On the hottest day of 2022, Deputy spoke with Robin Sheppard, President of Bespoke Hotels on how technology can reshape both the guest and employee experience. We covered everything from trouserless Zoom calls to enabling flexible shift patterns to improve the experience of disabled guests - all with technology.
Bespoke Hotels offers a range of the UK's finest boutique and luxury hotels. Bespoke Hotels has grown to represent over 100 properties and stands as the UK's Largest Independent Hotel Group. You can now find Bespoke Hotels across the UK, from Bermondsey to Blackpool, from Carnoustie to Cornwall.
Robin describes Bespoke Hotels as the polar opposite of a Hilton or Travel Lodge. “We want our hotels to be local heroes and have their own identity,” he says. “It’s a formula that very few other hotel management platforms have followed, but which suits us. We’re perhaps going against the tide, but we’re still enjoying the paddle,” he says humorously.
All change, please
Over the past two years, Bespoke Hotels have seen its relationship with technology change drastically. Almost overnight, during COVID the hotel, like most British organisations, moved operations successfully to Zoom and Teams calls. “The hybrid way of working is here to stay. It eases communication, and it speeds things up. But it does take something slightly away. You can’t assume you can maintain or grow relationships online only. You still have to mix things up a bit and get some chemistry going by meeting in person.”
Operationally, technology has also had a major impact on everything from property management to billing to checking in.
“Property management systems are a lot more streamlined now than when they first came into relevance. They are nearly all cloud-based. It’s now easy to change rates with the stroke of a switch rather than having to change rates via 8 or 9 different distribution channels. I as a principal of a business can look right away across the group and see how much each individual hotel took last night, how much they are forecast to take tonight and what the three-month forecast is, and so on.”
The way we book that stay away from home and check in has also changed post-pandemic.
“Online and in-app mobile bookings are on the rise. Consumers now expect to make bookings via any medium particularly social media, even on Facebook! The traditional reception desk is about to become a thing of the past as people check-in online and walk straight to their hotel room when they arrive. Technology has taken down that Berlin wall that existed between guests and their experience of the hotel.”
Particularly in the area of accessibility, Robin is excited to see the changes technology has provided to improve how hotels can provide better service to disabled people.
He flags up disability-aware customer service solutions such as Neatebox founded by Gavin Neate which offer the option for disabled guests to inform the hotel of their arrival so they can adapt their stay and make it more comfortable.
“It enables hotels to give comfort and reassurance that the specific needs of disabled guests can be met, but the member of staff who’s receiving them is also much more informed about how to receive the guest as well.”
Enhancing the employee experience with tech
It’s not only the guest experience that has been improved by gains in technology. The employee experience has as well.
“Technology has taken away some of the repetitive nature of what used to happen before COVID. Due to technology, there are an awful lot more things that a competent employee can achieve and get a sense of satisfaction that they’ve produced a lot more from their day because technology has sped up their processes.”
He flags that there’s an opportunity for technology to enable the rise of flexible working demands hotel staff are increasingly making.
“For example, we see chefs increasingly saying, ‘Fine, we’ll work for you, but it’s a 40-hour week. So we’re going to do a 10-hour day, four days a week, and we want three days off a week. So where you can enable this using technology in order to keep good personnel, you’re going to do it. In order to retain any high calibre staff that we’ve already got, we’ll adapt pretty much to any shift pattern in order to make them want to stay and to help.”
The pressure to recruit and retain staff is high.
“At the moment we’re paying signing fees, golden hellos, it’s unprecedented in terms of the demand and supply. We’ve been looking for staff in Brazil, South Africa, and other countries where we hope there might be a surfeit and the questions we’re asking key personnel has reduced. It’s no longer, ‘Do you have a management degree in hospitality?’, it’s ‘Can you start tomorrow?’”
Hospitality is a great industry for talent
Despite the challenges, Robin is adamant that hospitality can hold its head up high as a desirable career option for many.
“We talk ourselves into believing that hospitality is an inferior choice, and I refuse to believe that being a senior hotelier is not better than being an Amazon van driver, nothing against people who drive vans for Amazon. But I think we just need to stop talking about believing that somehow we’re a second choice or tertiary choice. We’re a bloody good choice. If you want to learn new languages or you want to see the world, you’ve got transferable skills in hospitality and you can progress really quickly. It’s a great environment to be a star in, and I think as long as we keep saying the message often enough, eventually people will get the drift that it’s okay to say I’m working in hospitality and I’m proud of it.”
You can view more of our discussion and other conversations with heavy hitters in the hotel industry here on our Deputy Checks In With Hospitality platform.