Interview Spotlight: Can the hospitality industry hack its own growth?
Interview with Ana Andjelic, SVP and Global Strategy Director of Havas Media LuxHub
Keynote speaker at Trend
Ana Andjelic is an experienced strategist with a passion for everything new. As a doctor in sociology, she helps luxury fashion and lifestyle brands to adapt to the digital economy and to understand the new disruptive technologies; successfully utilising them to achieve business results.
When we asked about her new mantra, she made it clear. She recently came across an article that stated: “Do not, under any circumstances, think about any weird interaction you’ve had with another human being for longer than seven seconds”. This approach, aside from liberating an enormous cumulative amount of our time and resources, also reminds us that we all suffer from the spotlight effect. Or, as Oscar Wilde put it, “You wouldn’t care about what other people thought of you if you realised how seldom they actually did.”
1 .How did you find your passion for working with luxury brands?
A few years ago, I started paying more attention to how digital technology was transforming the retail sector. There were all those direct-to-consumer brands and online marketplaces that started bubbling up, with fundamentally different value propositions than those of legacy retailers. This new breed of brands was all about service, curation, content and responsibly produced products. I also realised that those brands were not only after the mass customer but after the premium and luxury customers, who started expecting something completely different when it comes to luxury. Their expectations are shaped by Uber, Seamless, Airbnb, Rent-the-Runway, Net-a-Porter. A new breed of luxury brands, across categories, was born out of these expectations.
2. Millennials and Generation X: what is the challenge for luxury travel?
Younger generations are all about making travel as unique, personal and individual as possible. If one can be alone swimming over a coral reef, that’s the ultimate travel experience. It’s all about silence, privacy, isolation, being able to disconnect and to have an experience that it’s as spiritually and mentally fulfilling as it is fun.
Both generations want this ultimate travel experience. The difference lies in how the hospitality brands communicate to its customers. Generation X is still the main luxury travel spender and brands should bear in mind how to communicate wisely to its target audience.
3. What is the key for a hospitality brand to “own” the digital space?
Winning hospitality brands today are those that have strong and vibrant communities. They managed to create a group of super-fans; people who don’t just like them, but love them. As Y Combinator’s Paul Graham said, “It’s better to have 100 people who love you than finding a million who just sort of like you … Just focus on 100 people. If they love you, they will market the product for you and tell everyone else.”
4. Everyone is talking about the impact of AI in our lives. How do you think this is affecting hospitality?
In hospitality, white-glove, human touch makes us feel special and taken care of. We remember times when we were surprised and delighted by thoughtful, empathetic and anticipatory service. We tell others about it. We keep coming back to places where we experienced it. The challenge is how to scale this experience. Left to our own emotional and cognitive devices, humans can only do so much. Thanks to AI, we can now crunch limitless data in a matter of seconds, combine disparate and complex information sources and connect the dots and recognise patterns in ways unheard of before. Smart hospitality companies are already experimenting with the uses of AI to gather intelligence about their guests, manage their revenue and predictive maintenance, automate their data entry and analysis, and deliver effortless, one-step-ahead-of-you personal service to their customers. Best uses of AI are those that make it invisible. AI’s job is to empower humans to achieve a greater degree of hospitality, not to replace them. Every time guests get to see the evidence of AI at work, the execution is flawed.
5. Besides all the automation, how can a brand remain luxurious?
The golden standard of great hospitality is Japanese principle of motenashi: being intuitive, effortless and flexible. Intuition, flexibility and empathy are uniquely human characteristics. We are unpredictable, emotionally nuanced and complex, and we require equally emotionally complex beings to understand us. At the same time, it’s hard to scale uniquely human capabilities. That’s where AI comes in and helps hospitality professionals process insane amounts of data and pattern recognition to deliver the ultimate personalised service. There’s nothing more luxurious than anticipatory service delivered with a generous dose of a human touch.
6. We’re seeing other luxury industries such as fashion taking the lead in digital innovation. What do you think luxury hospitality can take from that?
As long as innovation is human-centred and focused on improving the service and utility, all industries can learn from each other. There is a lot of innovation happening in fashion that has to do with making the supply chain more transparent and less wasteful and that’s something hospitality industry can learn from. There are uses of technology in making business more socially responsible and sustainable, and again this is something all industries should adopt.
7. From a business perspective, how does the new luxury hospitality model look? Which fundamental changes do you think will happen in coming years?
There’s a saying that goes, “it is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.” Instead of trying to predict the future, it is better to focus on “jobs to be done” in the present. This framework, coined by Harvard Business School professor and author of “Innovator’s Dilemma” Clayton Christiansen, focuses on consumers’ social, emotional, or functional problem, and turns a business into its Solution. This framework is useful because it doesn’t narrow innovation to the latest technology or the hottest new gadget. Instead, it roots it firmly in human behaviour. We don’t know whether people will use iPhones in twenty years, but we can say with certainty that they will still appreciate a good story. Consumer behaviour is the best starting point when thinking about the future. It offers a roadmap for a successful growth strategy for both established hospitality brands and hospitality newcomers. To develop and deliver on the new luxury hospitality model, they need to look at how the next generation of their customers behaves and zoom in on the points of friction in their brand experience. Then, they need to become a solution to this friction.
8. In your opinion, which hotel brands today do you think will disrupt the hospitality industry?
To build upon my previous answer, it will be those brands that manage to stay the closest to their customers, detect the points of friction in their experience the fastest, adapt their business so it becomes a solution to this friction, and do all of this in a seamless, anticipatory manner.