Europe and Tourism in the 21st Century

In October, I travelled to Budapest, Hungary, to be initiated as a new member of the International Society of Hospitality Consultants. This is a group of senior independent consultants, working in various and diverse areas of the hospitality field. The members work worldwide and represent countries in all corners of the globe.

Because of the international aspect of this society, they conduct their semi-annual meetings all over the world. I already have scheduled my time to attend the next four conferences so I can stay well networked with this incredible group of professionals. I anticipate having a broader scope of information to share with you about the hospitality business and cutting edge concepts from my affiliation with this group.

First, from this conference, I have the new nick-name of “The B&B Lady”. You’ll be seeing more of this moniker as time passes. It took several introductions with that name before it caught on with me that it would be a great name for promotions. I’ll start advertising myself as The B&B Lady (and my new domains — and in various avenues starting with my new listing in Yellow Brick Road’s Training Guide, which comes out in the January newsletter.

There were three sessions during the Budapest conference that were of particular interest to me for sharing with you. The theme of this conference was Europe in the 21st Century, so all comments were in regard to Europe.

The first session was about the environment in relation to lodging establishments. I was pleased to see the passion the attendees of this session had for the environment. Not only do they have personal interest but also are active in bringing that consciousness to the industry. We discussed environmental action from the owners’ and guests’ perspectives. It seems that Europe is more environmentally aware in several arenas than even the US. I was pleased to see recycling bins on city streets and in airports; these were the kinds of bins that had you sorting your own materials. European hoteliers are not as active in the bringing that environmental awareness to the lodging industry as you would anticipate, given the overall environmental awareness in Europe, but they are starting to move in that direction, more so than US hoteliers.

Issues were raised about what can be done, who and what are impacted, what difference that makes, and who is more attentive, aware, and active. No conclusions were reached, but we did feel that green innkeeping was good for business, both from the income and expense side. An example used to support our sense of the movement was of a Canadian hotelier who established a “recycling department” so that all trash could be sorted into appropriate bins. Not only has that hotel paid for the program by selling their recyclable goods but they also had a huge savings from the retrieved hotel property that had found its way to the trash, making this project a real money maker. Recovered items included towels, silverware, plates, ashtrays, TV remote controls, and other items). We did conclude our session with statement that it’s merely a matter of time before more business owners see that too. It’s just a matter of time before environmental action is demanded from guests in US and non-US establishments. My recommendation: get started on this issue NOW, if you haven’t already.

The second session was on Branding. I had presumed, before the session, that “branding” was like being a Holiday Inn or Hilton and wouldn’t have much value to independent B&B innkeepers. Wrong. I learned that the “big boys” consider branding the same way I consider niche definition — it is your identity and statement of the guest experience. I felt so confirmed to hear numerous people discussing the strength in strong branding, for the small players as well as the big players. One man discussed a consulting client he had who decided to go for a brand. That client more than doubled his business, increasing his 35-ish percent occupancy to 75-ish percent occupancy in two years. This was a small B&B property, not a large hotel property. Yes, it took time and money, but he was re-grouping from a fuzzy image — not a clear brand, and the consulting expense was quickly paid back by the increased occupancy. Another property I heard about slowly re-branded itself so that it would have a more even occupancy through the year rather than having just summer/weekend business. It was gratifying to hear others discuss results from branding, or (as I usually refer to it) clear market niche development, that I have been advocating for years.

The third session was on Technology, specifically Internet and phone access. Technologically, Europe and the US are fairly well matched. The difference comes into play in the availability to private citizens and travelers. Europe has committed to one “cell” phone protocol, so that all “cell” phones work on the same system and people can use the same phone regardless of service provider — and regardless of what country they are from. A great idea that I hope the US conforms to soon. Internet accessibility is another story, though. Internet connection in Europe is more expensive than it is the US for two primary reasons: the cost of installing and maintaining phone lines and the lower demand for the Internet (fewer computers). Since the cost is higher, those with computers don’t use the Internet as much. The same issues hold true for lodging establishments; cost and demand. What most travelers see, at best, is a Business Center where they can plug in and connect with home and office, but they have no connection from their room. The demand for easy, in-room connections is being heard and slowly being responded to. The good news is that Internet access is becoming more reasonably priced and available in Europe as the demand rises.

It was an interesting and educational conference for me. It seems the more we know about businesses peripheral to our own industry, the better we can be in our industry. I’m looking forward to learning more so that I can share that newfound knowledge with you. Stay tuned….