Phocuswright 2023 Europe hotel leadership panel Hotel experts on staffing issues, AI and “selling happiness”By Derek Catron | July 14, 2023Share Phocuswright Europe 2023 conversation focuses on challenges and new opportunities facing owners and operators. Editor's note: This story first appeared on Hotel Investment Today sister publication, Phocuswire.A topic of hotel leadership in complex times could turn a conversation in any number of directions: climate change, inflation, technological changes.Yet for the experts gathered at Phocuswright Europe 2023 in Barcelona last month, reaching a consensus on problems facing hospitality proved easy.“For me, the biggest challenge we are having is on talent,” said Javier Águila, group president for Europe, Africa and the Middle East at Hyatt Hotels Corp. “We see a very strong demand. … We can cope on the inflation. But on the talent shortage, I think it’s one of the most significant challenges.“For us, the way to work on that is to try to sell – what I believe is true – that this is a very special industry,” he added. “I think we as an industry have a challenge to convince [new employees] that this is a long-term industry, a fantastic industry – for me, the best industry in the world – and we deliver experiences to our customers.”Fellow panelist Raúl González, CEO for Europe, Africa and the Middle East at Barceló Hotel Group, said that while he sees some of the same challenges, he remains optimistic.“We are in a sector that the people want to travel more than ever before. I think the trends for the future are quite positive,” he said. “I think the more difficult point will be the talent, the people. With the right people, we have all the tools [to do the job well].”Led by moderator Giancarlo Carniani, market analyst for Italy at Phocuswright, the discussion also covered the effects of real estate prices and higher interest rates on hospitality and the appetite for investment in hotels.When the conversation turned to overtourism, both men pointed to places where short-term rentals don’t face the same strict regulations placed on hotels.“It’s been very clear that alternative accommodation has brought a lot of the volume that is not properly regulated,” Águila said. “One of the things we’ve been loving as an industry is that the same level of control and regulation and health and safety that we do as hoteliers that also needs to be equivalent [in rentals].”“What we’re doing as an industry is moving towards high-end experience, luxury – not quantity but quality,” he added. “At the end of the day, I think this is where … we want to drive the industry. It’s not about quantity, it’s about quality.”González said alternative accommodation can be good for the market when it works within the same rules as hotels.“I think the market is growing for everybody. The future for the industry is to create a particular experience,” he said, contrasting that with simply selling rooms like a commodity.“I want to sell happiness,” he said in elaborating on his experiences-first approach. “Happiness is much more ambitious, much more high level, and it’s completely different from alternative accommodation.”Of course, the conversation eventually turned to artificial intelligence and how it would affect hospitality in Europe.“We’re already doing it,” Águila said, mentioning a recent website integration to pull in data faster and digital campaigns to optimize operating hours. “The reality is, as with any technological breakthrough, we embrace that, we see how we can integrate it and maximize it, especially if it has to do with improving processes, improving our knowledge of the customer and basically allowing us to deliver the experience in a better way.”González spoke of the potential for AI, especially when paired with data that could increase levels of personalization for travelers. He compared his views on AI to how he felt when he first heard of the potential for smartphones.“I remember many years ago when I was in an event and the people were talking about mobile. I thought, mobile, I think it’s important. You can talk. It doesn’t matter where you are,” he recalled. “But I never expected how many things we are doing with the mobile now. Our life is in the mobile. Now, I think the AI will be a more drastic change in our lives. I think that everything will change.”To see the full discussion, watch the video here.