Gustavo Egusquiza is " a leading figure in the gastronomic tourism press in Spain and the international hotel industry too." In addition to being the author of the book "Exclusive Spain" a magical tour of dream hotels, this journalist was recognized by Forbes magazine as one of the world's leading luxury tourism experts. STAY spoke with Egusquiza to analyze the future of the hotel industry and the concept of digitization in 2022.
How many nights a year do you stay in hotels around the world?
Egusquiza: It depends. But I would tell you between 150 and 200 nights a year in different hotels.
When it comes to hotels, what does the luxury concept mean to you?
Egusquiza: A commitment to exclusivity, privacy, and respect for the guest's time. Privacy is a form of exclusivity, it is vital in the high-end hospitality industry. And of course it is essential to reduce waiting times. As a hotel critic, I find it crucial that the customers’ requests are handled on time. I would also like to highlight the use of technology and imagination to reduce queues. Hotels at the forefront need to anticipate future needs, it is something that I value very much, an area in which the best hotels stand out. Again: to achieve this, technology is key. In addition, departmental agility and good communication are important.
As a guest and critic, I can notice when a hotel is working well from minute 0. In addition to staff training, the long-term approach to projects is crucial. In addition to the training of hotel employees, technology-based projects also require time to yield results. It is a mistake not to understand that a project pays off in the long term. There is a need for the industry to invest in training, communication, and technology. There hasn't been as much done in Spain as the market allows, but the mentality is gradually changing.
What has been your best hotel experience? Would you dare to highlight three hotels above the rest? In order to give an outstanding rating to a hotel, what criteria do you use?
Egusquiza: I have many and very diverse good experiences. It is impossible to highlight just 3. In general, an outstanding rating is based on the human experience. Rather than considering the best hotel in terms of materialistic aspects, it's more about how the hotel and its staff make you feel. Hence, staff training and personalized attention are very important in order to stand out. My experiences with the best hotels in the world have taught me that impersonal service or forced service is immediately noticeable.
To what extent does digitization help the staff to focus on the guests, a key factor in the luxury sector and in hotels in general?
Egusquiza: When used properly, technology can bring people together. Providing you have a good team capable of relying on this technology, these revolutionary solutions will make a difference. Once you invest in your staff, you should ensure that they remain in your hotel because they are a valuable asset to your strategy. It's this that makes all the difference. There have been many times when I have stayed at a five-star hotel and wondered, 'Where have I been?' And it is because they have a huge lack of communication, it is instantly noticeable and that translates into a cold experience.
The past two years have been turbulent... Have you noticed how the most elite hotels have become more technologically advanced?
Egusquiza: Yes, I have perceived it. In Spain, I think they've stepped up but sometimes with the wrong approach. There is no long-term or medium-term planning. As with the word sustainability, it is now unavoidable. But often, those who make decisions don't understand concepts and needs, so they put them on the table because it's trendy. To be better at it, you need to understand the concept and how to apply it. Therefore, foresight is essential. People in charge need to Identify potential problems and manage alternatives. In order to achieve this, it is important to plan long-term and to have a good marketing and communication team. Hoteliers must stay up-to-date on technological advancements.
With STAY, hotels can improve communication, digitize their service offerings, streamline operations, reduce queues, and increase revenue by utilizing multiple technological features. What are your thoughts on these types of functionalities?Egusquiza: That's fantastic. Anything that helps improve the service is fantastic. I have used this hybrid system in the past. In hybrid, I mean that you can send a message to the reception and the reception staff will take care of your question or complaint as soon as they receive it. The training and team strategy are essential for this to happen... By combining technology and a well-trained team, a hotel can improve its service and guest satisfaction dramatically.
In 2023, sustainability will be a must in the industry. According to Ramón Aragonés, the CEO of NH, the chain is saving 800 tons of paper annually. Is the entire industry aware of this change? Is it driven by social imperatives?
Egusquiza: There is no doubt that sustainability will play an increasingly important role in the industry. It is a social requirement. Particularly after COVID, when people began to feel more connected to nature and the environment. The statistics indicate that this is a social issue. The UN recently released a report: there are two regions that will be particularly affected by climate change: Antarctica and the Mediterranean, and notably southern Spain, which is our most tourist-friendly region. There will be frequent problems with water supply. Spain receives 80 million tourists a year, and I believe that these figures are unsustainable if we do not evolve our tourism in an imaginative way.
What is your opinion of the luxury hotel sector in Spain? Despite having a wide margin for improvement, you recently stated that it is well positioned.
Egusquiza: Despite Spain's privileged position, it still has a lot of room for improvement. Although there are countries I prefer to travel to more than Spain, our country has an unbeatable level of hospitality, with great efforts being made to improve the service and hotel options in major cities like Madrid.
Where do you think the Spanish hotel sector can improve? Both within and outside of our borders...
Egusquiza: It is essential to keep up with everything that has to do with technological innovation. To avoid being left behind, Spanish hotels must catch up. Something amazes me about Spanish hotels' decision-making teams. The hotel industry, in general, and especially the luxury sector in particular, is capable of spending 30 million euros on large buildings, and then haggling over marketing and technology. These are areas where you cannot skimp on resources. That affects your visibility, it affects your service, and I am very surprised by Spanish hotel teams in this regard.
Can you name a country that is leading the way in integrating technology into the hotel sector?
Egusquiza: Countries like the United States spend a lot of money on innovation and technology to improve and digitize the guest experience. Furthermore, there are more countries with similar approaches than the USA. Investing in your staff is also essential if you want your business to survive in the medium and long run. It is important that your employees are happy working for you. Through technology, you can serve more people, offer better service, and save money by reducing unnecessary costs, such as paper. This requires revitalized decision teams, since they are usually more open to these technological innovations that enhance the guest experience.