When an Inspector Calls - Innovation and Technology

Is innovation limited to market disrupters or can every hotel harness the power of innovation, blue sky thinking and a model of continuous improvement? Deborah Heather, Director of Quality in Tourism reflects on a trip to Jersey and considers how innovation and imagination can streamline your business. Read more on Hotel Owner.

When you define the word innovation, most people instantly focus on things being new; new ideas, boundary breaking techniques, market disruption and cutting-edge technology are usually part of the description. But what about innovation on a smaller scale – is there a way to harness the power of imagination and innovation for the good of your whole business and what can we learn from those who do?

On an island the size of Jersey, the employment market is somewhat different to what you and I are used to in the UK, in that there is a limited population and a mandate to employ locally first. The island has a policy of work permitting which restricts who is employed and why, and businesses must initially advertise all jobs to be filled by a permit-free candidate i.e. a Jersey resident, before being allowed to advertise beyond the island shores to a candidate requiring a permit. What’s more, in a bid to minimise pressure on the local public system, permits are limited and businesses must minimise the number of permitted employees that they recruit.

As you might expect this creates an unprecedented and unusual challenge for local hotels and hospitality businesses, one that I ponder is not unlike that which we are starting to experience as Brexit puts pressure on the UK employment market. How can we provide an exemplary hospitality service built largely on human interaction, without enough people to fill the roles? It’s here where one business has excelled, using imagination and innovation to defy the norms, tackling their recruitment challenge without undermining the guest experience.

Enter Les Ormes, a rather spectacular blended hospitality offering which caters to 70% guests and 30% locals. The business was originally a farm, left in trust as assets to support children of the Island, becoming established from the 1960s onwards as a sports, leisure and golf facility for the island. They added self-catering facilities 11 years ago and now have space to accommodate 300 people in what can only be described as a blended hospitality offering. Using Center Parcs and the like as role models, Les Ormes set out to offer an activity based, self-catering centre, but has since combined the best of self-catering with the best of hotel expectations, adding room service, housekeeping and more ‘traditional’ hotel services into the self-catering guest offering.

For General Manager David Schofield, whose career spans stints with both DeVere and Brittania, investment in technology has been an essential innovation for the business to assure its future in a challenging employment market, at the same time enhancing the visitor experience. They are the first hospitality business I have seen to be entirely cashless – with little or no impact for their guests or bottom line – but more than that, they have systematically used critical thinking and technological adoption to overcome the business’ biggest challenges.

Hotels and businesses always have a receptionist right? That’s definitely the first point of guest interaction and the key to setting up the right expectations? Well apparently not. Les Ormes has systematically set about defining, measuring and analysing the guest journey and using this new-found knowledge to apply their work permits and their staff to the areas which have the biggest impact on the guest experience. Chefs, front of house staff and housekeeping have all been prioritised, while some surprisingly traditional but it turns out non-essential roles like a reception team have been phased out in favour of a technological solution. What’s more they’ve done all this without impacting on their reviews or reputation and few woulc question the quality of their operations.

For many, not being greeted at reception might feel alien or even callous, but as a recent visitor I can attest that this place is in no way diminished by the changes they have made, and if anything they have proven themselves as a market-leader in guest experience. Naturally, the solution hasn’t been quick and easy and has taken months and over £100,000 of CapEx investment to pull it off, but it clearly demonstrates how innovation in business can offer process and financial efficiencies that many would deem impossible or even unnecessary. What’s more, I believe that the Les Ormes’ approach could very well be the blueprint for the future of our industry; one where human resource is scarce but guest expectations are growing.

The Les Ormes business model is a fascinating one. Outside of their tour operator relationships, 90% of all bookings are made online, both for the overnight stays and the sporting facilities. The £100k investment has helped Les Ormes create a fantastic system that manages the whole site, supports seasonal and dynamic pricing, offers processing efficiencies and delivers on guest expectations. What’s more, they’ve used the system to maximise team productivity, everything from calculating optimum cleaning times for rooms based on guest flight times, to running a pre-book only system for the sports facilities to optimise people management.

It is this very innovation that makes me excited to see how businesses will adapt and develop as the market changes and I wonder whether Brexit will be a catalyst for an exciting, dynamic and fast-paced change for the better in the industry.

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