Meetings and working spaces for business travelers are being re-invented because of both new technology and increasing competition from non-traditional players. How can your organisation adapt accordingly in 2014?

Having gathered a plethora of examples from companies of varying sizes around the world, here are three insights that can allow hotels to embrace the future with confidence.

NB: This is a guest viewpoint by Youri Sawerschel of bridge.over.

1. WORK ON THE GO: Smart hotels will respond to the rise of mobile computing by offering flexible meeting spaces.

Thanks to the smartphone revolution, working on the go has become synonymous with just-in-time organisation and last-minute meetings. This has led to a rise in demand for smaller meetings with a shorter duration and a reduced scheduled lead-time.

In response, Marriott launched a partnership with LiquidSpace, a ‘Workspace on demand’ mobile/web application. The app allows you to book meeting rooms and spaces in hotel lobbies for as little as a few hours.

Similarly, Westin, a Starwood brand, launched an app called Tangent; a comparable tool focusing on hourly bookings for short meetings.

Constant connectivity means that people can now work almost anywhere. Thus, hotels should become less restrictive about designated work areas within their premises and support an all access working environment.

For example, Ace Hotel encourages locals to use the lobby of their New York property as a communal workspace. Furthermore, the implementation of additional, and easily accessible, electrical sockets in the restaurant of their newly opened London flagship means Ace Hotel guests can even charge their mobile devices whilst dining.

Business has gone mobile and hotels will have to readjust as a consequence to maintain clientele. The era of the ‘business corner’ with two desktop computers in the lobby is a distant memory – customers demand more. Flexibility and understanding will be key components in developing more attractive propositions for the tech-savvy customer of today.

2. CLOUD DESK: Customers will flee their desks in favour of more inspiring and vibrant working environments.

Thanks to email, Skype and cloud-based data hosting services, we are no longer tied to a specific location or schedule to get work done. This creates a market opportunity for shared offices and co-working spaces.

London-based companies Dryland and One Alfred Place offer lavish, serviced office and meeting spaces for a membership fee. Their customers, who converge from various, need a part-time office or a business port of call when visiting the city. Similar concepts are opening around the world such as Metropolis 7 in Geneva, NeueHouse in New York, Space in Amsterdam or Raumstation in Berlin.

A key benefit of these concepts is that their varied membership levels allow customers to select an option best tailored to their needs (e.g. fixed line, closed office, catering, chauffeur service etc.).

The great advantage of gaining a membership is that it instantly triggers a sense of community. For instance, Central Working, a chain of co-working spaces in London, provides members access to an online platform to connect and exchange ideas on joint business opportunities with the aim of fostering a sense of belonging.

Some hotels have started to refine their customer propositions in acknowledgement of the vast growth potential offered by 1.3 billion mobile workers (according to the International Data Corporation). Marriott, for instance, launched Workspring, a meeting concept centred on collaboration and social encounters. CitizenM, a design-driven budget hotel brand, also created a membership based meeting space service called Society M.

There is, however, no need to own real estate to enter the ‘office away from the office’ market. Desknear.me, an online marketplace for working space, offers organisations and individuals the opportunity to rent unused desks and office spaces to ‘office-less’ professionals. In fact, Desknear.me could very well become the Airbnb of office spaces.

However, given that hotels are not in the office rental business, most will unfortunately continue to limit their competitive sets to similar properties. This approach could prove to be flawed as new market entrants try to entice customers who traditionally use hotel facilities such as business lounges and conference rooms.

3. BE BOLD: Dull meeting spaces will become commodities as branding and service drive differentiation.

Thanks to websites such as Cvent.com, meeting facilities can be easily compared. The risk of relying only on facility specifications is the one of commodity. To avoid self-commoditisation, the key is to think ‘beyond the physical walls’ of working spaces.

Emilie Langlois, vice president of corporate operations for Kempinski Hotels, said, “true innovation in hotels is not about product.” Indeed, the problem with product defining the customer experience is that it can be easily duplicated. Langlois continues, “the key is to provide our staff with the right tools to foster service-driven innovation across our organisation”.

When looking at restructuring their services, hotels should adopt a human-centric approach in order to unearth valuable information about their customers. Several design-thinking tools such as journey mapping, co-creation or data visualisation are recommended when acquiring qualitative data.

By placing the emphasis on time service during meetings, Marriott, again, developed a mobile app that permits guests to make ‘in-meeting’ requests such as coffee refills and room temperature changes.

In addition to service, branding can also be a powerful differentiator. The Grand Hyatt Erawan in Bangkok gave an independent identity to their event and conference space. Inspired by the nostalgia of university life, “The campus possesses its own visual identity and its rooms borrow their names from typical university venues.”

According to Adi Sidhwa, director of sales and marketing at the Grand Hyatt Erawan Bangkok, the campus has gained a lot of traction, even among traditional sectors such as banking or insurance.

The rules of the game have changed and hotels must shape up if they intend to cease relinquishing market share to new entrants. Hopefully next year will see more hotels dare to venture off the beaten track and develop meaningful and valuable propositions that resonate with their guests. As Mark Twain famously said:

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started”. Therefore… time to get back to work.

NB: This was a guest viewpoint by Youri Sawerschel, strategy and branding consultant at bridge.over, a consultancy in Geneva.

Image is courtesy of Dryland.

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