The revenge of the hand on the head

Olivier Babeau shook up the audience at the last Operator Forum by evoking the paradox of modern society: a greater availability of free time thanks to technology; free time that could be creative or recreational but which is largely taken away by the 'tyranny' of the same new technologies that monopolise the mind.

In his essay "Head, Hand, Heart", British journalist David Goodhard deplores the fact that Western society has given more value to the work of the Head, due to the predominance of technological tools, while the work of the Hand and the Heart, the service and care professions, have lost ground in terms of both dignity and recognition.

The parallel is easy to draw with our hospitality industry, which is based on human experience rather than technological performance, and which is struggling to be given its rightful place. Yet this does not prevent our sector from being a proclaimed spearhead of economic growth, with a stated ambition to increase its contribution to 10% of GDP...

This ambition would be nothing more than empty words without a solid, innovative offering and without the men and women to bring it to life. The strength of hospitality in the broadest sense of the term - accommodation and catering - lies precisely in its creativity. This diversity of offerings is not the result of sophisticated software, but the concrete expression of an experience that is felt or anticipated. It is based on a reality on the ground, where technology is once again playing its role as a tool.

And the playing field is immense. There can be no one-size-fits-all offer that satisfies the greatest number. The "one size fits all" concept may have made some marketers dream of volume, economies of scale and simple communication, but it didn't last.

Will hybrid concepts withstand the operational complexity of mixing genres and customers? Fine segmentation is making a comeback, spurred on by digital marketing, but even more so because the strength of hospitality and its creators lies in their ability to reach very different populations with tailored offerings.

The restaurant industry has long demonstrated the benefits of this diversity in fulfilling a single function: the need to eat. From street food to the menu du jour with 3 Macarons and all the new forms of snacking, fast food, themed, ethnic and bistronomic dining, the choice is wide and inventive.

Hospitality is unique in that it is quick to embrace fashions and interpret underlying trends in concrete terms. Design, technology and sustainable development all come together in new concepts, new brands and new formulas, sometimes to the point of surprise.

In the same way that ordinary people's" car is benefiting from advances in concept cars, hotel groups are experimenting with tomorrow's concepts in their "labs".

No segment has been left behind, and in recent years they have all undergone some form of internal revolution, with the emergence of new-generation hostels, limited service, boutique hotels and lifestyle hotels.

From the top of the palace pyramid to the more popular campsites and youth hostels, hospitality is constantly being reinvented. While ostentation is still the rule for some in Dubai, Hong Kong or Miami, the existential Zen experience takes over in the jungles of Costa Rica or the desert of Wadi Rum.

Hospitality is universal in its vocation, but plural in its realisation.

But some people still need to take the risk and take the step forward, backed by bold investors. "Victory belongs to the most persistent" proclaimed Roland Garros, a phrase that resonates not only on the Philippe Chatrier court.

The 1st Novotel in Lesquin was no easy feat, just like the 1st Mama Shelter at Porte de Bagnolet, the Citizen M at Schiphol and the Generator in London and Berlin. Boldness and tenacity are the keys to success when you are convinced of the merits of your proposal.

It's based on breathing in the zeitgeist, projecting weak signals and working with visionary investors. France is not outdone, nor is it lacking in imagination... but it is not alone.

If we want to stay at the forefront, we need to lift our heads off the handlebars, share our convictions, observe developments and measure progress, as we invite you to do on a regular basis... Our country has - had - too much of a tendency to favour reflection over action. It's time to give the hand the same consideration as the head. In our businesses, we can't create value without perfect execution, which is still the best benchmark for service quality. ChatGPT cannot replace it.


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