Almost four months ago, I wrote a blog about the impact the COVID-19 pandemic was already back then having on the world of hospitality, how it was putting life on hold and threatening millions of jobs; but how it also offered a kind of opportunity to start again, to put some things right.
At that point, many commentators were optimistically talking about things returning to some kind of normality within a matter of months.
Pre-pandemic, at the start of February (oh how easy it all felt back then!) I had written an earlier piece outlining my thoughts about ‘boom’, and how it’s usually followed by ‘bust’. And how things coming to a head, becoming almost out of control, can often lead to a reset, a cleansing – and often something more optimistic.
When I wrote that earlier blog, it was actually aimed at the Online Travel Agents – the OTAs – and their apparent disregard for the individual guest as they often over-booked accommodation and then auctioned the rooms off to the highest bidder. This, on top of the apparent lack of interest in whether a guest even survived in parts of the sharing economy, with platforms not insisting on even basic health and safety measures in accommodation which would have been required by law in a regulated environment.
Interestingly, seven months on, this is still the subject of a lot of commentators, with the OTAs being called out for still chasing the money to the detriment of guest experience. Something to do with – what was that unpopular word again? – algorithms! Because while domestic and local travel starts to open across the world, some of the giant booking engines are still leaving travellers on the doorstep with no accommodation, refunds are still being withheld, and after a lot of pronouncements about new cleaning protocols, Airbnb has withdrawn the compulsory empty days between bookings in its listings.
Back to boom and bust, then.
Everything had really hit some peak, pre-Coronavirus. Rising 5% on the previous year to 1.4 billion tourist visits worldwide in 2019, and record-busting inbound tourist numbers predicted for this year into the UK (since downgraded by about threequarters), it’s almost unimaginable that there are almost no planes in the sky right now – and those that are there are mostly flying cargo.
There is almost no international leisure or business travel. Many businesses are closed for the duration, or their staff working from home where they can. Many of our closest friends in Europe are staying away, forced if they visit us to self-isolate, and our own residents are meeting the same fate if they travel through certain regions considered unsafe.
In a brilliant article written by Andy Hoskins this week, the Business Travel Association has long warned that as many as 50% of all jobs in the business travel sector are at risk, with around three-quarters of TMC staff furloughed at the height of the pandemic.
So we’re stuck in a limbo, trying to avoid ‘bust’. And it’s time for a re-set.
The tiniest hints of normality are emerging, with schools reopening in the UK and many businesses welcoming back their teams – albeit in spaces set up for maximum social distancing and enhanced cleaning. And we’re delighted to find that commentators globally are starting to extol the benefits of serviced apartments. Finally, they’re hearing us!
As travellers turn away from buffet breakfasts, crowded lobbies and mixing with strangers unnecessarily, serviced apartments shine as self-contained, safe, flexible options offering the greatest control over the guest’s environment and behaviour.
Don’t want to mix with strangers in a restaurant or bar? Why not book an apartment with a full kitchen? Tired of leaving the room to let Housekeeping pick up after you and straighten the bed? Here’s an apartment with a washing machine and nobody entering the room, unless you invite them. Don’t want to hang around in a crowded lobby, waiting to settle up and leave? Try the auto-check-in/check-out serviced apartments offer.
And best of all, our own sector offers ISAAP Accreditation for those who choose to go that route, being independently assessed as safe, secure, operating ethically, morally, and with an enhanced level of infection control that ensures COVID confidence.
So there we have it. Our own sector offers benefits that many more people are now aware of, from the professionalism of our operators to the accreditation that reassures the quality of accommodation, cleanliness and safety, and we need to jump on this opportunity.
Boom and bust may be one thing. This pandemic is possibly offering us not only the recovery we need so badly, but the opportunity to make things better for the long term.
Let’s make sure we take a stand, and make sure we play our part and take our own reward.