This Quora question here finally provided me an outlet to sum up all my tired cliches. The best in this business are constantly innovating, but here’s why the overall industry is a conservative bunch of bores. This may clue all you tech and app people in to why we are so hard to reach, and even if you do find access to the innovator or connected “in the know” guy at any hospitality company, the difference between “getting it” and implementation is day and night… especially from a corporate HQ to property level.  Getting acceptance at corporate is easy.  Getting the idea distributed and implemented is a different story.

So, why don’t hotels innovate more?

Historically, we’re not a money business, and we’re certainly not a tech business. The famous saying is “Hotels aren’t pioneers, because pioneers were shot in the back with arrows.” We couldn’t afford to make capital cost mistakes with new fangled design, tech, etc. If you have ever let an architect make a daring and new “tech” design decision, and then during your opening week have to rip an entire HVAC system from a brand new hotel because it doesn’t work, you learn VERY QUICKLY not to take risks on innovating something if there is a potential failure rate. Within the last couple years, radiant flooring had been this issue – architects and owners designing from residential preference versus the complexity of commercial application. It’s a problem, and it makes hotelier like me seem boring. But the simple fact is this:

Do you want to innovate and potentially fail spectacularly, or do you want to be boring and conservative and have an operating hotel?

It’s not always *our* money to take those risks with, either… and a good ownership or management group will protect the assets. When we tried to pioneer infrastructural solutions ranging from phones or internet, we got burned by trusting salesman whose interest is to sell, and not worried about back end support. So we lost a lot of money trying to pioneer systems like that. Sales people will always sell products that their operational department can’t support – like marketing writing checks that ops can’t cash.

What we quickly learned is that we can have a hospital or dormitory spend their own capital (and public vs private) funds, learning from their errors…

Then we steal the way they built out infrastructure at infinitely lower costs because you don’t have the learning curve or associated costs with capital spending failures.

This is true of phones, which I talk about here:
The Story of the In-Room Phone, & the future of on property telephony

and even reaches something seemingly prosaic and simple, like in room coffee, which I talk about here: A coffee laden ramble about… hotel coffee. What does your coffee program, or lack of it, say about your hotel brand?

You will note the similar “pioneer” themes – and that we become conservative in the face of multi-layered complexities in regards to execution.

Basically, hotels aren’t a money business. They are about hospitality, and part of being hospitable means having things that work properly. Early adopters suffer everything from outages to glitches, and more – and it isn’t in the best interest of a hotel to spend liberal amounts of capital on things with high rates of failure. This is why you can easily see a trend of about 10 years behind the times for everything…. not just phones or wireless infrastructure, but even with websites and SEO, as well.

The sea change moment for hospitality might have been SEO – many hotels got so burned by their own unawareness that they vowed never to be left in the dust again. I still know some hotels that can’t be found in their market. That’s why the savvier of hospitality groups are *VERY* on top of social media, and most operators look at it as a phone, instead of the billboard. Marketing is trying to lead us astray, but in the end it will become an operator’s real time brand management and guest expectation / service tool.

Anyways, that basically sums it up:

Hotels aren’t innovators simply because we aren’t innovative. We rather be boring and actually work, than innovative and broken.

Why don’t we innovate? Because that, historically, hasn’t been our job, and we can’t afford to.

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