How Hotels Can Save the World
Stop. Close your eyes. Picture a place where people are happy. Where they are making memories with their friends and family, experiencing new and exciting moments, and doing things they have never done before. Picture a place that takes people in when they are lonely, away from home, or in an emergency, and provides them with safety, food, and comfort. Picture a place that makes you forget about the world around you, that helps you step away from worries and pain you’re feeling, and transports you into a whole new universe. Picture a place that will change your life, save the world, and alter life as we know it. Now, where is that place? Disneyland? The White House? A school? Pshh, no, definitely not. It’s a hotel.
Alright, I know what you’re thinking. Hotels are just rooms with beds, where people pay too much money to spend the night in a place that may or may not be infested with bed bugs. Nobody actually wants to stay at a hotel, right? Besides, who needs hotels when Airbnb can do the same thing for better and less money. That’s all a hotel is, so how can it “save the world”?
Well, I’m glad you’re reading this. Because I am (hopefully) about to prove you wrong. Okay, maybe not wrong, but hopefully get you (almost) as excited as I am about the future and opportunity of hotels and hospitality. You see, I am what you may call a “hotel nerd.” I love hotels. I have ever since I was a kid, when I used to put paper numbers outside every room in my house and set-up a tiny lobby on the ground in my living room where I made my parents check-in. I loved hotels because they were exciting to me, and because they gave me an opportunity to do something I always tried to do throughout my life: make people happy. Although I quickly realized that most people may not be as interested in and excited about hotels as I used to be as a five year-old (and still am today), I knew there was something there that could create memories and experiences for people that they would never forget, and that would, hopefully, at some point, change their life.
The reason I am writing this article is because I want to share my vision for what a hotel can be and why I think they can have such a monumental impact on society. I believe that hotels today are becoming too stagnant and uncreative, and that the purpose and definition of a hotel has become too ingrained in people’s minds as something that is expensive, boring, and basically a necessary evil. Today, there are four main hotel companies that hold over 22,000 of the worlds hotels, with the majority of these being franchised properties with separate owners and operators. For hotels that aren’t part of one of these four chains, they are often owned by smaller ownership companies, and are still part of some sort of conglomerate or hotel group.
While chains and companies like these aren’t necessarily bad, this trend has caused hotels to lose their creativity and innovation, and has become just another business that is more focused on making money than truly making a difference in people’s lives. This is now starting to even rub off on their guests, with companies like Airbnb gaining an increased share in the market, resulting in over 40% of college-aged young adults preferring to stay in an Airbnb over a hotel when given the choice. To put it simply, hotels are losing the allure and appeal that they once had, and are becoming a commercialized business that doesn’t stand out or excite. In my opinion though, it’s not too late: there is still time to change this.
This article was written to explore how hotels can change the world, and it’s now time to take a look at that. You see, hotels are unique in a pretty significant way compared to any other industry on the planet. When a guest stays at a hotel, they are normally away from home, sometimes for business, pleasure, or even because of an emergency. They may choose a certain hotel because it’s really nice, near a location, or because it’s all they can afford. When the guest stays at the hotel, they are not there for 15–20 minutes like a retail store or an hour like at a restaurant; they may stay for anywhere from one night, to a week and a half, to even over a month. Hotels, inns, and other types of lodging fill an extremely important need in someone’s life that nothing else can. They are there for guests in times of family fun, important business, or even difficult tragedy. They are counted on for shelter while escaping a storm back home, for a celebratory drink after finishing a big meeting, or for a good night’s sleep after a long day on the road.
Because of all these reasons and the important roles that a hotel plays, they are exciting. Hotel owners are not just building rooms with walls and beds, but they are building a place for people. Even the $50 motel on the side of the highway becomes a refuge and a home-away-from-home for its guests, and it gives the owner the ability to truly make a difference in the lives of the people who stay there. Hotels are not just buildings, they are an opportunity. They are an opportunity for hotel owners, managers, and employees to connect with their guests, provide for their needs, impact their lives, and, you guessed it, change the world.
You see, operating a hotel and welcoming guests is both an opportunity and a responsibility, and it gives owners, managers, and employees the chance to make a difference when a guest least expects it. Even if Jenny and Mike Smith aren’t expecting the inn next to the highway to comfort them when their daughter is in the hospital or help them when their house flooded during a storm, the owners and operators of the property have the ability to provide warm, welcoming hospitality and impact their lives in a deep, lasting way. Despite just being a building with beds inside rooms, a hotel is a blank canvas filled with opportunities and chances for impact, memory-making, and experiences that guests may never forget.
For me, Disneyland has always been a great example of what hospitality and the hotel experience can be like. Ever since I was a kid, Disneyland has been this magical place where anything is possible and filled with memories that make me smile every time I think of them. I remember Cinderella in a parade waving to me as an 8 year old because I was wearing a “Happy Birthday” button, an employee at a pin trading booth giving me a free Disney pin that I really wanted, and watching the fireworks for the very first time where Tinkerbell flew over the audience and foam snow fell down as Christmas music played in the background. For me, all of these experiences helped me build memories with my family, make me smile, and even inspire me to fall in love with the hospitality industry and write an article such as this one.
Another example that I believe shows how hotels can truly change the world is from Hurricane Katrina in 2005. During this tragic storm that rocked the city of New Orleans, Dan King, the General Manager of the Sheraton New Orleans Hotel, wanted to help. With 1,400 people on his property, King took action, and mobilized his hotel to make an impact in the community. He took in guests and first responders, provided food and shelter in the hotel’s ballrooms, and even provided internet and power for emergency officials and the media to be stationed. King brought in working bathrooms and tankers of drinking water, and set-up a medical clinic to help those who needed it. In this instance, the General Manager knew that his building with rooms and beds was more than just a place for people to pay money to sleep: it was an opportunity to deliver aid in a thunderstorm, bring people in who needed help, and provide relief to the lives of the New Orleans community.
So, remember that paragraph in the beginning where I said that hotels could change the world? You didn’t believe me, did you? Well, you’ve hopefully now officially joined team #HotelsCanSaveTheWorld (yes, that is a very popular hashtag). I know it’s a cliche thing to say, and I realize that basically everyone and everything claims that they can save the world and change people’s lives. But personally, I am a firm believer that hotels truly can. While not every hotel might be doing that today, I do believe it is possible. I believe that guests who are staying the night, the week, or the year can make memories, have experiences, and go on a journey at the blank canvas yet exciting foundation that is the hotel. As I mentioned before, hotels are opportunities; they are opportunities for lives to be changed and amazing times to be had. Thank you for reading this, and for being interested in what is possible in this industry. Even if you’re still not fully on board, I hope you’re just a bit more excited about the wonder and opportunity that lie within the hotel.