The world is currently emerging from a prolonged period of lockdown. From this time of deep global uncertainty and fear, we are cautiously entering a phase of recovery. As we collectively adjust to this “new normal”, it's the right time to ask questions about what the future will look like for the hospitality industry.
As governments across the world have imposed lockdowns to slow the spread of COVID-19 and global travel has come to a grinding halt, the hospitality sector has been among the worst-hit. But while this has been a deeply challenging time for all those involved in the world of hospitality, there are good reasons to be optimistic about the industry’s recovery - a process that will be made easier by smart adaptation, flexibility, and a willingness to evolve with the times.
We consulted a selection of industry partners on how they view the future of the industry, balancing their opinions with some practical ways to best deal with the virus and its fallout.
1. People will adapt to new patterns of travel
There can be no doubt that the hospitality industry will be permanently altered by the COVID-19 virus. The way people travel has deeply changed, and even if official laws are relaxed, a global downturn in long-distance travel seems inevitable.
The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) says there will be a gradual return to pre-COVID-19 rates of travel over the coming months as a “new normal” emerges. The ideal situation is that a vaccine will become available on a mass scale, inoculating billions of people and essentially ending the virus’s grip over our lives. While it is impossible to accurately predict when, where, and even if, this vaccine will arrive, there is good reason to be cautiously optimistic based on current evidence.
Travel is likely to return first to domestic markets (through staycations); then to a country’s nearest neighbours, before expanding across regions, and finally continents, whereupon long-distance travel will become normal once again.
With this in mind, Akanksha Garg, Founder Director of Waxpol Hotels and Resorts, has some practical advice on how to face the challenges : "People will be wary of travelling by public transport until a vaccine is available. We will definitely be the last to recover as the health and safety of individuals will be paramount, and with job cuts and salary reductions, people may not have the finances to go on holiday or to eat out for a while. However, certain segments of society will travel and prefer to drive to places with smaller room inventory, and where natural social distancing is possible; like national parks, hill stations, basically anyplace which was not previously a popular mass tourism destination."
Akshita M Bhanj Deo, Director of The Belgadia Palace, agrees that domestic travel will be key to the medium-term future of hospitality.
Given how the pandemic has created both physical and economic duress, the first thought on travellers’ minds will be proximity and low-cost safe travel.
Businesses must be wise on how they deal with the new reality - slashing prices to attract customers will not be the optimal strategy. “Price cuts should not be the way ahead as overheads for each property will increase with the new sanitisation standards. We should be more flexible with our cancellation policy and promote long stays”, shares Akanksha Garg.
The takeaway from this is that travel will continue to be a part of human life, and although the next few months will be immensely difficult, there is good reason to be bullish about the long-term future of the industry.
2. People-centred hospitality means clear communication and more transparency
The demands of hygiene and social distancing need to be balanced with creative solutions to these restrictions.
As such, new skills will need to be developed to continue to deliver the highest levels of service to guests while still respecting the rules that are designed to contain the potential impact of the virus.
Clear communication will be key - hotels that design Standard Operating Procedures and communicate these clearly to guests will have a significant advantage. Hotels will need to focus more than ever on hygiene and cleanliness.
Customer expectations have shifted dramatically and very quickly – contactless and cleanliness are the focus, explains Oliver Meinzer, Vice-President of Global Operations & Digital Guest Experience for Marriott International. Many major hotel chains are transitioning to contactless check-in and -out, seal on guestrooms and expanded room service menus. “The design of our hotels will need to adapt to accommodate the need for social distancing, and physical distancing norms”, adds Akanksha Garg.
Guests and customers will also become savvier and more engaged with the hotels and restaurants they frequent, requesting more information in order to make informed choices. For marketing departments, this will be their chance to excel - sharing the message of hygiene, safety, and creativity with a receptive but cautious public.
Oliver Meinzer, Vice-President of Global Operations & Digital Guest Experience for Marriott International, shares his thought: "Transparency and trust are taking on entirely new dimensions. Travellers want to know and understand what you as a hotel/company are doing to ensure that both they and your associates are safe. Marketing is now all about that transparency and about building trust. That’s where larger, trusted brands have an advantage over the smaller players. The same is important while leading your own team or organisation. You must be transparent as a leader and ensure you solidify the trust of your teams."
You must be transparent as a leader and ensure you solidify the trust of your teams.
In this time of disruption for so many, it's companies who care for their employees that will benefit the most. Long term thinking will win out over short term, caring companies over detached, and those who understand the significant consequences of the crisis over those who do not.
Companies that look after their employees and are able to look into the long term rather than just concentrating on the short term will get out on top, says Alejandro Bernabé, who currently manages the Four Seasons Hotel in Seoul (South Korea).
This attitude is shared across many top hospitality professionals.
“We have been giving associates work-from-home flexibility, providing free wellness classes and other forms of online learning, and providing additional salary and extended benefits to furloughed associates on top of local regulations,” says Shelley Perkins, Chief Talent and Culture Officer at Rosewood Hotel Group.
The strategy for finding success in this challenging time is not a simple path but an adaptable mentality. For example, smaller organisations can compete based on flexibility and rapid adaptation, while the larger can rely on trust in the high standards of professionalism. Smart hospitality employees will find a path that suits their company and reflects their own unique positioning and set of challenges.
3. There are new opportunities for flexibility and creativity
Flexibility will be the key to rapid alignment with this new world. This is not a time to stick rigidly to tradition. The faster businesses can accept this new reality and the new expectations that come along with it, the faster they will be able to gain a competitive advantage. Agility and flexibility can no longer be buzzwords, but practical concepts that guide the operation of the business from top to bottom.
“In the mid-term, the businesses that are agile, flexible, and can adjust to the new reality, will gain a competitive advantage. Restaurants that are able to produce food for take away or delivery in an exciting manner, hotels that can provide unique experiences in a safe environment - they will thrive,” shares Alejandro Bernabé, Four Seasons Hotel in Seoul.
Hotels need to think carefully about how to produce unique experiences in a safe environment - a real creative challenge that will reward new thinking and out-of-the-box solutions. What could be done to simulate social contact while obeying social distancing laws? What new technological innovations could be leveraged to amaze and impress guests? How can safety and stimulation be balanced to create memorable experiences? These questions will be key as time passes and guests once again hunger for amazing hospitality experiences.
Some creative examples of this in the restaurant industry include this Dutch restaurant now seating guests in separated greenhouses, or this Vietnamese restaurant in Thailand placing stuffed pandas on chairs to prevent guests from feeling lonely while eating under social distancing restrictions,
or the Michelin-starred restaurant Noma in Copenhagen that has temporarily turned into an outdoor wine bar with just two dining options: a cheeseburger and a vegetarian burger.
For young people graduating from hospitality programmes, a key advantage will be their creativity and vision - there will be a shakeup in the industry, and the young, graduating generation has the opportunity to demonstrate their value through innovation.
In partnership with Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, Swiss Education Group is leading the way in identifying best practices for the hospitality industry, during and after the COVID-19 crisis. The findings from this research will be included in the academic programs in all Swiss Education Group schools.
4. Hospitality skills have never been more valuable
The skills developed through hospitality training and education are complex and expansive. The world will always have a need for talented, driven individuals who embody flexibility, determination, and people skills to name but a few. But now, more than ever, these skills have become essential.
“We will always require professionals who are multi-talented, and those who wish to succeed in the hospitality industry need to be flexible, determined, and ready for a challenge, like the one we are facing today,” Akanksha Garg, Founder Director of Waxpol Hotels and Resorts.
An investment in a hospitality education is an investment in oneself, and one's personal development and growth. Someone who has learned culinary skills, people skills, financial skills, and management skills is well equipped to succeed in life. Both hospitality graduates and hospitality professionals share a common pool of desirable traits that are extremely valuable to all kinds of employers. These skills give the freedom to choose from competitive jobs that suit the needs and skills of each hospitality expert.
Mark Dalton, Director of Finance at the Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo suggests that “Youth are the future of the industry and many companies will be investing in them to make sure they have the best people possible supporting their businesses. Competition will also be fierce which will push people to perform at their best, therefore supporting the future recruitment of top talent.”
While the connections to the industry and practical skills that come from a top hospitality school are immensely valuable, it's also smart to think of a hospitality education as a holistic programme of self-development and improvement.
A more agile and tenacious industry
There’s no reason to be naive - the current situation has affected the hospitality industry at every level, and things will never be quite the same as before. The industry has already been permanently altered- but perhaps that's not entirely a bad thing. To quote Satya Nadella, CEO at Microsoft: “It is in times of great disruption and uncertainty that our ability to stay grounded in our sense of purpose and remain true to our identity is of the utmost importance.”
There can be no doubt that the hospitality industry will endure and continue to employ people whose job it is to carry out the fundamental principles of hospitality: the art of making people feel valued, welcomed, and cared for. But it also seems self-evident that there will be fundamental changes in how this is done. Vision and optimism are needed to craft the hotels and restaurants of the future, and young people who are well educated and embody the ideas of creativity, flexibility, and ambition will have an incredible opportunity to become industry leaders.
We can therefore envision a hospitality industry that emerges from the current crisis changed forever; more agile, more positive, more empathic, and more tenacious than ever before - and who wouldn't want to be a part of that?