There’s no doubt the pandemic will have a long-lasting impact on the industry globally. The dramatic and challenging changes Covid is leaving in its trail is also affecting customer behaviour and expectations.
With the future of the sector at large riding on a successful reopening, how can we capitalise on these new expectations and adapt effectively to these emerging global trends?
The great outdoors
British climes are hardly renowned for their suitability to outdoor lifestyles, but recent demands have encouraged people to embrace the elements, with outdoor dining a lifeline for our hospitality industry.
Public opinion polls suggest increased consumer confidence in outdoor venues. But this is not without challenge as reports suggest less than 40% of venues in the UK have outdoor spaces.
Evidence from abroad suggests outdoor dining is here to stay. In the US, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio confirmed it a new, permanent year-round feature of the city and other cities like Dallas, Los Angeles and Boston have allowed restaurants to expand into streets; Baltimore even launched a ‘Design for Distancing’ initiative to rethink cityscapes and promote economic recovery.
It certainly seems like now is the time for the UK to make the most of the great outdoors. The sector should utilise its networks and collaborate with planning departments and local councils to create dynamic and exciting outdoor hubs for hospitality.
The pandemic has prompted a rapid embrace of technology within the sector. Even small businesses now have their own apps or software to provide remote-check ins and QR codes for track and trace purposes.
Director of Sales at the Cairn Hotel Group, Kim Pedlar highlights the importance of technology to their business throughout the pandemic; “While we were still operating amid tight regulations meaning room-service only for guests – which we still are in some areas of the UK – we were reliant on our app to bring in food and beverage spend.” Becoming more tech enabled allows hotels to offer a wider range of services while adhering to regulations.
This technological adaptation poses new opportunities to focus on creating more seamless, tech-led customer service journeys – from browsing and booking, to payment, review and after care. Use of tech in this way could also minimise the demands on staff, allowing them to focus on more personal elements of the customer experience and reduce unnecessary contact points. “The ability to order through apps even while enjoying sit-in hospitality is more convenient for customers too. The reduced demand on staff attending to numerous tables results in shorter wait times for drinks and food”.
And we have not even covered the huge shift in the events sector of the hospitality industry which is largely facilitated at hotels. The sector will need to invest in adapted technology to facilitate hybrid events and conferences which are likely to be a mainstay of pandemic recovery.
Sanitation and safety
While cleaning policies were hardly top-line selling-points before Covid, they have become exactly that. Customers want to know how businesses are protecting them and reducing risk of infection during their stay. Even with infection rates dropping this is likely to remain a key issue in future years.
An 2020 OpenTable survey indicated that 77% of UK consumers believe that safety, ventilation and sanitation measures – making dining more private and contactless – are important in helping them feel safe.
In coming months, information about cleaning, social distancing and other practices should be front and centre on websites and social media to help reassure customers.
After a year of remote working and blurred boundaries between work and leisure, hotel owners should prepare to capitalise on the market of ‘on the road’, or ‘always OOO’ workers – a key 2021 travel trend outlined by Condé Nast Traveller. They say; “Outside of lockdown, this opens up all sorts of possibilities for remote working, something digital nomads have been advocating for years… we will see a rise in people swapping home offices for ocean offices (in the case of the Vakkaru Maldives, for example, which recently launched a long-stay Work Well package for remote working in paradise)”.
These new work-related travel opportunities provide an alternative to the diminishing corporate market for hotels. Pedlar says, “with people unable to pop into an office for the day, we’re seeing growing demand for work-spaces at our venues. Guests are looking for places with lobbies, small meeting rooms and bedrooms with suitable work facilities and that’s something we’re adapting to.”
Quiet rooms and quality wifi will be major selling points – and venues should also ensure that wifi signals are equally strong in more leisure focused zones like outdoor terraces, or over-looking beauty spots.
While this controversial proposal has not yet been put into play in the UK – opposition is fierce – the sector will be monitoring the situation closely.
Israel’s ‘Green badge’ scheme is currently the most prominent example of vaccine passports in action, with the digital badges issued by the Health Ministry after vaccination (or if you have recovered from the virus), permitting entry to hotels, cultural and sporting events. . The pass must be presented on entry along with a form of ID. Other countries like Singapore have shared their thoughts on possibly following suit.
A year of living smaller, more focused lives, has drawn attention to the spaces we live in. The COP 26 Climate Change Conference in Glasgow will likely demand much attention this year, so sector leaders should consider how to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability.
Consumers increasingly want green stays that offset carbon emissions, so they can enjoy themselves without worrying about environmental impact. And the new hyper local lifestyles we’ve been living through the pandemic have highlighted the importance of community connections, with things like locally sourced, seasonal food continuing to prove popular within hospitality.
With the necessity of escalated sanitation throughout the pandemic, the commitment to sustainable cleaning practices has waned in favour of disposable, single-use goods. It’s crucial for industry leaders to find and embed ways to deliver sanitation practices in as sustainable a way as possible.
However, Pedlar highlights the positive changes that have arisen throughout the pandemic in relation to sustainability. “Technology has had an impact; apps have replaced things like menus, information booklets and sign-in documents, which would all have become single-use throughout the pandemic otherwise”
Supporting staff to respond to emerging trends
This evolving hospitality environment will continue to place pressure and demands on staff, therefore it’s important to support them with the skills to manage and oversee emerging trends. Pedlar adds, “as our market reopens the need for staff grows, and the sheer volume of candidates has naturally increased. Investing time in a qualification like an EMBA would help candidates stand out and continue to develop knowledge and skills within this ever-changing industry.” Industry-recognised qualifications like the EMBA in Hospitality and Tourism Management from Learna – which is entirely online and designed to suit individuals alongside busy roles – supports professionals with knowledge on strategic planning and contemporary hospitality management, which are crucial to the evolving industry.
By Clare Holt, programme leader at online learning provider Learna, which provides a range of Executive MBAs, including an EMBA in Hospitality and Tourism