One can almost split the last two years into three stages:
March 2020 till Nov 2020 – initial shock but a chance to reflect thanks to Government Support
Dec 2021 till March 2021 – it all became harder with a focus on getting through
April 2021 on – a growing understanding that models and customers will change. How do we plan for the future?
Of course, this is a touch simplistic but it does explain the surprise and frustration many have felt in talking with companies, especially during 2021 when there appeared a genuine reluctance to discuss change. A whole number of innovators, especially in tech, would privately talk of their surprise at how the industry did not engage more proactively and seek to find change. Others too were surprised by the lack of genuine scenario business planning taking place within businesses. There appeared to be many, in all walks of life, believing that the world would almost return to 2019 life; that employers would once again impose expectations on employees.
It has only been recently that many have started to talk about the need to adapt and change. To a strong degree, this has been a natural course. The initial shock did strike fear into many. Once the Government did step in, then the relief was palpable and many took a moment to reflect, have a few moments away from the pressures, and to talk of where much had gone wrong. The problem all became more intense again as the Government went into a second lockdown and the intensities grew during 2021. It was important not just to react but to see what landscape would emerge at the other end. That is only now showing any clarity.
Suddenly the industry is being forced to look at new ideas. The hotel sector is being forecast to split into almost 5 segments. Technology is becoming a potential disrupter to food service as it can offer new services from Smart Fridges to delivered in models. Robotics too suddenly is emerging as a possible solution to staffing shortages as are new “farm to plate” methodologies for those restaurants struggling to find kitchen staff. All across the world, new models are being analysed.
Most hotels are operating with reduced staff so what solutions will be the ones which come to the fore? In some hotels, they are operating at less occupancy, charging higher rates and making greater net profits but is this sustainable as costs for business and consumers increase?
The consumer too has changed and is looking for new experiences. How will hotels and restaurants adapt to meet the new desires?
The employee too holds greater power than in previous times. Companies are going to need to work harder than ever to engage and retain talent. What has worked in the decade may no longer be enough.
It is going to be the most fascinating period of change. The 1920s was a unique era which gave voice to strong liberalism and freedom. Will we see the same in the 2020s? That may be where the similarities part ways, despite the Russia-Ukraine conflict raising fears of past mistakes repeating themselves. The 1920s led to great difficulties in the 1930s whilst there is a growing belief that the 2020s are showing a new vision of an inclusive society which is global and has strong values.
The ability to respond to a new environment being led by new expectations from consumers and employees will see a new era emerge. There are stumbling blocks along the road but overall there is optimism too.