing so and never lose sight of the fundamental qualities upon which the hospitality business is founded.   

The world is changing, guests’ expectations are evolving and it can feel impossible to predict what’s around the corner. However, the time spent out in the Netherlands for EHMA’s Annual General Meeting has only reinforced my belief that, through learning from those that have disrupted the status quo, working together, and embracing new ideas and a creative spirit, we have the tools at our disposal to achieve even greater success. Let’s beat the disrupters at their own game.

Hans Koch is president of EHMA and official delegate for EHMA’s Swiss chapter. Throughout his 35-year career, he has worked at hotel operators all around the world, ranging from Hilton International to ITC Hotels. He is also CEO of KKL Luzern Management.

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