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Brodies and The Hotel Management Company were delighted to host an industry networking event on Thursday 26 April, at the centre of which was a panel discussion with Peter Crome, The Carnegie Club at Skibo Castle; Caroline Gregory, The Lovat Hotel Loch Ness; Shirley Mowat, The Dunstane Houses and Ricky Kapoor, The Edinburgh Collection.

The topic of discussion – Opportunities and Challenges for the Independent Hotelier to 2020– resulted in a lively debate and a number of key themes emerged.

Attracting and retaining staff and the potential impact of Brexit

The panel was divided along geographical lines. Caroline and Peter were positive about the labour market in the Highlands with lots of applicants for posts from our European cousins. The Edinburgh hoteliers thought it was trickier to fill positions, as the available staff are more transient, which leads to higher turnover.  The panel and the audience were firmly of the belief that investing in staff training and career development and encouraging young people into the profession, is key to the success of the industry as a whole. On the topic of Brexit, there was agreement that it is not to be feared and any immediate recruitment issues are nothing new.

Harnessing the power of technology

It was acknowledged that technology presents both opportunities and threats for the sector. Positive examples of independent hotels embracing technology were highlighted, such as using hotel dedicated phones and apps to provide local area information to improve guest’s travel experience. The point was made that while technology is important it needs to be tailored to the demographic of the guest and the experience they are looking for. Sometimes they are coming to get away from technology! The impact of review sites was mentioned and how hotels should embrace these with a positive attitude, appreciating the dialogue with customers.

Facing the challenge of market disruptors

Inevitably, there was a lot of discussion about the growth of Airbnb and its effect on the market. While there has been substantial growth in the last few years, this is from a low base and in overall terms is still relatively insignificant. There was a view that Airbnb is helping to drive quality, with hotels having to improve to compete. The differentiating factor between Airbnb and hotels is the experience and service that hotels can offer. Hoteliers need to focus on building on this advantage and show that a hotel stay is more than just a bed for the night. Accommodation offerings are becoming more blended, with hotels now going on Airbnb, and hotels should see the platform as another route to market.

In summary, the outlook was positive. Brexit produced a boon in 2017 as a result of the weak pound which resulted in increased visitor numbers from abroad and more staycations.  The panel commented that, in contrast, the first quarter for 2018 has been tough, but bookings are strengthening for the rest of the year and the panellists expected another very strong year.  The sector can look ahead to the next few years with optimism.

Hospitality contributes greatly to the Scottish economy and it is clear from our panellists and guests that it is in good hands. With individuals and organisations who are innovative and passionate, the Scottish hotel sector will be able to take on the opportunities and challenges which present themselves and turn these to their best advantage.

If you would like to find out more about any of the issues discussed, please get in touch with our hotel sector specialists Kevin McGlone and Euan Tripp.

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