This is - according to me - a really interesting column from Boyd Farrow. I read it on the airplane from Brussels to Lisbon and was impressed by his point of view! A must-read for people interested in the tourism industry!
Boyd Farrow ponders the future of the hotel in the age of apps, austerity and airbnb.
The best thing about staying in a nice hotel is having someone to attend to your every whim. your phone from your jenga-like stack of pillows and someone brings food. you empty the mini-fridge and it is magically refilled. you waddle into the spa and you're handed a fresh fluffy towel. it's like having your mother on constant call but without the comments about how much weight you've gained. these days, we don't even have to check into a hotel for this. thanks to gps technology, anyone, anywhere, can summon uop a larger staff than the earl of grantham simply by tapping on their smartphone. we are living in what social commentators call, rather thrillingly, the 'concierge economy'.
yet, as era-defining labels go, this is doubly ironic. first, most of us have never really understood what a concierge does. we're vaguely aware that the origins lie in france, like the maitre d', a role created solely to show what the french are capable of extending a warm welcome as long as you pay them more than hedge fund managers and respect them more than nobel prize-winning astrophysicists. but scoring the occasional theatre ticket and circling places on maps too small to read cannot possibly be a full-time job.
second, in an era when we direct our enquiries at our pockets, and think of ourselves as global nomads, the concierge desk cannot be around for much longer. the days of sneaking through the lobby, trying to avoid eye contact in case we're then obliged to tip someone, are surely numbered. indeed, the future of the concierge is part of a much larger, far more uncomfortable, wuestion that many senior people in the hospitality industry are currently asking themselves: what is the point of a hotel these days?
in the first 150 years of the modern hotel very little changed, apart from the arrival of the lift in the 1850s. this became so popular that in the 1930s someone invented elevator music as a way of persuading guests to take the stairs again. yet until the late 1970s, there were still really only two types of hotel- those with chandeliers and a baby grand, and those with strip lighting and anti-theft hangers.
things only began to change in the design-obsessed 1990s, when words like 'minimalist' and 'uplighting' were bandied about, and you had to get past a velvet rope and a man with an earpiece just to use the shower.
things got even sillier in the noughties, when hotels realised they could squeeze even more money out of the vain and gullible by pushing suites with configurations more baffling than poker hands. does a junior suite with a king-sized bed trump a senior suite with a queen-sized bed, you'd find yourself agonising at 3 am, your finger hovering over the 'book it' button until either your session timed out or your RSI flared up. no one seems to know which way hotels are heading since the 2008 crash. some developers are convinced that the future belongs to the 'micro hotel', claiming that today's guests prefer to sleep in tiny, pared-back rooms and spend all their time hanging out with artists at microbreweries or poetrys lams. even some big players are hedging their bets. hyatt and wyndham are both investing in separate rivals to airbnb that would enable guests to stay in high-end private properties. one thing's for sure. in such earnest, quinoa-eating times, nobody is mentioning the fantasy element of staying in hotels, with their whispered offer of instant gratification.
perhaps the hotel of the future will over no amenities or services - and possibly no staff - and those checking in will simply order everything they need from meals to massages via apps. then, maybe our smartphone would actually be the concierge.