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Women Owned the Stage at the Skift Future of Lodging Conference + 7 Top Takeaways

This week in London Skift held its annual "Future of Lodging" conference, which drew about 250 people to the beautiful Londoner Hotel in Leicester Square. Tyler Morse, CEO MCR Hotels, one of the final speakers of the day, nailed the vibe of the event, "This is a conference where everyone actually goes to the sessions and isn't just here for the networking," a very accurate observation! The sessions were engaging with great info. The good news is you can watch many of them on Skift already. Skift has also shared written recaps of the sessions, here is what stood out for me.

Women Owned the Stage!

Bravo to Skift for a roster of gender-balanced speakers, and not just having a few women as tokens on panels. Some highlights:

Katerina Giannouka, CEO of Jumeirah, with Carolyn Kremins, President, Skift
Katerina Giannouka, CEO of Jumeirah, with Carolyn Kremins, President, Skift
  • Katerina Giannouka, the new CEO of Jumeirah, was interviewed by Skift President Carolyn Kremins. This was the first media interview for Katerina since taking the helm of Jumeirah in December. She spoke about her plans for the company, expansion with marquee properties in Europe, and how Jumeireah is innovating with service, experiences, and technology.

  • Tamara Lohan, Founder + CEO of Mr. and Mrs. Smith, gave an incredible talk touching on trends in the boutique space including luxury all-inclusives, design-led experiences, and nature-driven wellness.

  • Marloes Knippenberg, CEO of Kerten Hospitality, was on a panel speaking about how her team threads wellness through properties ranging from Rome to Alula, a new retreat in Saudi Arabia.

  • Catherine Dolton, Chief Sustainability Officer, IHG about how she is leading the massive scope of ESG for the company.

  • Sofia Rovnova-Nixon, Director, Media Strategy and MarTech, Marriott International, spoke about issues and trends in data collection.

  • Varsha Arora, a senior research analyst at Skift, led the very first session of the day, setting the forward-thinking tone with insights on “The Experience Economy 2.0.” She offered potential growth areas for hoteliers: hybrid hospitality, luxury travel, wellness, sustainability, hyper-personalization, and the impact of generative artificial intelligence.

There were women on stage for nearly every session and I have just focused on those in the hotel space, several others from the short-term rental industry were also fabulous. Try to watch or listen as Skift posts videos from the sessions.

7 Top Takeaways on the Future of Travel

As the conference was future looking, a key theme that threaded through every session was how technology, specifically generative Artificial Intelligence (AI), will change aspects of the hotel business from search and booking to service offerings and guest experience. Here are five themes that stood out.

Varsha Arora, Senior Researcher, Skift
Varsha Arora, Senior Researcher, Skift
  1. Data is the darling of future business. Being able to collect, understand and utilize data is increasingly important as more of it becomes available through technology. AI will greatly assist in crunching the data and predicting customer patterns. Marriott and Sojern spoke about the challenges of getting permission from customers around the world and managing this process legally, and internationally.

  2. The golden age of personalization is coming. Thanks to all the data companies can now collect through digital touchpoints, as well as the ability to capture guest movements on property through cameras and mobile technology, hotels can truly personalize each stay and offer experiences specific to what the individual may need or enjoy. Jumeirah spoke about ways from facial recognition to tracking purchases of how luxury travel will use data to become hyper-personalized in the future.

  3. Experiences and "hybrid hospitality" will drive revenue and profitability. Expect the future to bring a move from RevPAR to revenue per available square foot. From food and beverage, entertainment, and wellness to coworking spaces, hotels will reinvent themselves to maximize value. Accor is already leaning into this with the acquisition of lifestyle brand Ennismore where rooms represent about 50 of revenue and F&B and experiences drive the rest. In terms of incorporating coworking, Skift's research predicts the move to a “hybrid hospitality” model that will offer the flexibility to switch inventory around and reuse the units of space at different times of the day to boost profitability.

  4. Search is getting a makeover. Generative AI is going to improve the understanding of consumers' intent, and soon search will feel more like a digital guide with less text and more images. Google is already serving up photos and short-form videos to inspire customers and soon lists with links will be history. Hilton spoke about offering customers not just hotel suggestions but the ability to recommend and book specific hotel rooms. The company has already seen a big uptake in the ability to book connected rooms and can serve specific ideas based on customer filters, such as pets.

  5. Sustainability is a massive challenge for the industry. Skift showed a chart clearly outlining the steep reductions in carbon emissions per room all the major hotel companies face. At the moment reliable tracking is a main focus for ESG, IHG spoke about looking way beyond customer touchpoints to every phase of the supply chain IHG. Google is making a big push to allow customers to see their carbon footprint for each journey, even down to the specific seat on the airplane.

  6. Wellness is evolving from an amenity to a core component of the hotel experience. No longer about the gym, Kerten Hospitality sees the future of wellness to include everything from engaging people through art to designing spaces for mental decompression and offering therapy.

  7. The world is reopening, putting more demand pressure globally. Lots of conversation about a shift in global demographics with the reopening of Asia, specifically China. Hotel brands are looking to cater to a rising middle-class population from Asia, Africa, and India eager to explore the world.

This is just a taste of some of the discussions. Check Skift for a full recap and put the Future of Lodging on your agenda for 2024.


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