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One Hotel GM’s Vision for a Better, More Sustainable Tourism Industry

“From crisis comes opportunity.”

Over the past two years, Erwin R. Popov, General Manager of Hanoi Daewoo Hotel, has contemplated a number of systemic changes that would help create a brighter vision for the future of tourism. 

Covid-19: A Time for Reflection

The global pandemic offered a rare opportunity to re-think the norms of the tourism industry.

While many hotel operators and owners are waiting for the light at the end of the tunnel, Erwin, a people-first executive and a seasoned hotelier contends that rather than going back to what “worked” before the pandemic, now is the perfect opportunity to re-think the role of the hospitality industry and how to better serve its evolving customer base.

Systemic problems have long existed in the hospitality industry but were easy to ignore and difficult to address while hotels were full. Erwin, with over 30 years of international experience in luxury hotels and resorts, has spent his entire life learning and trying to improve himself and the companies for which he’s been employed. Such work earned Erwin Vietnam’s Leading General Manager at the 2022 Best Hotels and Resort Awards. But only with the downtime provided by the pandemic did he have an opportunity to contemplate and recognize that we sit atop the precipice of a cresting wave of change. 

It wasn’t an overnight epiphany, but within the dark valleys between lockdowns, Erwin identified a number of key points of improvement, all underpinned by one core idea - that his industry needs to shed some of its traditional views and values to provide the right experience for its customers.

The Star-Studded Race to the Bottom

A broken incentives system has culminated in a number of unsustainable trends.

Without the glimmering pre-pandemic occupancy rates to obscure cracks in the foundations of the hospitality industry, several issues began to stand out for Erwin.

He made his way up the ladder in this notoriously traditional industry, step-by-step, following a well-worn path laid out before him. But after three decades, he admits that he’s had to shed his conservative tendencies to adapt to a new generation of hotel guests that sees accommodation in a fundamentally different way than their predecessors, and most traditional upmarket brands in tourism and its supporting industries have yet to properly adjust to these new realities.

Many properties still revolve around an archaic “Star” system which exists, in theory, to standardize hotel class based on amenities. This may have been created in good faith back in 1958, but it’s created a system wherein properties must conform to a strict laundry list of features, many of which don’t always match up with customers’ desires - especially younger ones. “In the end, you end up with hotels providing amenities and services for the sake of star ratings and who cover these costs in higher room rates that they will inevitably need to discount later on.”

“Rather than racing to the bottom, we should be racing to the top.” Erwin believes that the price wars are a symptom of the “Star” rating system that incentivizes industry inefficiencies and stale offerings. Instead, hotels should offer heavy discounts to customers who would likely be happy to pay normal rates for the specific amenities they actually want. 

A Bright Future Ahead

Erwin says that fortunately, the industry only needs to listen to its customers to fix many of these issues. After all, they are becoming more conscious stakeholders in the tourism industry and are driven not only by issues like sustainability and environmental protection but also the desire to become a part of a place, rather than simply spectators. This means that from city hotels to island resorts, people are spending less time in their hotel rooms. And this is a good thing in Eriwn’s eyes because what makes a property unique is its ability to provide guests with a connection to local culture - not the size of its mini-fridge.

He says listening to what customers want is important and can be balanced with the advice of young people within one’s organization. Erwin feels that while those in senior and upper management positions bring experience to the table, “If there is to be systemic change, it must be led by the millennials and Gen Z.”

From crisis comes opportunity, and those like Erwin see the one before us is to use the pandemic as a rare chance to re-think the priorities of the hospitality industry and its relationship with its customers, associates and the natural environment. 

“Tourism, at its best, is when these all work in harmony.”