David JM Orr, CEO, Resident Hotels, discusses the fundamental importance of reputation to the hotel sector, from guests to teams to investors.
Several decades ago I was “brought up” on the West of Scotland where you are instilled with the near biblical truth that reputation is the only thing you can take with you.
Reputation need not be an epitaph, it need not be retrospective, indeed it is uniquely a forward-looking measure and powerful for hotel and hospitality businesses. Your reputation creates anticipation and expectation amongst those who have yet to experience your hospitality, yet it comes with responsibility to respect your teams and your guests who have combined to illuminate it in the first place.
In September 2003, when we opened City Inn – Westminster, TripAdvisor was in its early days, and it was the first time I did a management response to a review. In those “early” days there was an industry-wide wariness and some doubt as to online reviews, but thankfully across so many platforms review assessment has become both ubiquitous and trusted.
In the British Isles it is great to see esteemed peers in hospitality leading the way in improving the appeal of hospitality as both a career and as an experience. When the world re-opens we can re-connect in some of the best regarded hospitality settings in the world and our reputation will be front and centre of the recovery.
For me, the ability to empirically measure reputational performance has meant that independent hotels or smaller hospitality brands can get the recognition they deserve. Those who embrace the truth that reputation is based on guest appreciation I believe are firmly on the right track; those who are overly persuaded by scale, distribution and presence are not. For example, the free text of the bilateral but visible communication in review responses in many ways articulates brand authenticity that cannot be conveyed through the controlled corporate prism or parroted powerpoint.
Increasingly forward-thinking investors rightly investigate the rich seam of data that really underpins the value of a brand or operation. Investors are very familiar with the differentiation around financial performance, but to know how and why it happens and if it will be sustainable, enquiry must extend to reputational evidence. My hope is that all of the feeders into reputation – whether ESG, guest appreciation, employer philosophy and culture, charity or philanthropy – will become key differentiators that highlight the better than average, not seek to average out the differentiated.
The pandemic has brought in heightened awareness and sensitivity as people walk across the threshold, with people making multiple judgments in an instant and it’s the same before they book. Reputation is crucial in people feeling safe and secure and deciding to put their trust in you, and judging you before the experience based on the judgement of others who have experienced.
It makes my heart sink to see two hotels I was very closely involved in that were in the Top 20 in London, now at 714 and 508 on TripAdvisor. It seems scarcely believable, but nevertheless it is true.
Resident Hotels reported a Net Promoter Score across the group of 84 per cent through the strange year that was 2020. This year we have been delighted for our Covent Garden hotel to share on occasion the TripAdvisor number one spot in London with the exceptional Hotel 41, which means we now have three hotels in the top 20 including Soho (13) and Victoria (8).
I think reputation is crucial from when you’re encouraging people to join a business, whether it’s a stepping stone on a career to go to something else, or whether it’s part of a chosen path. As an employer you want to be clearly engaged and open and supportive and make sure that guests are aware that you are. Historically there was a slightly more hierarchical approach to progress in our industry, but that’s just not going to wash any more. I love the idea that we can encourage talented people to be part of the business and if they move on to something you can be proud of your alumni when they leave to do something else really well, because you’ve hopefully helped them on their way. Post-Covid, post-Brexit, it’s going to be even more relevant to be able to present yourself as a really good place to work.
I’m not suggesting that we’ve got a monopoly on reputation. Clearly, there’s a lot of extremely good hospitality businesses there.
We’re very lucky, we’ve got some really super people who stayed right through the pandemic and for any alumni they are forever appreciated. Clearly, a lot of the problems that are manifesting themselves now in terms of labour shortages have actually been happening over an extended period and flagged as such. Even with organised spokespeople in UKHospitality we don’t have much geopolitical influence, so what we do on a micro level becomes really important. A huge part of this is having people happy to be part of hospitality. People happy in their work, as well as happy guests or customers. Look after our reputation in considering everything we do and we will be on the right lines.