Does this time create an opportunity for hotels to think differently about their models and approach?

The challenge facing the Hospitality industry is, of course, immense and testing. Many face a long road to recovery, with many still believing that full recovery to 2019 levels will not be seen until late 2022 at best. This is leading to many reviewing their models and approach.

There are hotels are looking towards the delivered in the model and how that can be integrated successfully to support F&B services. There are many who are downgrading their culinary skill sets and seeking to bring in prepared foods from central Production Units; there are others looking towards outsourcing solutions & models.

It has long been a saying within hotels that “rooms make 80% of the profit and F&B 80% of the headaches” so it has been natural that hoteliers have focused on rooms and looked to find other solutions for their restaurants; whether outsourcing or chef-patron led.

For others, there is a fresh look at how hotels can engage clients in new ways. In recent weeks, there has been a number of announcements of hotels seeking to “sell” rooms as office space, being let out on a day rate. It is a logical step but does the customer want something deeper? Is this a time for hotels to look at how they can become community hubs rather seeing space as almost as space needing to be sold?

The consumer is changing just as much as hotels are being challenged. All the research coming through indicates that consumers are seeking safe places where they can feel they are welcome, where they belong and are able to find both safety and community. The challenge for hotels is to consider how “spare” space can be used to maximise engagement, to build “fan” bases and customer bases which in turn builds loyalty and revenue lines.

This change has been coming before Covid-19; the crisis has simply fast-paced some of the rates of change. There has been a lot of research published which has shown that consumers are seeking to gravitate to places with a strong sense of culture, hospitality and history. This provides a genuine opportunity for hoteliers to really be able to engage customers with new messages and services. However, it does ask for operators to be prepared to think differently, and to engage on a wider level.

It is no coincidence that, in 2019, France remained the most-visited country with close to 90 million visitors, followed by Spain, the USA, China and Italy. It is not hard to see the natural common threads through all these major destinations; great tourism infrastructures, great food, great landscapes and history.

In December 2019, Airbnb released a report outlining what they believed would be the most popular destinations, pre-Covid -19, and noted a trend towards eco-conscious destinations. The list was based off the highest percentage increase in bookings via their platform and it would be unlikely that many would be able to come even close to being correct to guessing the locations with the highest percentage leaps. Their leading destinations forecast include:

· Milwaukee, USA. Milwaukee had an enormous 729% rise in bookings for 2020 compared to 2019
· Bilbao, Spain. Bilbao won European City of the Year in 2018, and for a good reason. Home to a lively restaurant scene and striking architecture, this city has quickly risen in the ranks to become one of the hottest spots in all of Spain. Bilbao had a 402% rise in interest for 2020

· Buriram, Thailand. Buriram is famed for its history and beauty

· Sunbury, Australia. Sunbury saw a 356% rise in bookings for 2020 and is well known for both its vineyards and Victorian architecture

· Romania. Romania is building a strong reputation for its ecotourism structure and of course its dark history

· Xi’an – the birthplace of Chinese civilisation and home to the famed Terracotta Army.

· Eugene, Oregon – known to be a culinary destination

· Luxemburg – a small country but still unknown and with many great medieval castles

The common thread amongst the above list is a mix of strong cultures, history, great restaurants and food styles and a growing focus on sustainability. All developed strategies that engaged the market on their own stories and the results are impressive.

The question to consider is; how many hotels work hard to really create “stories” that engage the customer about locations? Plus are able to create services that engage customers in new ways?

All the research suggests that customers will look favourably towards those locations and venues which do embrace their communities, local crafts and artisans, and do become central hubs that serve to bring people together.

This is a genuine opportunity for hotels to create strong platforms and bases in a new way. It does ask for new thinking which has more depth to it and which has a focus on the community in which it lives.