During the latest episode of The Boardroom, the CEO of Corinthia Group, Simon Naudi, was unequivocal about what he thinks of the shift online.
“It’s certainly for the better,” he said. “It allows us to be so much more efficient.”
Speaking as part of a panel led by local telecommunications leader Epic CEO Tamás Bányai and Managing Director of DC Aviation Malta Stanley Bugeja on the topic of digital transformation, Mr Naudi expressed his belief that technological progress is good for business and good for people, as it allows us "more time to be human".
Taking the premise that one undisputed fact about the post-pandemic reality is that digital capabilities across the global business community will continue to play a central role, the latest episode of The Boardroom, hosted by Jo Caruana, sought to identify particular trends and developments as the future is constructed before our eyes.
Mr Naudi, who joined Corinthia in 1997 and for many years led the company’s international hotel and real estate acquisitions and developments, before being tasked with responsibility for the brand and hotel operations too in 2014; gave his insight on the effects of digitalisation in the hospitality sector.
“As a company owning, operating and developing hotels in various countries in Europe, as well as in the UK, Russia, the US and the Gulf, one of our key considerations for our headquarters’ continued presence in Malta is the connectivity of our island,” he said.
“Without solid, fast, reliable connectivity, we’d need to consider relocating,” said Mr. Naudi addressing the Epic CEO.
“The hotel industry has been entirely transformed by digitalisation, and the clever ones are those who recognised this early,” he continued.
“Everything but your actual stay has been digitalised. Look at marketing and reservations. Years ago, you would need to book your hotel six months, sometimes a year before. Nowadays you can book your hotel the day before.”
He pointed out that the way hotels work nowadays, as buildings, is entirely dependent on digitalisation, both in the back of house – the staff and how they manage the building – and also in how guests use the building itself.
“Nowadays we are talking about taking this one step further, by transferring control of the room to the customer through their phone. That is, a move away from ‘old fashioned’ switches.”
“And this transformation,” he continued, “is certainly for the better. It’s more efficient.”
Asked about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the digital shift within the hospitality industry, Mr Naudi notes that the phenomenon has been going on for the last 10 to 15 years.
“But, to focus on the pandemic, of course, our industry was the hardest hit. We went from running at a 100 miles per hour to an almost complete standstill.”
He explained that Corinthia entered the pandemic with a healthy balance sheet, ample reserves, and most importantly, a committed and engaged workforce.
“During the pandemic,” said Mr Naudi, “we ran our business as everyone else did – online.”
“Nowadays, I don’t need to get on the plane to go to Budapest to meet our hotel manager and come back, which before might have taken two days. That saves a lot of time and leaves a lot of time for other things.”
He describes his perspective on digitalisation as a process that does not make the work that once typified the business world obsolete. Rather, it makes it more efficient.
“So it’s a plus for business, not a minus.”
Asked about the impact of the digital shift on leisure travel, he replied, “clearly, you’re not going to take a Zoom call to see Paris, and as we’re seeing, the minute restrictions are lifted, people are getting on a plane to travel”.
Mr Naudi believes that the pandemic has accelerated thinking, not changed it.
“The key to preparing for the future,” he said, “is to be one step ahead, and if you can’t do that, be up-to-date on what is going on.”
He says he looks to his children, at the way they build relationships and consume information, and takes it as a given that these manners of being will be the norm in 10 years’ time.
“I’m an eternal optimist. I believe humans will get better, live longer, healthier lives. Digitalisation will accelerate the future that lies ahead of us – and will give us more time to be human.
“Young people are the future. If you want to be present in the future, just listen to them. Embrace the shifts that lie before you and take them to the next level.”