I love a good hotel as much as anyone, and there are several on this list I would certainly enjoy staying at; however, the term “innovative” here is a little misleading. Design-forward? Yes. Architecturally stunning? Certainly. Creative? Probably. Who can blame the magazine? Almost anything that purports to be about hotel innovation will be devoted to things that can be touched, seen, or felt by a guest. Only sometimes do they write about the functioning of a property—simply because not much has fundamentally changed over the years.

    To be truly innovative, hotels must go beyond design. Hotels must instead solve a problem, a real problem. More often than not, it’s an issue we didn’t even realize could be, or needed to be solved. As Greg Satell, the author of Mapping Innovation, points out, “the most innovative firms aren’t necessarily any more creative or even better at solving problems than most. Rather, what sets them apart was how they aggressively sought out new problems to solve.”

    An example from another industry. Everyone knew that mattress shopping was so lousy as almost to be counterproductive, and yet it had been the same for decades. Mattresses are one of the greatest comforts of our lives—humans in the West spend over 2,000 hours per year sleeping on one. But to buy one, we walk into a sterile and very public store, we lie down on five or six for a few minutes each, and after this, we commit to a major purchase, one that is expected to last for many years to come.

    Enter direct-to-consumer mattress companies. Tuft Needle was among the first, then there was Casper and now even Serta Simmons has launched its own direct-to-sleeper brand. Where was the innovation? Learning how to package mattresses so that they could be delivered (and returned) with ease. What was the problem? The basic problem was a terrible buying experience. Casper CEO Philip Krim told Inc Magazine, “In an industry where everything was just terrible, the bar could not be lower to do anything cool, unique, or fun.” Along with the solving of that problem, distribution costs dwindled, so the consumer got big cost-savings. Then these new mattress firms took their marketing budgets and went nuts with highly effective messaging for a younger crowd about how they had changed not just the shopping experience, but how they were changing sleep. Success!

    Back to hotels. Guests see past creative design. It is an important element that will give them feelings they want to feel when they walk in (relaxation, community, elegance… you name it), but that feeling is just one part of the experience. The problem is that for most hotels, lobby design or big windows have been defined long before and cannot be changed in the short term, and whatever they may be, they are just one part of the experience.

    The problems that can lead to true innovation are the ones we’ve become accustomed to as simply “part of the business.” EGroup notes that among the top ten guest complaints are cleanliness, timeliness (including check-in, check-out, and ancillary wait times), view, and room amenities.

    Also among them: bed type and comfort. A closer look at the average hotel’s bed-type fulfillment in the chart below shows the extent of the problem. At the peak hour of 3 p.m., out of nearly 350 arrivals, only about 225 bed-types can be fulfilled. Further, notice how bed-type fulfillment is higher in the morning (when guests shouldn’t really be arriving) to the apparent detriment of bed-type fulfillment during the highest check-in window.

    Pierre Boettner
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