May 2012 - Stability the sad new measure of hospitality success
Smoking bans, comparison websites, supermarket price wars and the deepest recession in living memory have all taken their toll on the hospitality sector and left it facing an unpredictable future, according industry experts at the latest Wilkins Kennedy Round Table event.
The group of south coast business leaders identified a shift in consumer spending habits over recent years as the root cause to the challenges now facing the industry. Hotel bookings and pub footfall were both reported as being lower than five years ago and what money consumers are spending on hospitality is often now driven by special cost-cutting offers.
In addition to lower levels of spending, the table agreed that competition for each of those pounds had increased. Cafes, pubs, restaurants and supermarkets are now frequently chasing the same custom, putting pressure on traditional watering holes to diversify and expand their offerings.
The decline in spending is magnified by the growth of the internet voucher culture and in the case of hotel reservations, last minute bookings, which are making it difficult for managers to accurately forecast more than a few weeks in advance. Predicting beyond that in the current climate was described by one delegate as a dark art.
The table also heard how the corporate hospitality world is suffering a similar fate with conferences that would have been booked months in advance now frequently being confirmed just a week before the event. Many firms have also drastically cut back their number of external conferences and have simply “got out of the habit” of using hotels.
The implications of such uncertainty were shown to be far-reaching. Staffing levels in particular are a recurring problem for business heads who are continually treading the fine line between over staffing and incurring unnecessary costs and being understaffed with disgruntled customers.
The result of such problems left the group agreeing that stability is sadly now the mark of success, where it had once been growth.
The key to staying successful is constant investment in service, training staff to up-sell and frequently re-inventing events and menus to keep punters coming back.
The banks came under fire for cutting back lending as delegates debated whether the demise in the local bank manager’s ability to lend based on personal relationships had had a positive or negative effect on the industry.
Although definitive solutions to the challenges facing the hospitality sector were thin on the ground, the most popular suggestion was for a dual rate of duty to level the competition – a lower rate for pubs, hotels and restaurants and a higher one for supermarkets.
Whatever the evolving landscape throws at the hospitality industry, forward-thinking managers capable of adapting to the shifting sands of consumer culture are best placed to prosper in the coming years.
For more information regarding the Wilkins Kennedy Round Table discussions, please contact Claire Peers.