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"The Race is not always to the Swift”

By Conor Kenny

March 2011


Marathon running can teach us a thing or two about business. As a veteran of 8 events I often take inspiration from some succinct quotes that encourage conquering the classic distance. One favourite is “The race is not always to the swift but to those who keep on running” Business is no different, hospitality especially so.

The Government see hospitality as one potential saviour of a groaning economy. On its own, that is far too simplistic. One wave of a sound bite wand won’t transform anything. Success often lies on the far side of failure but sheer hard work creates success.

American marketer Seth Godin once wrote a compelling blog titled ‘Pivots for change’. It extolled the need to change but not just for the sake of change. His outstanding line reminds us to “keep the machines but change what they make” It’s a potent call and a useful guide.

The world has changed but so too the customer. A strategy that preceded the recession is already doomed to failure. A new compass needs to set a new destination and the mission must change to reflect the last few years. There is no such thing as “waiting for the tide to turn” that is simply the strategy of idolarity.

Booming economies fuel greed, sloth and laziness. It is easy to solve a problem with money, not so easy when the cupboard is bare. However, it is also the optimum time to invigorate, involve, refresh and change. It is a time to rebuild, reimagine and restore. Now there’s a word ‘restore’

When good times roll hospitality standards can drop. Great hospitality is about people, interaction and attitude. We have all seen collective standards fall and the problem emerged when the damage was done.

There is a distinct difference between building a business and making a sale. A business takes time. It needs to evolve, grow and be gently nurtured. A sale is instant, short term and exciting. A hotel must do the former but that demands fundamentals and fundamentals that are not sold as unique selling points.

Great marketing is about getting you noticed. USP’s that shout “Great people, Great service and Great food” are neither great, deliverable nor unique. Your ‘new’ USP’s need to reflect today, now and what’s in it for me. Those values, if the Government strategy is to fly, must simply tell me how your business will make my life easier or better.

A Government vision selecting hospitality as the way forward is, on its own, utterly meaningless. The hospitality industry is not the Government and vice versa. This means owners, managers and leaders need to reset their compass and paint a cheerful new horizon for their followers. It means returning to great hospitality tradition, values and focus. It means listening to your team, being there and encouraging. It means having a plan to reflect what your customer now wants and not what they once wanted. It means the future lies in your hands, not at the Cabinet Table.


In a previous article I likened the world of hospitality to a theatre. Here is what I said;

“A tourism business is like a theatre. Every night, when the lights go down, the show is over and another day is done. The next day, no matter what has gone before it, the show will have a new audience, often a first time audience, and today’s show must, at the very least, be better than the day before. The actors who will deliver the show are your people. If you do not invest in them in many ways, you will have an average show. After all, what is the point of a beautiful, comfortable and cosy theatre with great sets, great seats and great lighting if the guys on stage have no idea what they are doing?”


Finally, go check your vision. Go listen to your team. Go and reinvent what you do and remember John F. Kennedy’s remarks before they went to the moon. He said “We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon not because it is easy but because it is hard”

Go find your new moon. Bon Voyage.






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