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The Medium Is The Message

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Posted: 29 Jan 2014 | 6:00 am

A crash back in time in our memory machine today takes us back to the 1960s and the groundbreaking work of Marshall McLuhan. His forward looking views on the effects of popular mass culture continue to be relevant to this day, over half a century later.

Little did readers of The Medium is the Message realize, that the speed and time he considered a vital component of opinion making would be transformed by modern technology in such a profound way. In the past, families gathered around a dinner table and gave thanks to a God which they imagined was installed in some heaven-bound paradise.

Today, social groups gather at tables with smartphones, and instead of giving thanks, they snap photos and upload them to Instagram, Facebook and Twitter before even sticking in a spoon. The angst of possibly damaging the digital imagination is huge. No one really cares how it tastes - the key point is to share the experience with the masses, and fast.

For marketing, mass communication is a sacred manta or object of desire but the entire concept of the "long tail" of the internet age has created entirely new customized niche offerings that can be targeted to segments, sexes, age group's or any other microcosmic demographic realty we can imagine. Too small or too big have taken on entirely new meanings.

Back at ground zero, the hotel industry remains at the bar, hanging out with the dinosaurs. The sector has, sadly, become a sheep-like entity of followers, rather than doers. In Asia, they have jumped into the back of the schoolroom and remain happy to simply go along for the ride. While Thailand's hotel owners complain of low room rates, quantity over quality and the growing power of wholesalers and online travel agencies (OTAs) hoteliers simply take the slap on one cheek and turn the other in morbid expectation of another to follow.

What has happened to the industry's ability to innovate and embrace change? All too often the blame game goes back to antiquated practices. Take the annual business plan, which actually started some six months before a year actually starts, and by the time you reach the end of the "year", eighteen months have passed. For god's sake! How much changes in just 24 hours, much less over 13,000 hours in that ill advised cycle?

New business strategies that can be launched, managed and targeted in the span of short term measurable metrics too often get bundled in to the "too hard" basket. Once business starts to slide, the hotel remains stuck - like a train headed down a tunnel to a head-on collision. The entire logic of long term business cycles needs to be thrown out the door and perhaps monthly, weekly or even daily business plans need to become the new norm.

Action or reaction? It seems the only time hotels can react to online media is when things go wrong. Be it a damning TripAdvisor comment or else a public relations debacle. Why it is that only crisis can spur action beyond the long term tunnel vision of hotels and not the ability to recreate your marketing each and every day?

What's even more astounding is the trend of hotels to outsource vital functions like social media or other new media avenues, they seem afraid to dedicate resources, or else consider the practice too arcane to embrace. Perhaps the 50-something general manager needs to send his twelve-year-old kids to handle this side of the business, as they are likely more turned into the new world order.

Is change too much to ask for some 50 years after McLuhan's prophetic insights? It all comes down to how you wish to traverse the new business universe. Are you content to be driven by a stranger, who may very well fall asleep at the wheel and crash the vehicle, or will you take charge of your own destiny with a brand new set of tools? Decisions, decisions... the clock is ticking, hotelman.

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