Travellers, guests and consumers, really do give a damn what a brand stands for. This reality was endorsed recently by Bill Walshe, the CEO (aka CPO) of the Viceroy Hotel Group during his first TED talk ‘A Roadmap of Pride’
Bill spoke of creating a sense of equality across the business and helping everyone see that they matter; of being the satnav of the organisation; of a resolute desire for every guest to feel warm, safe and nourished and of a personal tipping point that began his transition from Chief Executive Officer to Chief Pride Officer. At a time when these principals of leadership are as relevant in hospitality as they are in guiding a nation, the similarities don’t stop there.
A growing consciousness for depth, relevance and authenticity is not only reserved for services and products in the luxury hospitality sector (or for any other hospitality product for that matter) but also for governments, their policies and the culture through which they govern. Inequality dominates the headlines in Western cultures and the speed at which national governance is falling in and out of favour with the electorate (consider the recent election results in France and the UK), is as rapid as the acceleration of AI and its growing relevance in how lives are being lived.
The fundamental need of basic wellbeing across society is getting a louder voice. The gaps between public and private sector, environment, social, geopolitics, economics and technology are narrowing.
The spotlight on connective and empathic behaviour towards others, whether in the home, work places, schools, communities or within government policy, is gaining traction. There are several movements and studies that both demonstrate and highlight the impact to GDP and the positive effects that the pursuit of happiness and all of its derivatives have; from the contents of the World Happiness Report to UK based Action for Happiness , the founder Lord Richard Layard comments “Our top priority should be people’s overall happiness”.
We’re also seeing this entreaty captured by brands both disruptive and traditional. Airbnb continue to win loyalty and resonance through their culture, rhetoric and actions and Heineken kept it real and smartly topical with their recent ad #openyourworld – dubbed the antidote to the ad Pepsi withdrew. It was a ‘win’ for the brand and the perfectly timed relevance of the message. Some brands ‘do it right’ rather than ‘doing the right thing’, the former by the book, the latter, instinctive.
Doing the right thing
Two days after the Grenfell Tower fire in London, victims were not being housed quickly, it appeared that there were issues and who better to support than the hospitality industry? We emailed and tweeted Airbnb to ask for their help – they responded in minutes to say they were already in contact with officials; “we stand ready to support” wherever needed. We thanked them – their response; “That’s what we’re here for”. In retrospect, two things stood out about this 1) in the thought process of mobilising help (basic needs of shelter warmth and security) for the victims of the fire, spontaneous instinct was to contact Airbnb 2) they delivered; in reaction, reassurance and practical contribution. Whether your belief is that they are a company with the biggest heart imaginable or with the smartest PR department, the result is the same, a brand that acts with humility, empathy and heart. They do the right thing.
How can ‘wellbeing’ be the same in a five star hotel chain, as it is in everyday life for the most underprivileged in our society? Wellbeing begins somewhere, in the same way hospitality does. The fundamentals of shelter, warmth, security, nourishment and nurture is the universal baseline and currency for being well. Viceroy’s Walshe uses #Prideology as his anchor. What it captures is the glue, akin to Airbnb’s #weaccept and Heinekin’s #openyourworld that makes the Viceroy culture diffuse in a way that moves people. They approach from the top down but activate from the bottom up.
With acquisitions abound throughout the hospitality and wellbeing landscape it feels timely to ask whether more purposefully immersive wellbeing products are being balanced with lifeblood basics? Hyatt’s acquisition of Miraval, Accor buying a stake in Banyan Tree, Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods are all progressive moves. Alongside this there is much in-house development too; transformational travel programmes from Marriott, Hilton’s new fitness rooms, IHG’s EVEN brand, Sleep with Six Senses, Corinthia’s in-house neuroscientist … but, hospitality (or any other industry) doesn’t need to ostensibly serve wellbeing to make it happen.
Author, Anni Hood