There is a good reason why retailers have embraced the digital world like a long-lost mate – they sell lots of things online.

Retailers sell lots of these things online.

This has put them well ahead of the leisure and hospitality sector, which has not exactly whole-heartedly embraced the digital revolution. But there are signs that this is changing.

InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) recently recruited two executives on six-figure salaries into digital-related positions. This undoubtedly shows there is growing recognition that hotels are taking increasing amounts of orders online.

But I also feel there is an acknowledgment by such groups that other digital activities, such as social media, also have a serious role to play. It’s absolutely vital that organisations know what people are saying about them.

Just ask TV Dragon Duncan Bannatyne, whose upmarket hotel Charlton House is having a very public spat with TripAdvisor over lousy reviews. The bottom line is that 5-Star hotels do get scathing reviews and the question is how should this be handled?

Duncan Bannatyne: don’t mess with me TripAdvisor.

Much of this is about the management of interactions with customers and the development of databases of these individuals, their behaviour and their preferences. To be honest much of the leisure and hospitality industry has been pretty bad at managing this process. The pub sector has been notably poor.

There’s an Australian company Impact Data that has been making fortunes down under for individual bar owners – by setting up their social media activities and creating customer databases.

It can be simple stuff like targeting people for Valentine’s night but it has proven to have a big impact. My guess is that 99.9% of the industry in the UK does nothing of the sort. And it’s losing out.

Customer insight strategy for leisure sector.

The good news is that these guys are now in the UK and working with big pub companies Punch Taverns and Enterprise Inns. But they admit to having found it unbelievably difficult in this country to convince people to drive revenues this way.

Nobody has been bothered to even ask for people’s emails when taking bookings, despite the benefits of this simple act being potentially enormous. Golf clubs are the laziest of the lot as they already have emails/mobile numbers (of their members) but they still fail to communicate with them.

IHG and the big pub companies have clearly bought into the fact that we can all be encouraged to buy something with a targeted communication. And this is why we are finding that there are increasing requirements from our clients for executives with digital skills.

Marketing heads now need to have a handle on this and either hire a digital specialist or in smaller organisations deal directly with it themselves. Things are genuinely changing – gradually.

Let’s hope that this addresses some of the bad practices in the marketplace. A candidate we know who was up for a digital role in a hotel business checked out his potential employers’ website but found he was unable to make a booking online for an offer that was clearly advertised as being available.

This not only wrecks company’s brand values but in this case it was a sufficiently demoralising experience to put the guy off taking the job. Everything businesses do nowadays is effectively a shop window so leisure companies and retailers alike must embrace this digital thing, it’s not going away.

Nigel Sapsed is director of executive search specialist Sapsed Stevens