This week, I share some under-the-radar-for-now takeaways that may provoke your thinking about what the future of the hotel industry will look like.
I have been reading this week with great interest different takes about what the global hotel industry may look like once we return to some semblance of normal. Granted, “normal” is up for interpretation, and the timeline for it is unclear.
We’re all focusing a lot of energy on financing scenarios, performance indicators and handling employees—the big issues, for sure.
But I think this period will result in some meaningful changes and shifts to the current operating model for hotels. Some may be opportunities, some may be circumstances, but this can be a good time to capture some “what if?” thinking.
Here are some interesting and under-the-radar-for-now takeaways I’ve gotten from my reading over the last week that you may find thought-provoking:
1. Division between the had-its and the haven’t-had-it-yets will color travel
Read Jan Freitag’s blog, “What US hotel recovery could look like after COVID-19”
As with any Freitag think piece, there’s a lot of information to unpack here, but what strikes me as most relevant is his premise that as travel returns, we’re going to be divided into what he calls a “two-class society”—the had its and the haven’t had it yets.
Until a vaccine is developed and distributed, this will be a huge factor we haven’t quite grasped yet. Think of how terrifying it was to take that first flight post-9/11. Imagine that in this scenario. Travel plans, along with the people on your teams willing to travel, may look a lot different for a significant time period. How do you manage for that? We saw inklings of this as the coronavirus wave swept the world earlier this year, when we were in a gray area for a few weeks of, “Well, I don’t really feel safe traveling, but I can’t tell my boss that.”
2. The labor issue is about to get a lot more complex
Read Terence Baker’s coverage of the Hospitality Tomorrow online conference
Speakers at this online conference touched on an aspect of the labor issue I hadn’t thought about yet in this current scenario: unemployment benefits vs. employment wages.
Kim Gauthier, SVP of Hotel Asset Value Enhancement, said on a conference session that “the downside for the industry is that there is an extension to unemployment, and that might see more money coming to that labor than could be paid by the industry, so we might have a further shortage of labor … We already had (a labor shortage), but that might exasperate it.”
That’s just one example of how what was a labor issue for hotels around the world is going to evolve into a Labor Issue, if you catch my drift.
Hoteliers are making difficult decisions today to take care of employees as much as possible so they stick around to come back later, but the success of these tactics will play a huge role in recovery.
3. Finding ways to bring the hotel to the guests, not vice versa
Read Dana Miller’s “Q&A: Discussing business impact, strategies”
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been fascinated to learn how hoteliers are pursuing alternative revenue streams and marketing channels designed to bring the hotel to guests, rather than try to draw guests into hotels (because, obviously, not happening).
GMs and CEOs in this article talk about redefining their dining options to offer takeout and delivery food, getting their marketing messages out to locals and more. Other hotels and chains are offering free content via social channels, such as yoga and meditation classes, or instructional cooking videos.
There are plenty of logistical considerations that factor into the idea of bringing the hotel to the person in these times where the person isn’t coming to the hotel. But so many ideas—especially when it comes to facilitating easy takeout and catering for locals—seems like an easy layup for the future.
4. Realizing your hotel may look different
Most industry analysts predict now that leisure travel (particularly leisure drive-to travel) will be the first to return, and group business will take some time but will rebound. But until this virus is resolved with a vaccine and confidence comes fully back, people will be wary of hanging out in groups of strangers. That’s fine for hotel guestrooms, but so many of you have spent years building out these great communal spaces—communal tables in the lobby for co-working and having a drink, fabulous meeting spaces that are not at all set up to maintain 6-foot distances between attendees, and don’t even imagine check-in lines at Las Vegas casino hotels.
Big-box hotels particularly can’t survive on rooms revenue alone. It’s one thing to deactivate the lobby for a while, or really promote mobile check-in, but how you handle group business and what it looks like until travelers have increased confidence will be an issue. Do you limit headcount? Seat four people to eight-top tables at every event? Drop buffet options from your catering menus? It’s all stuff to think about (and things I’m sure meeting planners are asking about).
There’s a lot to think about, so I’ll leave you with my favorite takeaway from my reading over the last week. It’s from David Loeb’s latest Hotel News Now column. He reminds us that “kindness is free and there can never be too much of it.”
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