Hospitality v Hostility

by Colin Berkshire

As one who spends a lot of time in hotels each year, I have always wondered why the Internet is so poor. It’s frustrating to have a room in an expensive hotel and to not be able to do basic things, like check email, because of the slow speeds.

I have actually blamed the uninspired hotel rating companies for this problem, more than the hotels. After all, if the ratings companies measured the Internet speeds like they have metrics for other things then consumers would be able to make an informed decision. Hotels would then see a direct impact of poor and good speeds. Why the ratings companies like Trip Advisor have never thought to evaluate Internet speeds is a mystery.

This reminds me of Steve Jobs. He said that you cannot tell what customers want by asking them. I bet that if you asked 100 users of Trip Advisor what feature they would like added, few would think of Internet speed ratings. And, I bet that if that featu were added, most consumers would say it was one of the most important ways to evaluate a hotel by. Harvard would teach its students to survey customers. Steve Jobs would just have a temper tantrum, and then he would realize that many others have the same need. I guess there are no similarly passionate managers at Trip Advisor. Status quo is the way to go.

I do ponder whether LTE will change everything. LTE is the blindingly fast Internet available from your cellular companies. It’s fast enough to do whatever you need, from watching a movie to getting your email downloaded without the need for an intervening shower. With LTE, the dependency on hotel Internet may be less. Of course, LTE does cost $10 per GB of data, but not every hotel with poor Internet access is free.

This also brings up the interesting problem of managing a business in the tech sector. 20 years ago Internet at hotels was not a factor. Today, it is important for travelers and no hotel can survive without it. The travel ratings industry has lagged by a decade in seeing how important Internet is. And, before they figure it out, LTE may have made it irrelevant.

In the tech business it is necessary to evolve at speeds that are not glacial. Hotels need to add capacity in less than a decade. The hotel ratings companies need to learn how to evaluate this in less than a decade. But, somehow we seem to have no sense of urgency to evolve our businesses anymore.

People ask me why I admire Apple so much. There are many reasons. But mostly I admire them because they were so good in so many ways. When you think of big companies you don’t think of swift thinking and swift action. But Apple’s products are cutting edge and are progressive. Apple does not operate on a glacial timescale. And, if the world’s most valuable company has learned how to be cutting edge, then other companies should take this as a lesson.

Americans like to bash China a bit. The average American views the average Chinese as somebody working in a rice field. The reality in my experience is that China is very much like Apple. They make swift, accurate, purposeful decisions. They are not glacial in their thinking. Chinese government and Chinese businesses are nimble. They are beating America not on price but on logistics, management nimbleness, and on technology.

So what are we to do? We need to take a clue from Apple on how to be nimble.

Hotels should have great Internet access (it’s really cheap) and the hotel ratings businesses like Trip Advisor should evaluate Internet speeds. It shouldn’t take a decade to hear what customers need.

And, I am certain that in your businesses you also have those projects that in your heart you know customers would love, but for some reason you just don’t get around to doing them. Imagine that Steve Jobs was your customer (or your boss) and I bet you could get that customer-centric project done in a month.

It’s rather funny how hotel Internet, a travel ratings company, and Steve Jobs relate to every business so much. Let’s get America back to being competative. Do something.