The Chesapeake Point of View

How To Bridge The Generation Gap With Owners

How To Bridge The Generation Gap With Owners

August 15, 2013

There is a lot of discussion in the hotel industry about the importance of meeting the needs of millennials—the younger and increasingly influential generation of travelers viewed as a key demographic.
But when it comes to connecting with a younger generation, hotel owners and operators are well served to look a little closer to home: in the ranks of the owners themselves.
The growing presence and influence of younger owners—many of whom are part of a family ownership structure or are second- or third-generation owners—is having a profound effect on the evolution of our industry.
This generation gap is becoming increasingly noticeable, with owners of varying ages offering different and exciting perspectives, priorities and tools to increase efficiencies. Some of these generational differences are minor or inconsequential, and some can have a significant impact on the way owners and operators approach everything from operational details to revenue management decisions.
But it is really not about the differences—or at least, it shouldn’t be. It is not about portraying older and experienced owners as out of touch, or perceiving new owners as naïve and strictly tech-focused (often how we mischaracterize our target travelers in this age range). It is about what owners from different generations can learn from each other, and the evolving role of the hotel management company as a counselor.
Established owners and operators are wise to leverage the insights and energy of younger owners. At the same time, younger owners can learn a great deal about industry constants that never will (and never should) go away: the value of great service, the impact of a personal phone call, face-to-face contact and most importantly the pillars of guest service.
Here are some of the ways in which generational ownership differences are manifesting themselves today, as well as a few insights into how we can bridge the generation gap and become stronger as an industry.

Flexibility and new ideas
The younger generation of hotel owners tends to want to, as the old saying goes, “work smarter, not harder.” In many ways, that is a good thing.
Younger owners tend to be more enthusiastic and flexible about leveraging technology to be more efficient. In an industry that has, at times, been slow to change in the past, being willing to try a new app, a new process or a new procedure is healthy and welcome. The younger generation sees the potential of innovation in new ideas, not just the risks.
While it is a good thing to not be suspicious of new tools and new concepts, it is still a good idea to be cautious, thoughtful and strategic with regard to their implementation. It is here where more experienced owners and operators can serve as counselors and help provide context and perspective. Smart work is important and valuable, but hard work is the gold standard in our industry.

“Being the best” versus “great service”
For the newer generation of hotel owners, the drive to be the best is frequently the No. 1 professional priority.
More experienced hoteliers understand how to aim high as well, but there is an understanding that “being the best” has a prerequisite: providing great service that makes your guests return. Accordingly, service and the guest experience are always top of mind.
In today’s increasingly competitive and fast-moving industry, it is important not to lose sight of that. The key is to harness the ambition and optimism of youth without neglecting the need for great service and a memorable guest experience—not losing sight of the experiential forest for the operational trees.

New tech and new realities
As recently as five years ago, text messaging was something many longtime owners thought was exclusively something their teenagers did. Now it is an integral part of doing business—an important form of communication that cannot be written off and must be embraced.
Today it is not uncommon for texts to contain important information that needs to be documented and retained. If someone sends you an amendment to a line item in a contract negotiation, for example, that has to be documented. It is similar to the transitional process that took place with email, only now these communications changes are happening even faster.
Across the board, the pace of technical evolution seems to be accelerating. PowerPoint is a dinosaur; today it is all about logging onto cloud-based applications and utilizing online presentations. Laptops are giving way to iPads and other mobile platforms. And digital data has radically changed the way information is processed, stored, delivered and analyzed.
Twenty years ago, management would send a printed monthly statement to ownership that would arrive weeks after the month had actually ended. Now, owners can log on to a website and get real-time access to important data anytime they want. At the same time, some owners still want everything printed out and in hard copy.
Smart and effective management professionals need to have the flexibility, perspective and professional skillset to accommodate owners from all generations.

Efficiency and the bottom line
One area where many younger owners tend to excel is in identifying and capitalizing on new efficiencies. They are generally more analytical and decisive, quick to cut line items or expenses that seem wasteful or redundant.
For the most part, that is a good thing, but you also have to be careful not to lose sight of the broader context. Cutting employee benefits might make balance-sheet sense today, but what about down the road? Those are the kinds of expenses that might seem unaffordable—but the reality is you can’t afford not to do it. Doing the right thing matters—and carries consequences.
Efficiency and streamlining is definitely the name of the game, but it also comes back to the integrity of the industry. Ironically, with greater detail, speed and access, comes greater potential to get lost in the minutiae and neglect the big results of small decisions.

The power of collaboration
So how do we bridge the generation gap? Do we look to youth, or rely on experience?
Ultimately, the truth—and the added value—is somewhere in the middle. No, not every new marketing opportunity or trendy new advertising concept is worthwhile. At the same time, however, even the most “traditional” owners are likely to find themselves doing more targeted online marketing. There is value in integrating new ideas, and there is value in tapping into experience and proven concepts.
Revenue management principles, for example, are unlikely to change anytime soon. You still have to be on top of it daily, you still have to watch what your competitors are doing, and you still cannot just “set it and forget it” when it comes to rates. But you can also use sophisticated new systems and powerful new analytical tools to apply those principles, faster, better and more consistently. We need to use the energy and optimism and flexibility of the younger generation and integrate the accumulated wisdom and deep understanding of fundamental hospitality principles that more experienced hotel professionals can provide. Owners and operators who can strike that balance and learn from their fellow owners of all ages will be best equipped to thrive amid the new generational and business realities that are shaping our industry.