(Evolving from a period of disrupting losses): All of us in the hospitality industry have to accept that the ongoing pandemic has significantly impacted social behaviour and brought about long-term changes in values, priorities, and beliefs.
With COVID-related challenges still looming large, we are experiencing a disrupting revolution in the way we live, work, and travel. And this is having a direct impact on our business.
As such, the industry needs to reconsider its offer and review its efficiency levels. We must recognise that nothing will be the same in the post-pandemic world – especially in areas where technology can influence the outcome.
After eight-to-nine years of non-stop growth, the pandemic has been catastrophic for all travel and tourism-related organisations. Somewhat foolishly, the industry was in a mode where growth year-after-year was taken for granted. Everyone has been hit hard.
It's now abundantly clear that our world and our industry will undoubtedly be very different when we emerge from this crisis. We may see vaccine passports, travel bubbles, pricey flights, strict controls/restrictions, new global safety/health management standards/protocols, etc., and automatically less international travel in the short-to-medium term. And let's not forget that there will be less disposable income for leisure travel in general.
So, yes, there are challenging times ahead, but negativity will achieve nothing.
The present disruption will not last forever, and on entering a new decade, we have to plan for the future and be prepared to respond to new industry trends and shifting consumer expectations.
We have to realign our priorities and fully recognise what we may have taken for granted in the past. We need to recalibrate our strategies and action plans, and, in some cases, reinforce company culture as well.
There's no doubt that confidence, technology, sustainability, security, and efficiency will each play a more significant role in the new normal.
While the core values of hospitality (care, comfort, generosity, privacy, and a willingness to help others) won't change much, the future of the industry will revolve around shifting consumer behaviour and expectations. The distinctive personality and competitive advantage of brands/organisations (based on continuous innovations and products) will be vitally important.
In all probability, generic or impersonal brands will struggle to survive in the future. Products and services must have a personality that connects to both existing and prospective customers. Every human and business interaction within the structure should reflect and embrace what the brand represents and what it stands for. The objective here is to achieve a brand personality and a market position recognised by all customers, colleagues, business partners, and even competitors.
The need to establish trust, overcome fear, and demonstrate safety, security, and duty of care will be essential for all in this demanding and caring business. Empathy with the consumer and 'emotional intelligence' will be key to providing excellent customer service and experience. Building trust with guests and delivering the personalised journeys they expect will be more critical than ever.
Hospitality organisations with a strong ethical and moral compass are expected to do better in the future than ordinary/mediocre ones. Leadership, creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurial drive will be the characteristics of organisations that will modify themselves and achieve personality and recognition.
What must the hotel industry do to respond to these challenges? How can organisations retain existing customers and acquire new ones? Who are these new customers? Are there any new potential revenue streams to tap into?
Strong leadership with a clear vision, supported by an aligned and efficient professional team, is imperative to respond to all these questions.
The human element in providing experiences will never go away in hospitality, and it should always come first. But one must also continually explore and be aware of new trends, new ways to travel, preferred destinations, new booking channels and platforms, and, amongst others, what new technology is available.
Accept that some trends can't be ignored, some are fleeting, and some will never disappear (such as OTAs, the sharing economy, social media, and others). Of course, you cannot please everyone, but do find your niche and own it to stay relevant.
One of our industry's biggest challenges is that many decision-makers are set in their ways of doing business and are not comfortable with new technology or trying anything new. Now is not the time for comfort zones nor procrastination. Now is the time to get real and take a good, hard look at your organisation's overall situation.
When implemented correctly, technology will make it much easier to personalise the guest experience, remember their preferences, and reduce operating costs. Its implementation should be part of the organisation's overall strategy, covering everything from rooms and revenue management, to online bookings, loyalty programme, cybersecurity, check-in and check-out processes, etc.
The introduction of robots for repetitive non-guest contact functions and processes, such as cleaning and sanitation, has to be explored. The use of VR-AR, CRM, video marketing, QR codes, facial recognition, chat services, apps, touchless technology, thermal sensors, and online training have proven to be useful and should be considered. And let's not forget the very basic of installing fibre-optic cables to offer seamless, high-speed WiFi throughout the entire property.
My personal TIP on technology; medium and large hospitality organizations should seriously explore and try to understand the potentials of what blockchain can offer the industry.
Smart Rooms continue to be a hot topic, with new and convenient technology including keyless entry, intelligent controls, wireless charging units, voice technology/recognition devices, smart mirrors/TVs, concierge video chat, and others. When implementing any of these innovations, though, remember that hotels cannot afford to compromise on the room product in terms of soundproofing, cleanliness/hygiene, and comfort.
High-tech air purifier HEPA-filters combined with non-exposed UV lighting systems are fast becoming a must.
The objective here is to make guests feel secure and comfortable. Start with making sure you always have top of the range bedding, and build from there.
Wellness on the rise
Perhaps one of the most relevant new trends is the rise of wellness travel to hotels, resorts, and destinations that provide mental and physical transformation and improved well-being.
Travellers have become much more health-conscious, and many are planning 'wellness sabbaticals' for their future holidays. Offering guests unique ways to stay active and healthy can make you stand out from the crowd. Get away from the generic offerings of the past that will not impress nor attract anyone. Start by making sure to offer some nutritious, wellness-focused dishes in your restaurants.
The rollout of vaccines worldwide signals the beginning of a hopeful chapter after a long time of restrictions. As soon as it is safe, many people will want to travel to new places searching for different experiences, which presents an opportunity for hotels.
Remember that, in addition to your 'bread and butter segments,' there are other opportunities/demographics out there. You have to look at all available markets – young, bleisure, domestic, wellness, long-stay, emerging markets with growing middle classes, etc. – and ultimately create attractive value-for-money packages to tap new sources of revenue.
Navigating these difficult times by making the right decisions, hotels can stay ahead of the game.
Remember that, even with a proliferation of hotel brands and market saturation, any offerings that elevate your brand above your competitor are a major win – and you will stand-out.
Another important TIP (and my favourite) – the industry should seriously consider making flexible check-in and check-out the standard as there is strong demand for it. This could be a clear competitive advantage for any organisation, irrespective of the size.
I hope we will have learnt through this pandemic and improved some of the practices, like sustainability and protecting the environment.
In closing, we all have to remember that it is our responsibility to be vigilant and stay safe during this challenging period. Let's not leave this entirely to governments.
A 50 year veteran of the Hotel-Hospitality-travel industry with a wealth of experience acquired in 4 Continents, Asia in particular. A long term resident of Hong Kong and Retired Chief Executive Officer of Shangri-La International.
A board member of several large corporations and member of many industry related and quality management organisations. Founder of Angelini Hospitality, providing consultancy and advisory work to developers and hotels-travel-tourism organisations.
Recipient of two Honoris Causa (Doctorate) in Business Administration and in Global Business Leadership, four Lifetime Achievement Awards, the 2006 Corporate Hotelier of the World, Maestro del Lavoro (2014) and of several other recognitions and awards.