Hospitality has evolved – and hotels need to think differently

It’s time to take the hotel out of hospitality. Gone are the days of white gloves and concierges. Gone are the days of that miserable chocolate on the pillow. Gone are the days of “ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.”

The hotel business is about space management and the laws of selling it. We have to get out of our boxes and forget about the pre-conceived notions of what comprises a “standard” hotel. Rather than accept dead spaces such as underused ballrooms and empty all-day dining restaurants, hotels need to reconsider space for its economic value and branded experience. They need to reconstruct the perception of the four walls we call a hotel.

Many of the key influencers shaping the future of hospitality come from outside the industry. Disruptors such as AirBnB and co-working spaces such as WeWork are apace with the tech revolution and have tapped into peoples’ changing needs in the post-digital era. They blur the lines between what we consider private and communal space and answer travelers’ – and locals’ – needs for a sense of community.

Change your attitude

Nothing will happen without a fundamental change in attitude. Developers, big and small brands, operators all have to stop being scared. They must dare to evolve. The most successful brands today have had the guts to make change, they don’t play by the rules.

Citizen M, 25 Hours, Ace, Hoxton, Jaz in the City, Zoku – all have redefined the concept of a hotel by focusing on new uses for space. Rooms are compact but tech-equipped, while lobbies and cavernous all-day dining restaurants have been replaced by communal spaces where guests socialize or work comfortably in “isolated togetherness.”

In Bangkok, Soho Hospitality has transformed the rooftop areas and terraces of Fraser Suites into must-visit restaurants and bars. Increasingly, rooftop spaces in Bangkok are being converted into expensive, trendy cocktail venues.

This change in thinking can be seen outside the hotel space. Mini – one of the world’s greatest car manufacturers, and one of our favorite brands – asked questions hotels should be asking: “Can a house be thought of as a flexible and transformative structure? How can we turn buildings into active contributors for the improvement of urban life?” The Mini Living Urban Nest art installation in Shanghai demonstrates a shift in perception about what constitutes a private living space, with open spaces that convert a home into a “micro neighborhood.”

If Mini can envision a world where spaces can be configured and reconfigured in the context of a private home, what does that mean for hotels, which have a hundred times the space of a house?

John Lewis, the British department store, has created The Residence – a real apartment – in three of its stores, furnished with its own collections, where people can “browse, shop, enjoy a workshop or a special experience, or just relax.” Workshops in these apartments educate customers on the best pillows and duvet for the perfect night’s sleep, or how to set up the correct lighting configuration for their home. You can also have a dinner party and even sleep overnight in The Residence.

We are seeing a fundamental shift in attitudes and belief. For those who believe your cavernous ballroom is the future to all of your MICE drama, think again!


David Keen is founder and CEO of Bangkok-based Quo, a brand strategy agency for the hospitality industry. This is the first in a four-part series on the future of hospitality, based on his talk at the first THINC Innovate conference in Bangkok in May.