Technology is touching every aspect of our lives and this is having visible effects on the hospitality industry; driving new competition, reshaping social trends, changing customer behaviours and raising expectations of service.
At a private lunch, hosted by Freeths, with guests from the hospitality sector, Futurist Tom Cheesewright opened a discussion around the future of the industry with the proposition that the biggest driver of change right now is technology.
Tom’s view is that technology lowers friction. He says: “Technology provides tools which allow us to achieve a given end with less effort. It doesn’t matter whether that end is predicting the weather, putting a satellite in space, or portioning a chicken.
“Of course, once one person has the tools to do things quicker, faster, cheaper or better, everyone else needs them in order to keep up. It is this competitive imperative that maintains the accelerating effect of technology, whether an arms race between governments or a profit race between corporations. Or, just us at home keeping up with the Joneses.”
Key effects of technology, which Tom explored, were:
Technology has lowered the friction involved in starting and running a business. Clearly this is an industry in which we have seen a record numbers of start-ups in recent years with more diversity than ever.
Tom pointed out that if you ask a team around a table to touch all the key sources they need to start a business, in the space of twenty minutes they can do almost everything they need to get a business going. Source supply, set up a website, register with Companies House, create a marketing campaign. The only thing they can’t do in that time is open a bank account.
Opportunities and threats
The result of this growing diversity is both opportunity and threat. Technology means you have access to more suppliers than ever before. There just are more, and they are more connected.
Global suppliers are connected by high-speed communications networks, shared payment systems, well-worn paths for goods, and common languages. And local suppliers, who previously may only have been found by word of mouth but who now tweet out their wares.
The flip side of this is that technology means you have more competition. There’s more information. More sharing of a culture of food and drink. More access to the information about skills, requirements, and where and how to sell. More competition for premises.
Technology means there are more channels of communication between you and your customers. But also more noise on those channels.
We all deal with a higher rate of inbound information now than at any point in the past. We are bombarded with multimedia messages across a huge range of channels.
And it’s not simply a case of looking in the rear view mirror to see the competition; this now comes from other sectors, so hospitality businesses need to be looking sideways too.
Attraction and retention
In short, there’s always somewhere else to eat or socialise and always a friend trying to drag you there. So what do you do about this?
Keep attracting; pulling a constant stream of new visitors to your outlet.
But increasingly, large brands are directing their attention to retention, investing in tools to enhance customer experience and customer communication. However, building relationships is expensive and takes time. If you’re going to build a relationship, there have to be better returns from it for you than the occasional dinner.
Circle of influence
An option is to turn those customers you invest in into your marketing force. The conscious creation of a circle of influence to amplify your message, achieving both attraction and retention.
In a survey of 7000 millennials around the world, far and away the greatest influence on them is not media or celebrities, but their peers. This is what creates the environment for recommendations being so powerful but it also inserts a huge amount of distractions into your communications with a potential customer.
Desire for the physical
Another trend to consider is the growing value of physical experiences in an increasingly digital world. There’s no doubting the convenience of digital, being very low friction. But the resurgence in vinyl and the sustained viability of print books suggests we still value a tactile experience. In fact, we value it all the more. And there is no more tactile experience than eating. As long as the friction is kept low – in other words that experience is made as easy as possible to access and use.
Demand for third space
In parallel with the demand for more experiences, we are seeing people face declining space in their homes. More people are sharing homes, later and later in life, whether single people or couples sharing for longer due to the cost of getting on the property ladder – or potentially four generations sharing the same home.
That drives people to shared spaces out of the home. Once this was the pub. Over time the meaning of the pub has shifted, its role in community declined, and ultimately many of the older pubs that fulfilled this role have closed. Maybe it’s time for a renaissance?
As an alternative model, smart businesses are taking the opportunity to monetise space – Ziferblat, as an example offering a space where people can meet, socialise, work. What makes it unique is that everything received in the space is free (coffee, cake, wi-fi). All a user pays for is time, charged for by the minute.
The best of times, the worst of times
In summary, perhaps this is the best moment for a hospitality business. A growing share of household spend goes on eating out. There is a high demand for third space. And there is a rising appreciation of physical experiences in contrast to the increasingly digital nature of the everyday.
At the same time there are significant challenges. More competition. More noise to cut through to reach potential customers. The industry has access to ‘weapons grade’ marketing tools unavailable to any previous generation…but so does everyone else.
Tom Cheesewright, Applied Futurist, Book of the Future
Tom works with businesses to help them gain a vision of the future and respond with agility to that vision. He regularly writes, speaks and broadcasts about technology, how it impacts society and how our lives will change in the next 20-30 years.
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