It's always a challenge to identify specific moments in a past year that had oversized impact on the industry. Every professional has an area of expertise, and it can sometimes be hard to step back and see the specific impact of a moment on wider industry trends.
The moments I have selected for both the past year and the year ahead are inherently personal while also marking a shift in the perception within the industry.
I see each of these moments as important exactly because they impart some structural change to the industry in both the way it sees itself and the operational solutions it must deliver to the customer.
Together, my selections are driven by a continued emphasis on the guest experience in travel - it's one of the things that we do best, and we should continue to pride ourselves on how deeply we consider the guest experience.
After all, it's how we make money - and why we should start seeing ourselves as participants less in the travel industry and more in the broader hospitality industry. It's more in line with our values, and facilitates the continued success of travel in the decades to come.
Landmark moment of 2014: Priceline buys OpenTable in hospitality technology play
The biggest shift for me in 2014 was with Priceline buying OpenTable. As a journalist/restaurateur, the moment combined two of my greatest passions, while also signifying that restaurants have finally found a home in travel.
This acquisition marked a watershed moment particularly because restaurants have long been technology- and progress-averse. Only in the past year has the food service industry truly embraced mobile technology and begun to build customer-centric solutions that enhance the overall experience while boosting the bottom line.
This is essential in a grueling, low-margin industry; competition is fierce, dollars are scarce, and customer experience is paramount to profitability.
One of the most prolific and admired restaurateurs, Danny Meyer of Union Square Hospitality, was also an investor in OpenTable. Meyer learned early on how technology could enhance his organizational memory, and ensure a seamless, consistent experience for all types of guests. This mentality has finally trickled down into other areas of food, and a conservative industry is now embracing change - and by falling into the more structured and advanced travel industry, restaurants will benefit enormously.
Restaurants thrive on a mix of locals and visitors; oftentimes, out-of-towners simply want to go where the locals love to eat. Other times, a restaurant appeals to both demographics, as a duel local/tourist strategy is key way to survive in the long-term. Travel understands this mix, and also understands how to relentlessly focus on both technology and how it can be used to improve the guest experience.
On the flip side, while restaurants found a home in travel, travel found a home in hospitality. This is where my moment takes a bit of a leap - ultimately for me, we're talking about hospitality here and not travel.
In the bigger picture reality, this is the hospitality industry. It's all finally coming together to indicate not a status of moving from A to B on vacation but a deeper, more engaged look at why people spend money on things like restaurants, hotels, plane tickets, etc.
People want to be entertained, sure, but they also crave a face-to-face connection imbued with richer meaning and memorable context. That's hospitality, not just travel and not just food - and it's the industry that we've all finally realized that we share.
This collective push towards hospitality will mean a better, more professional industry that consistently delivers exceptional experiences and will continue to enjoy healthy growth for years to come as more people pursue and prioritize experiences over physical goods.
For a deep dive into my thoughts on the Priceline/OpenTable deal, click here.
Future landmark moment of 2015: The seamless hotel experience finally arrives
Frequent travelers will rejoice in 2015 as keyless entry expands at hotels internationally.
This means the elimination of the dreaded moment of returning to a hotel room after a long day - and night - of conference activities, only to discover that the magnetic strip has lost its encryption; even though it was clearly separated from other credit cards and mobile phone all day, the lock won't read the card and the door won't open. That scenario is pretty much the worst thing that can happen during a hotel stay, decreasing satisfaction while affecting productivity due to frustration and fatigue.
The other top pain point for hotel guests is having to wait thirty minutes at the front desk just to check in. So the combination of mobile check-in and keyless entry is a powerful one that is truly exciting for 2015.
Brands such as Starwood and Hilton are already testing full-hotel deployments of the technology, and startups such as CheckMate and OpenKey are fervently testing technologies, signing hotels and deploying keyless entry worldwide.
This is an exciting moment for the hotel guest, as two of the biggest pain points will be immediately removed.
The other piece is the potential upside service improvements as the front desk is freed up to manage other tasks. This is why keyless entry is a pivotal moment, as hotels are soon embarking on a Great Shuffle thanks to this new technology. A true restructuring of how hotels operate and interact with guests is underway, and it's a significant shift that must not be taken lightly by either hotels or guests.
Hotels must consider how they can enhance service with these extra hours rather than cut staff. If staff is cut, service satisfaction may remain flat, or drop, so it's important to consider how newly-idle staff can be successfully deployed. Or cut staff and increase amenities - basically, anything to continue to improve the overall guest experience. Guests will already be in better moods with keyless entry, so there is great potential to further enhance their experience for great strides in overall guest satisfaction.
In addition, the reliance on the mobile phone unlocks (pun intended) new data and touchpoints with the customer. The smartphone can be the heart of the in-room experience, connecting the guest to all the in-room features (such as drapes, TV, etc), in addition to other on-property amenities.
The connected hotel begins with the smartphone, and now the guest has a compelling reason to make that shift along with hotels. The entire landscape and focus shifts to how the hotel interacts with the guest through the smartphone, and not just face-to-face.
Given the enormity of the changes here, I see this shift to a seamless hotel experience driven by mobile as one of the most pivotal moments of 2015.
NB: Cutlery image courtesy Shutterstock.