The hospitality industry has seen a year like no other in our lifetime.

Standard operating procedures are out the window for many as we try to understand and adapt to what everyone calls “the new normal.” Thankfully at this point, vaccines are on the way and hopefully, we’ll be able to collectively stamp out COVID-19 around the world.

The pandemic has made many in the hospitality industry rethink things from the ground up. Forecasting months in advance is much more challenging and many hotels have resorted to forecasting weeks or days in advance. Customer service and guest experience have taken new priorities.

Thankfully, technology has enabled hotels to adapt more quickly than otherwise possible, whether through expanding contactless systems, building a more robust direct booking or loyalty program, focusing on local markets, or just refocusing on the fundamentals. Below are some of the major trends we noticed in our conversations with hoteliers and hotel tech professionals in 2020.

Direct booking incentives

Direct booking was already a common initiative for many hotels for the obvious reasons of retaining full revenue and a direct connection with guests. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, hoteliers leaned further in, setting up more incentives to encourage guests to book direct, including flexible cancellation policies and other exclusive perks. For many, this was a major success. For example, when Village Hotels launched their Booking Revolution scheme, they added 225,000 members in just six weeks.

Some hotels, especially those in getaway destinations, experienced a surprise surge over the summer as cases slowed in many regions and guests were anxious for a break from the everyday stresses. Hostellerie La Cheneaudière was at 99% capacity in August, for example.

A renewed focus on local markets

Many hotels experienced dramatic drops in international guests and returned their focus to local markets. Torel Avangarde, for example, usually sees 40% of their guests from the US alone, so they pivoted to focus on marketing to the local Portuguese market.

Other hotels, like Hostellerie La Cheneaudière, saw more security with having a majority local clientele, who have a 70-75% local French client base, cushioning them from the harshest drops in occupancy due to COVID related travel restrictions.

In the US, ARRIVE Hotels were fortunate enough to already have a strong local connection in place at their four properties, enabling them to minimize dips in bookings and maintain support from local communities.

A return to fundamentals

Some things remain constant. With everything going on and the industry in a tumultuous position, many returned to the collective north star: the guests’ wants and needs.

At Mandarin Oriental, Anja Luthje helped develop detailed guest profiles to understand which kinds of guests would expect which changes to their experience while staying with them.

We also heard from many hotels that guests are paying closer attention when they do stay. They not only expect cleanliness in the room but are now paying closer attention to the cleanliness of common areas, who on staff is wearing masks, and what has been disinfected, and leaving this feedback on review sites.

Early in the pandemic, guests seemed to be more critical in the reviews they left of hotels, but as soon as hoteliers began to implement new procedures in response to COVID-19, reviews swung back in the other direction to being mostly positive and appreciative. Neil James of ReviewPro reported that, “Online reviews have actually been more positive on average when compared to the previous period in the years before.”

Another constant was the need for good images. As Henry Woodman noted in his column, “Today, images are even more important because images make an immediate and lasting impression and can have a positive (or negative) psychological impact.”

Understanding what’s next

There’s no real telling what’s around the corner. 2020 has made that abundantly clear. But we can hope for a few things. With a vaccine on the way, travel will likely start to trend back towards normal, though this will no doubt take some time.

Hotels will need to be more flexible and agile. Neil James of ReviewPro predicts that COVID-19 “will make the market more competitive and yet tech providers will also need to be more collaborative so that hotels can use apps in tandem and build a workable tech ecosystem.”

We can assume that hotel tech will become more integrated, this trend accelerated by the sudden leap forward in industry adoption. This will most likely look like, for example, “PMSs [that are] more like hubs rather than an all-in-one system, using open APIs to allow users to plug in other software and tools as needed,” as Simone Puorto wrote.

We can bet on a return to focusing on guest experience. Technology will no doubt facilitate much of the development of a more seamless, comfortable, safe guest experience in the near future.

As Simone Puorto said in his column, “Technology today is better designed to complement and enhance the human touch than to replace it.” And isn’t that what we need right now? More of a human touch?

Gonçalo Coutinho is a young hotel manager driven by his passion for personalized service and luxury accommodation he has shown proof of being a noteworthy leader in Torel Boutiques group. Upon leading the opening of the luxury boutique hotel “Torel 1884 Suites & Apartments,” Gonçalo became one of the youngest hotel managers in Portugal at age 24. If you ever visit one of the Porto based Torel Boutiques hotels you can expect Gonçalo Coutinho to warm-heartedly welcome you for the start of an amazing experience.

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