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10 hospitality trends taking shape in 2007

The following 10 trends will continue to impact the U.S. hospitality industry in the coming years. Some are timeless while others are new and becoming popular.

1. Keeping the customer No. 1 through empowerment. This service philosophy is now paramount as a means to differentiate quality amid limitless brands. For hotels and restaurants alike, think about desk clerks and servers and how much easier everything would be if we did not have to constantly search for a supervisor, manager or owner.

2. Attracting and retaining good people by investing in training and education for employees. Creating a reputable service culture requires selecting and hiring individuals who believe in providing superior customer satisfaction. In this difficult labor market, we cannot afford turnover and it is becoming more critical to hire, train and educate employees to achieve service goals. Use every teachable moment whether it be on payday, at an employee luncheon or a staff meeting.

3. Investing in the latest technology. With the advent of "technology-savvy guests," hotels and restaurants are realizing the significance of staying ahead of the curve by offering the latest "hi-tech" amenities. Mobile technology (cell phones, PDAs and game stations) is having a profound impact on the use of hotel phones. Restaurant guests expect wireless Internet now. And both hotel and restaurant guests want to see the use of rich media such as 360-degree images, pictures of plate presentations and video clips.

4. Catering to affluent guests. The U.S. economy has created enormous wealth for average Americans and this has resulted in higher spending on travel. Peter Yesawich, author of National Travel Monitor recently said, "Two of three Americans travel today."

5. Time poverty. Over the years, the workweek has increased each year and averages more than 50 hours today. One major complaint is the lack of quality, leisure time. We in the industry need to make limited vacation/free time experiences memorable.

6. Closer to home. Most vacations are being scheduled around the demands of work. Americans are not willing to travel for more than three-and-a-half hours to reach their destination. This goes hand in hand with time poverty. According to Yesawich, $3.50 per gallon is the breaking point where travelers will change their travel plans; however, they will not give up their "birthright" to travel.

7. Aggressive and savvy marketing. Supporting this kind of marketing can be done using the Internet via e-mail marketing or a Web site that offers online deals; direct marketing, promotions, advertisements and press releases in newspapers, magazines and industry publications also get the message out. The face of hospitality marketing is changing quickly and now includes paid search, podcasts, blogs and more.

According to Tim Sanders, chief solutions officer at Yahoo, "Networking is sharing your contacts with others to create value without the expectation of compensation. Your network is your net worth."

8. Anticipate external influences. The U.S. economy is sensitive to currency fluctuations, political events and the cost of natural resources as well as consumer confidence.

"We need to get beyond the single bottom line and measure a company's performance by a triple bottom line," Brandstream CEO Scott Bedbury said. "Financial profits alone aren't enough. The results also need to be good for people and for the environment."

For hotels and restaurants, there is much that we can do beyond the cash. According to Bedbury, "When you start thinking about growing your brand, be sure not to ignore the Spandex rule: Just because you can doesn't mean you should." For hotels and restaurants again, think about all those lousy brands. And think about Starbucks and how its recently leaked corporate e-mail indicated perhaps bigger is not better.

9. Think green. Corporate America is actually going green for real now. Firms see going green might actually provide a better bottom-line financial result. We've already started in hotels by putting cards in bathrooms that ask guests to conserve water and energy. Some restaurants have taken steps to serve water on request only. We need to find ways to save energy, which in turn will save money.

10. Many of the above are subject to change without notice.

Rauch is chairman of the San Diego Hotel and Motel Association and vice chairman of San Diego North Convention & Visitors Bureau. He also serves on the board of directors for San Diego Convention Center Corp. and teaches entrepreneurship at San Diego State University. He can be reached at robert.rauch@sddt.com. Comments may be published as Letters to the Editor.

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