When an inspector calls - the silver pound and what it means for your business

With 1 in 5 people over the age of 65 and a prediction that this will reach 1 in 4 by 2037, the ageing population is a pressing and immediate challenge for hoteliers, but more than three quarters of businesses say that they won’t be making adaptations for the older generation, potentially missing out on a share of the £37billion pie. Deborah Heather, Director of Quality in Tourism talks Baby Boomers, the silver pound and what they mean for your hospitality business.

According to the Office for National Statistics, the UK population is the biggest it has ever been, and is on trend to keep growing, reaching a predicted 73 million by 2041. Births are now outnumbering deaths and immigration is exceeding emigration, so as well as expanding your potential guest pool, now is a time when the silver pound is gaining power, and providing new opportunities and challenges for the hospitality, leisure & tourism sector. To put this in perspective, in 1997, one in six people were aged over 65, increasing to one in five by 2017, and projected to reach one in four by 2037. That’s the equivalent of the population of London reaching their mid-sixty’s in the next decade.

Stereotypically and statistically speaking, the ageing population has time, money and a desire to continue ‘enjoying life’s pleasures’, which makes it an opportune market for hotels, without many of the traditional traveller limitations. Flexibility, mid-week stays and longer breaks are all presented opportunities from the boomer group, offering a complement to many hotels’ traditional guest patterns. Financially speaking, Barclays Bank say that the over 65s contribute £37billion to the UK’s Hospitality and Leisure sector, that’s more than a third more than the average guest will contribute. What’s more, anecdotal market evidence suggests this age group is more loyal, with plenty of repeat visits, and is far more likely to do your marketing for you with word of mouth referrals. Yet despite the size and scope of this market, surprisingly, more than three quarters of businesses say they have no intention of making any changes or enhancements to cater for the ageing guest. Is that the right decision? Possibly not and one that I think many will live to regret in the coming years.

So how do you cater for an ageing clientele?

Unlike other guest categories, ‘ageing’ is not in and of itself the issue, but rather the challenges associated with ageing such as arthritis, mobility challenges, changes to sight and hearing etc. There are a number of factors that should be considered as part of your business, that can and will impact the ageing population; your information, the physicality of your business and the attitude of you and your team are all core factors. Naturally, investment does need to be realistic and manageable, but it can also be handled in a business-first way that improves the all-round guest experience and happens to encompass an ageing population.

Turning to industry, there are many things that can be adapted in order to improve the guest experience for someone that fits into the ‘ageing’ category, and Accor Hotels and Premier Inn are very good examples of market leaders that have taken steps to make relevant changes. Accor in particular are working to remove the divide between ‘accessible’ rooms and ‘standard’ rooms within their properties, making them suitable and attractive for all. I like this approach because rather than focussing or stereotyping based on age, Accor is taking a guest-first approach, without stigmatising based on age; the guest won’t have to advise or choose, but will find rooms already appropriate for their stay.

So, what should you be addressing?

We’ve all heard stories of those individuals who’ve defied age and don’t look or act a day over 25, while others are affected by the early onset of debilitating conditions affecting mobility for example, but it is not ours to judge, stereotype or predict what a guest does or doesn’t need. Instead, it is essential to find solutions for all and avoid the potential pitfall of being amazing for those in a wheelchair, but not for those who are partially-sighted. Work on the basis of assuming nothing or considering everything and make your adaptations accordingly.

Mobility

Mobility can and is a big issue for many and it’s certainly not restricted to our older peers, however it also isn’t as simple as making adaptations for a wheelchair user or those walking with a stick for example. Many guests, old or otherwise, struggle with inappropriate or ill thought through solutions we might easily overlook; for example, fire doors are heavy, and even without falling into the ageing or limited mobility categories, small door handles on a heavy door have made it hard for me to open a door or two in my time. Now think of those who do have a challenge and consider what small changes you can make. Some suggestions:

  • Look at bed height; too low and people can struggle to get down onto or up out of bed. The same applies to seating and room furniture where low heights and soft furnishings can cause unnecessary struggles, and to sink, mirror, worktop and desk heights.  What can be adjustable, or what alternative options are there?   
  • Consider room location and access; ask a guest their preferences and ensure they have flexibility on location – near the lift or away from noisy thoroughfares can make a huge difference without any investment required.
  • Could you offer or include sleep and wake aids? Music facilities, Dodow, and Dreem bands have all proven effective for sleep and are a low-cost investment, meanwhile sensory alarm clocks with smells and gradual light or sound increases can offer a pleasant awakening for those not in a rush.
  • Consider room controls, set-up and locations. Things like temperature control and access to fresh air are often essential, meanwhile light switches being close to the bed, or having tech which enables guests to easily adjust and use items such as curtains, lights or audio equipment are great. TV mounts which allow you to tilt the screens offer better viewing, while adjustable shower heads and a grab rail nearby are quick, easy and appreciated improvements.  Opt for designer and functional; I’ve seen some great fittings recently where the towel rail doubled as a grab rail without looking clunky or clinical. Overlooked by those who don’t need it, but hugely appreciated by those who do! At the very least, there are some companies who supply temporary fixtures and fittings for those who need them, but if you can make them a permanent fit, so much the better! At the same time, think about the positioning of things for example your toilet roll holder; it’s not easy for everyone to reach behind them and there’s often a simple alternative.

You must of course also adhere to your regulatory requirements for accessibility, including ramps and toilet accessibility for example, much of which will also support your silver pound guests.

Hearing

Being hard of hearing is commonly but not exclusively an ageing population challenge and there’s much that can be quickly and easily installed to improve your accessibility. Installing a hearing loop in key locations can improve the function of hearing aids and the experience of their users, meanwhile providing Bluetooth headphones for your entertainments systems and conference facilities can discreetly improve the guest experience. Even more importantly, for those who are completely deaf, it is worth considering additional systems including flashing emergency alarms, or having a protocol to ensure deaf guest safety during an emergency.

Visibility and Eyesight

Your guests might fall into two categories; those who have eyesight issues including being near, far or partially-sighted, and those who have stability issues which cause them to be more cautious and desire good visibility in any given area. Night lights that don’t startle but give guidance to in-room locations such as the bathroom in the middle of the night are useful to either type of guest, as are similar facilities outside the room to lifts for example.

Next, you need to consider your guest information and experience; menus, room guest information, signage and website – is the font clear, is it an appropriate size and is the area suited for reading, with good lighting? I’ve even been to one hotel where basic reading glasses were made available with the menu and I saw several people take up the offer.

Finally, you need to consider colour and contrast in your décor, but this doesn’t need to be garish or obvious. A lot of people mistakenly think that visibility safety is all about neon signage and garish safety stripes when in reality, colour differentiation is more important and can be done without compromising décor. Making doors significantly lighter or darker in colour than the surrounding walls will immediately highlight them, meanwhile runners at the edges of carpets help people stay on track and away from the walls. Carpet zoning is a great way to highlight changes in area e.g. directions to the lift from reception and all can be subtle with not a vinyl strip in sight.

You and your staff

I appreciate the list above feels endless and it would be easy to spend thousands putting in solutions that benefit only a handful of guests, particularly when those guests are not all the same with the same needs. Much of it therefore comes down to your team, your attitude and your desire to be inclusive. What’s more, the same techniques and training can be used to benefit all guests, not just those who fall into the ‘ageing’ category.

Consider what your attitude is now and what you want your attitude and culture to be always. Are your team aware and compassionate to guests with different needs and able to carry out their normal tasks without making anyone feel inferior, whilst being light hearted and kind. There’s much that separates average and excellent customer service and sometimes it comes down to considering what you want a guest to feel and then working out how every guest will be made to feel that way regardless of their circumstances. A WelcomeAll training course will cover all these aspects and more.

Next, you need to think about your emergency care plan. You are required by law to have an emergency plan in place and to ensure your guest safety, but have you ever tested it for someone who is entirely deaf? Or who has mobility issues and cannot use the lift in an emergency. Have you worked out what to do and more importantly do your team know what to do?

In summary

Ageing is not in itself something which needs adaptations made, but with ageing comes challenges that might be new to your hotel. A full occupancy share of the £37billion market sounds pretty tempting and can be achieved with limited resource and facility changes. Ultimately, what you need to consider is whether you have made every effort, within reason, to make all your facilities and offering available to the ageing population. For example, do you have a process for a guest that’s hard of hearing to receive a wake-up call or do you have a process for a guest that’s arthritic with bad sight to use your fancy toiletries that might actually be impossible for them to open, never mind read which one is shampoo and which one is conditioner?

Quality in Tourism assess hundreds of accommodation providers globally. To find out more about their assessments, gradings and mystery shopping services, visit www.qualityintourism.com.

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