Top hotel trends and trials for 2021
Smart technology, experiential travel and sustainability were tipped to be some of 2020’s biggest trials and trends. However, the hotel industry faced a year far different to what was predicted. Luke Christou reports.
mong the worst hit industries by Covid-19, hotels struggled to deal with lockdown measures, health and safety demands and capacity limitations in restaurants and event spaces.
Despite numerous vaccines offering promise of an end, the pandemic will continue to shape the industry’s plans over the coming year as hotels adapt to the post-pandemic world.
“How we adapt our long-standing customer offerings, and how we design new products built for a post-Covid-19 consumer will be crucial next year,” Nic Wenn, managing director of boutique hotel chain Point A Hotels, explains. “Changes will have to be deft, and innovations timely if organisations are to capture the returning market; juggling such adaptations with the protection of one’s core offering will be the key to a successful 2021.”
As hospitality begins its recovery, hotel industry representatives share their thoughts on the demands, priorities and trends that they expect to shape hospitality over the next 12 months.
Point A Hotels’ Nic Wenn believes focus will return to a hotel’s USPs as customer hesitance subsides. Credit: Point A Hotels
Health and safety
In 2020, hotels set about implementing new health and safety protocols and measures to stop the spread of Covid-19. According to a survey by the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA), these measures played a significant role in alleviating customer fears, with 81% of frequent travellers admitting that they felt more comfortable staying in hotels that had implemented new measures, devised in accordance with government guidelines.
The safety of our team members, guests and business partners will continue to remain the core priority into 2021.
With health and wellbeing expected to play a greater role in our decision making in the pandemic’s wake, as highlighted by a recent GlaxoSmithKline study, hoteliers will continue to prioritise health and safety moving forward.
“The safety of our team members, guests and business partners will continue to remain the core priority into 2021,” Marc Webster, commercial director of golf resort Whittlebury Park, says. “It is essential that the global hotel industry continues to give the reassurance to its team and guests that the health, safety and wellbeing of its stakeholders remains paramount.”
Contactless became an industry buzzword in 2020 as hotels looked to put distance between staff and guests and the trend looks set to play a role in meeting new health and safety demands in the coming year.
“Contactless, frictionless, seamless – whatever you choose to call it, the ongoing impact of Covid-19 will make it a central aspect of the hotel guest experience in 2021,” says Danilo Mangano, general manager for Europe, at hospitality solutions provider SevenRooms. “But truly seamless guest experiences of the future will go beyond mitigating staff and guest contact to encompass every step of the journey – reservation, check-in, hotel F&B and post-visit engagement.”
Truly seamless guest experiences of the future will go beyond mitigating staff and guest contact.
Contactless solutions can help to improve the customer journey in various ways — from checking in, to entering rooms, to ordering at bars and restaurants. As hotels struggle with limited occupancy, these solutions could also help to provide critical additional revenues. According to a study by travel technology firm Criton, 47% of hotel guests say they would be more likely to order room service or visit the hotel restaurant if they could order using a mobile app, for instance.
“We expect there to be a growth in low-touch tech solutions such as food and beverage ordering which allows the customer to browse, choose and pay when they are ready and without queueing,” Webster says.
Staycations provided the hotel industry with some relief last summer as travellers sought an escape amid lockdowns, travel restrictions, and lengthy quarantine periods.
With global air travel expected to face disruption until 2024, according to industry bodies such as the International Air Transport Association, demand for staycations will only increase as customer confidence, limited flights, and financial constraints limit opportunities for international travel.
According to research from Research without Barriers, some 71% of UK travellers are already planning a UK getaway in 2021.
The desire to holiday at home has never been stronger, and in 2021 there will be a thirst to explore the UK.
“The desire to holiday at home has never been stronger, and in 2021 there will be a thirst to explore the UK and all it has to offer,” Ross Grieve, managing director of luxury spa hotel Seaham Hall, believes.
While there will continue to be a focus on ‘local’ travel, Warren Elliott of Elite Hotels Group believes that guests will venture further afield to seek new experiences in the new year, owing to time saved that would typically be wasted on the airport experience.
“With the long journeys and hassle of getting to the airport associated with international holidays, those travellers who are opting to stay in the UK for their break are using that freed-up time in order to travel further for a staycation,” Elliott explains. “With ongoing uncertainty around travel abroad, we’re confident that this trend will continue well into 2021.”
Elite Hotels expects that UK-based travellers will continue to flock to its luxurious country house hotels in 2021, with demand for staycations here to stay. Credit: Elite Hotels
After a year spent largely locked away, those that do embark on international trips are expected to splash out on vacations as we look to make up for 2020. Subsequently, the trend towards more meaningful, extravagant, and experiential travel experiences is set to continue. In fact, according to a study by Hilton, close to a quarter of customers are planning to embark on a ‘once in a lifetime’ trip in 2021.
“Recent research by Hilton revealed that while the trend for staycations is set to continue, Europe and North America are the top destinations for international travel and guests are also adding bucket-list, longer holidays to their agendas,” Hilton’s Stephen Cassidy, managing director, UK & Ireland, says.
Europe and North America are the top destinations for international travel.
As a smaller pool of potential guests seek out experiences tailored to their interests and desires, hotels must focus on playing to their strengths in order to attract guests and retain guests.
“Currently, the sector is primarily competing on price, but when demand returns, the hotel’s purpose and USP will become really important again,” Wenn says.
In 2021, the primary focus will continue to be restoring confidence and reducing fears. Yet, even with the best health and safety practices in place, customers will remain hesitant so long as lockdowns and quarantines pose a financial risk — according to a survey by Bankrate, 54% of US adults lost money on hotel rental, hotel or flight bookings between March and July 2020 due to cancellations. Subsequently, guests will seek out flexible policies and guarantees that ensure they won’t lose out should issues arise.
“Flexible bookings will be key to 2021 travel itineraries as guests look for reassurance,” Cassidy insists.
If 2020 was a year to survive for hotel operators, 2021 must be seen as a year in which to thrive.
With customers eager to get away following a difficult year, the industry is confident it can bounce back in 2021: “Travel is an unstoppable force, and we know our customers are eager to reconnect with the people and places they love,” Cassidy says.
The impacts of the pandemic won’t disappear overnight. However, after fighting for survival in 2020, the new year will offer hoteliers some respite, providing an opportunity to implement changes that will allow them to flourish in the post-pandemic world.
“If 2020 was a year to survive for hotel operators, 2021 must be seen as a year in which to thrive,” Mangano insists.