Employing Creative Destruction in the Hotel Industry, with Adam Mogelonsky

Adam Mogelonsky, a Partner at Hotel Mogel Consulting based in Toronto, Canada, chats with Robin Trimingham, The Innovative Hotelier Podcast Host regarding ways in which the evolution of guest needs is driving design innovation in the hotel industry. 

In a world where is it no longer enough to simply offer amenities, Mogelonsky outlines the business case for re-evaluating how space is used in conjunction with the revenue it generates to uncover ways to configure design innovations that better fit new guest trends in wellness, socialization and guest room use that also allow for the re-deployment of previously under-utilized or unsellable space to increase revenue and enhance brand reputation.

Highlights from Today’s Episode

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Episode Transcript

Adam: When you try to appeal to everyone, you end up being memorable to no one. So, you gotta sort of pick a side. And right now, because the travel surveys are suggesting that those people who are still afraid of COVID are less likely to travel and are in fewer numbers, the business case favors the ones who wanna put the pandemic behind us. That actually makes sense because humans are naturally social animals. We want to speak with people. We wanna see them face to face.

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Robin: Welcome to the “Innovative Hotelier Podcast” by “HOTELS Magazine,” with weekly-thought provoking discussions with the world’s leading hotel and hospitality innovators. Welcome to the “Innovative Hotelier Podcast” brought to you by “HOTELS Magazine.” I’m your host, Robin Trimingham, and my guest today is Adam Mogelonsky, a partner at Hotel Mogel Consulting based in Toronto, Canada. Today we’re chatting about employing creative destruction in the hotel industry.

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Robin: Welcome, Adam.

Adam: Hi, how are you?

Robin: I am great. Well, thank you for taking time to chat with me today. I have to tell you, I love today’s topic. The notion of creative destruction, that’s just got my brain going in about nine different directions, but let’s get this conversation grounded here. There’s an argument to be said that change for change’s sake in the hotel industry is not a good thing because you just lose all the things that people loved about the hotel experience. How do you make good creative destruction?

Adam: Well, first off, I’d start off by saying that the term creative destruction, I like to think of it as creative construction or at least, complex construction, whereby technology, the technology that’s coming in that is going to replace existing jobs, it’s not so much gonna replace them so much as it compliments them. And we look at things like who likes to do data entry or double entry on systems because they’re disconnected? And then you go, “Okay, well, we can take automation and we can connect the dots so that way the employees we have can be more guest-facing, do more creative tasks, more complex tasks, and more unpredictable tasks that AI can’t do.” And you look at that and go, “Well, that actually makes the job more fun for the manager or the associate, and also it gives it more meaning, which means on the grand scheme of things that they feel better about working for their hotel organization where they work.” So, in that sense, I think that the term creative destruction was coined at a time that’s very different today. It was coined starting in the 1920s when, you know, it was factory workers were basically interchangeable, and now we don’t really have those same sorts of jobs that are just nuts and bolts sort of things. We have very complex jobs in the hotel industry because hotels are incredibly complicated places. And in that sense, creative destruction in a hotel place is more like the construction. It’s gotta be very positive in how it works.

Robin: I think you’re making a lot of excellent points all at once there. I wanna focus in on something you said that I agree with, but it’s a topic of a lot of conversation right now. You mentioned the things that AI can’t do that people can do. So, one of the things that you guys wrote about recently was the possibility of eliminating the hotel front desk through automation. And I know that this will make a lot of hoteliers who are listening to this podcast just cringe at the very idea because they see that technology as being not luxurious, of it costing them more in lower customer satisfaction scores than they could ever recoup through cost saving or revenue. In your work, what have you seen? Have there been any surprises in implementing automation at the front desk?

Adam: Well, there’s a lot of ways to unpack that question. Number one is it depends on the brand. It depends on what the brand is trying to do, what the brand defines as service, and what its amenity slate is and its vision is for the next 10 years. For a luxury resort in the Caribbean, you know, guests come, they come in, they want to get that full front desk experience where they’re greeted by somebody at the desk who then walks them to the room, takes their bags, shows them around, all that great stuff that just makes for a great first impression. At the economy mid-scale end, automating the front desk component via kiosks or express check-in mobile keys, all that automated technology can actually be seen as a value add, particularly for business customers who just wanna get in, get out quick and go to their meetings, and then relax.

That all said is going back to the first question we talked about things that people loved about hotels. And I like to think back all the way to when elevators were first introduced. So, elevators are first introduced, people didn’t know how to use them, so you had to have an elevator operator stand there and push the button. And then all of a sudden it gets up to the point where elevators are so common and people have seen people push the buttons, you no longer need that elevator operator. So, now you have some people who are coming into the elevator and going, “Oh, I just loved it when we had the elevator operator here. Their brand standards are falling apart.” And then you have others that go, “Oh, phew, no one in the elevator. Now we can have just a few moments to relax without another person here breathing on us.” So, it’s a yes and a no.

For the front desk, what we’re seeing on the ground is that the kiosks are appreciated by some, some people still like the front desk, but the net positive of it all is that it allows you to take a very limited supply of workers available for hospitality and re-skill them by removing them from that transactional role of printing out guest folios at guest checkout or drawing up new key cards, etc., and allow them to do more complex tasks, more creative tasks, more guest-facing fun stuff that they’ll enjoy and that will add service in the end.

Robin: I think that’s a really good point because, you know, when it comes to your brand, to your own self be true. Let’s change it up here and talk about another controversial area of the hotel, the hotel gym. I don’t know about you, but I can’t hardly think of a hotel that I’ve been to that had a gym that wasn’t empty. It doesn’t seem to me like hardly anybody ever actually uses the gym, and yet it’s sort of one of those must-have amenities from the point of view of a lot of brands. You guys have been saying that it’s time to reconsider or retool the gym experience. Is there any data that in-room exercise programs or some sort of equipment or amenity is gonna deliver the same sort of value add from the point of view of the guest?

Adam: Well, the in-room exercise component, what we’re seeing from a survey perspective, the data is showing that it is an important aspect, particularly at the luxury end, for being a decision factor in booking a brand and the ability to command a higher nightly rate. We are seeing that. But it’s not just the in-room equipment, like having a yoga mat there or some exercise bands, but the actual programming of it, where you’re connecting either remotely to a one-on-one instructor, or you have bespoke prerecorded videos, or something akin to what Peloton’s doing. And the way you can connect the dots here to a revitalization of the hotel fitness center, that space that is gathering dust right now is through this whole idea of community where what we think the future of hotel fitness centers is revolves around community through group classes, you have a class, then some sort of social component. You can use that space for activities that aren’t necessarily traditionally just weightlifting and group exercise, Zumba classes and all that sort of stuff, but other types like sports training or one-on-one physio bodily alignment assessments, and chiropracting, all that stuff.

On the social side, you can have things like two that we’ve seen that I like is from my end is beer and yoga or squats and Scotch. So, you have a squatting seminar where you have a trainer who can help guide you through the proper motion of a barbell back squat, one of the best types of exercise you can do for the body. And then you wrap up with a Scotch tasting. Pretty fun way to get a small group together and do something fun together. And that’s really where I think hotels can excel is by adding that social factor that you wouldn’t necessarily get just by having your regular gym membership while you’re at home.

All this said is the reason for the push now in terms of rethinking the hotel fitness center is the growth of wellness that we’ve all seen through the pandemic where the pandemic, we’re all locked up and sort of forced us all to reevaluate our own wellbeing. Mental wellbeing is a huge component, but a large component of that is a renewed interest in exercise, not just the get on a bike for 30 minutes, but all the fun stuff you can do when you’re removed from your regular environment. And we’re gonna start to see that creeping in, not just for the resort environment where people have that mental shift while traveling, but also with the growth of leisure workcations hybrid travel.

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Robin: I have to say, I love this idea of unique pairings, a wellness and a social component mixed together. I’m from a very small country. I haven’t heard of that one in my neighborhood yet, but I have to say, I think I might even sign up for the squats and Scotch. Boy, say that one 10 times as fast as you can. I’ve also read in getting ready for our conversation today that a lot of experts are predicting that hotel bedroom design is gonna change radically in the coming years to meet the changing demands of the hybrid human and their need for exercise, work, and meetings, perhaps all in the same space. What’s your take on this?

Adam: There are lots of brands out there that are starting to rethink the hotel space. One of the key drivers behind it is cleaning time, where if you think about furniture and anything fixed to the ground, one of the ways you can increase or decrease the cleaning time, increase the amount of rooms that a single housekeeper or a pod can clean, is by making the room more efficient to clean, by making it having more easy…more amenable surfaces for multipurpose cleaners, removing things off the ground, that means that you can vacuum the room faster. Things like that, which naturally lend themselves to a more efficient use of the floor space, of the square footage. So, when you think about an ergonomic workspace combined with no furniture touching the ground, like maybe even a wall-mounted bed. You can take a 400-square-foot room and reduce it down to 215 square feet, something like that, and get the same effectiveness of space from the guest’s side out of that square footage.

Robin: So, presumably then if you’re talking about new construction, you could actually build a hotel with more rooms because you would require less square footage for the footprint of a room?

Adam: Technically, yes. Of course, big asterisks there is labor and demand. One other side to the whole room aspect, less so about changing the physical rooms across the board, but more so taking your worst rooms or your most unpopular rooms, let’s say, out of stock and repurposing them as things that could be value added on. So, for instance, if you have one room that perennially gets complaints because it faces directly… It’s on a low floor and it faces onto a giant exterior air intake or HVAC unit. That room, when you do the business intelligence analysis, it might actually come out as a negative because the amount of time or energy or cost that you have from guests complaining and it counting against you on Tripadvisor, combined with guests coming down and wanting to be switched rooms, it might actually be better if you take that room and repurposed it as an office or a private meeting space, or even something like a personal home theater that could be offered as a value add, an add on, an upsell item for a regular guest booking.

Robin: That’s actually a very interesting idea. In all of this, at least for the next little phase of the journey, we’re gonna have two divergent groups of people here. We’re gonna have those that are saying, “Oh, the pandemic’s over,” and they’re gonna be yearning for the pre-pandemic hotel experience where we were all packed elbow to elbow in the hotel bar, socializing with friends and colleagues. And then we have the other extreme where you’ve got people who really want this social distancing to continue forever. How do you design space that accommodates these changing and overlapping needs?

Adam: Well, it’s difficult to appease both groups, as we say as part of our practices here is when you try to appeal to everyone, you end up being memorable to no one. So, you gotta sort of pick side. And right now, because the travel surveys are suggesting that those people who are still afraid of COVID are less likely to travel and are in fewer numbers, the business case favors the ones who wanna put the pandemic behind us. So, that actually makes sense because humans are naturally social animals. We want to speak with people. We wanna see them face to face. We wanna have those close encounters and have drinks with and dinner with friends and have dinner parties. We wanna do that stuff. And it’s only natural right now during this travel recovery period that people are really yearning for that and going overboard a little bit to spend and to make the most of this travel recovery period, which is probably lending itself a little bit to the inflation, but let’s not get into macro economics.

That all said is there is a place for people who want social distancing. I would overlap it with another trend that predates COVID by about a million years, which is the division of humans amongst extroverts and introverts. And extroverts are the social animals that are out there, they’re making connections, shaking hands, all that sort of stuff. Introverts are naturally a little bit, I don’t wanna use the word shyer, but a little more apprehensive. And I’m an introvert, I love to get out there and socialize, but I still like to have my cave where I can retreat and sensorily deprive myself from time to time. So, what that means is that from a hotel design perspective is you can have that really lively hotel lobby space where you have the band and the bar and the drink specials and tables of great food, everything, but at the same time, you might wanna have a quieter living room concept that resembles more of a library where it’s a much quieter mood, tables are spread out, and it’s sort of tucked away and maybe it’s repurposing the business center that’s on floor three and no one uses anyway. So, I think you can appeal to both, but it is very tough in this interim period where so much labor has to go towards appeasing the people who are traveling.

Robin: You know, we got about two minutes left here and you’re actually making me think of another question I’d love to ask, because when we’re at a crossroads and we’re in recovery, and people are really wanting to push the envelope on what can we do? Where can we go? How can we meet it? And also, you could make an argument that says that they’re also more open-minded minded about trying new things about experimenting with new ways of socializing or gathering or collaborating in a work environment. What do you think is going to be the outcome of all of this?

Adam: Well, it’s gonna be a constant evolution as it’s always been. And it really depends on the brand. On my end, I do see the lobby space really taking off as a meeting ground for people staying in-house and locals. And we might see more value ads come into that, live music, digital art displays, which plays into the growth of NFTs. Augmented reality will eventually become a thing, but more in the here and now you might see refreshment stations, little popups that feature local boutique producers, either on the spa wellness space or any sort of local foods or beverage sampling, something very interactive. And I think that’s what it all comes down to is enhancing the experience and giving a great memory for guests to take home with them.

Robin: Which is what the hotel experience has always been about, and I hope it’s always going to be about. Adam, I wanna thank you so much for taking time to chat with me today. You’ve been listening to the “Innovative Hotelier Podcast,” brought to you by “HOTELS Magazine.” Join us again soon for more up-to-the-minute insights and information specifically for the hotel and hospitality industry.

Woman: You’ve been listening to the “Innovative Hotelier Podcast,” by “HOTELS Magazine.” Join us again soon for more conversations with hospitality industry thought leaders.

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