January 11, 2019

Insights from The International Luxury Hotel Association’s INSPIRE SUMMIT ’18

By Jason Price, EVP

Las Vegas – December 12-14, 2018

Each year, the International Luxury Hotel Association (IHLA) brings together hoteliers from all over the world to speak about current topics affecting the industry with tips and insights on building guest loyalty, increasing revenue, enhancing your hotel’s brand, and more.

This year’s event focused on inspiring the luxury guest experience. Many presenters brought new and interesting perspectives on exceeding expectations of elite guests, while industry insiders described the influence of technology on the guest experience.


Looking Back and Looking Forward: A Message from Keynote Speaker Ted Teng, President & CEO of The Leading Hotels of the World

In the opening session, industry veteran Ted Teng, President & CEO of The Leading Hotels of the World, looks back at his 40 years of service and shares his perspective of what the future in hospitality may hold.

As Mr. Teng observes, what ultimately began with hotels as a hospitality asset became hospitality as a financial asset. Hotel owners are an asset group that want to maximize revenues from the real estate, and not necessarily maximize hospitality. That parcel of land could be anything from a parking garage to an apartment building to a shopping mall. An owner-operator is far less common today than when first starting out in his career. Today’s emphasis is driven by return of revenue over a return of the guest.

The principles of the hotel business today are:

  • Investment asset – divergent from the business of hospitality
  • Investment objectives – maximize revenues out of the asset
  • Investment mindset – highest possible revenue return
  • Holding period – short term of 3-5 years
  • Funding of the asset – introducing financial mechanisms in order to maximize revenue

What does the future look like?

Mr. Teng describes how the influence of the gig economy (and apps that support this economy) can introduce more efficiency. Labor costs are a huge item on the P&L, but what if this could be driven downward, via an app services or alternative tech platform, to simplify and streamline the routine and manual work (think Handy or TaskRabbit)? Is this a viable model? What are the risks? How will this impact luxury travel? These questions, plus AI, robotics, and other technologies, present as many questions as they do answers.

Mr. Teng theorized that a workforce dominated by the gig-economy and enabled by apps can have broad-reaching implications to the hotel business model. First, what will become of corporate negotiated rates and the corporate travel RFP process? Instead of a company investing in this old-school practice, more are simply turning to a reimbursement level and leaving the choice of hotel and rate up to the employee. Second, as the gig economy workforce grows, the security of a steady stream of business diminishes. Third, Mr. Teng labels the new workforce as “the good-enough crowd,” because now the cost is on them for the guest stay and not via a corporate negotiated rate. A luxury hotel or a hotel that is “good enough” to meet the needs of a two-day business trip are the kinds of decisions that will be made.


Personalizing Guest Experience – New Trends in Luxury


  • Rajeev Rai, CIO, Wynn Resorts
  • Dino Michael, Global Brand Head, Waldorf Astoria
  • Richard Millard, Chairman & CEO, Trust Hospitality
  • Kenan Simmons, VP Americas, Small Luxury Hotels of the World
  • Matthew Evins, CEO & Chairman, EVINS Communications

What are the most influential travel trends in luxury travel right now? How do you take guest recognition to guest personalization? How can this be done without damaging guest privacy? How do you personalize such services appropriately and effectively?

Simmons: The use of technology with human interaction is critical. It all ties back to personalization. Are people traveling for a certain reason? Why they are traveling is critical and that will make it more memorable and more enjoyable if known and planned around this.

Rai: How are we using all the info on the stay and how can you tell the data to the front desk, to the restaurant? We want to offer personalized services without crossing the line on privacy. It is not a wow factor if it is an expectation. I have given you my information and what are you doing about it?

Michael: High-tech and high-touch are contradictions but they interact. It has to be a seamless marriage. How do you handle that? For example, the front desk picks up that you have a cold and brings you throat lozenges waiting in the room. You want to leverage every piece of information you can when at the website and at check-in. You want to be high touch and high tech.

The group consensus steered toward a balance of personalization where it makes sense and can be operationalized. The operations department at the hotel to get behind the effort and leverage technology whenever possible. Having a level of acknowledgment of a customer’s preference can go a long way and this comes back to operationalizing the process as a key to success.


Leveraging CRM to Drive Guest Experience and Personalization with Bridget Tran, VP of Global Digital Strategies & Innovation at Nobu Hospitality

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is a popular topic in the industry and has proven its value in other verticals other than hospitality. Bridget Tran of Nobu Hospitality presented an interesting case study. The brand has been growing quickly (it began as an upscale restaurant and has now branched into hotels) and the Nobu collection now has 41 restaurants with 3.5 million customers. In the words of Tran, “If we can get 10% of those through the restaurant to market our hotels, this is a great target audience to start with.” When CRM is mixed with an eclectic, sushi-eating crowd of professionals, especially Millennials, you face a demanding and scrutinizing audience. Tran describe the Nobu target market as:

  • Instant gratification
  • Want hyper personalization
  • Want to feel they are the only ones that matter
  • Willing to pay for a premium experience

Tran’s recipe for success is to access as much guest profile data as possible, clean and process the data, and then market to the customer base in an efficient manner. The data has an inherent value and is powered by using CRM. With the right data, any marketer can customize the website, customize the booking engine, and customize the entire experience to make for a truly one-to-one conversation with the guest. “We can also pull in room controls data like temperature, tv stations that you watch, and types of snacks in the mini bar. I am trying to learn more about you with the data,” she goes on to explain.

In summary what makes for a successful adoption by staff to use CRM is to include these 4 objectives:

  • Personalization – make it personal but not intrusive
  • Frictionless – minimize hiccups in the entire workflow
  • Proactive – I can deliver the experience, I can be anticipatory
  • Predictability – modify the strategy when necessary, don’t set it and forget it
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NextGuest Digital uses the latest in digital marketing technology to assist hotel brands in crafting their digital presence. Through the agency’s smartCMS®, Content Personalization Engine, Smart Data Marketing, and other innovative initiatives, hoteliers see a drastic boost in direct bookings, as well as lower distribution costs and an increase the lifetime value of guests. NextGuest Digital is part of NextGuest, an all-encompassing partner that helps hoteliers acquire, engage, and retain their next guest. Based in New York City, the company is comprised of NextGuest Digital, CRM, Labs, and Consulting.

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Garrick Lee
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Email: garrick@nextguest.com