Sadly – here we go again; a full lockdown in England, following the example of many of our European neighbours before us. Not to mention across the rest of the UK.
And again we face all the challenges this will bring across the hospitality industry – and our own sector within it.
A year ago, I wrote a blog bemoaning some aspects of the hospitality industry as it was then, in those innocent, pre-pandemic days. The bad actors in the sharing economy and the lack of consistency in guest experience. The giant online booking sites and their disconnection from real people. The tide turning against plastic and waste, too slowly. The rise of co-living and co-working, and the millennial need to share just about everything. The unstoppable rise of AI and automation and the part they played in the tourism experience.
And especially the need for the whole industry to focus on guest safety and building trust.
It all seemed so important, and I got very frustrated as I watched the consumer getting a battering on every side. I was fond of repeating how even I, a hotel inspector in a previous life visiting hotels for a living, and ever since then travelling the world for both business and leisure, even I was caught out more than once, finding myself in a basement with tins of paint under the bed when I’d clearly booked a penthouse with a view across the city!
And alongside the theme of Trust came ‘boom and bust’, as many elements seemed to be building to a frenetic head.
The numbers of international tourists globally rose year on year to unbelievable levels. Overtourism became a serious problem for some ancient cities, not built to withstand cruise ships disgorging thousands at a time, nor the diesel they left behind. The sharing economy was caught out on a near-weekly basis by shootings in party houses, and by guests ejected by heavies after their hosts turned out to be renting fraudulently.
And less dramatically, but just as heart-breaking, my own team got more and more calls from desperate travellers who had turned up to their destination only to find their accommodation had been double-booked or didn’t even exist, in the hope we could find them somewhere to stay with one of our own Members.
And I was proud to represent a body of modern, caring hospitality professionals who’d signed up to our code of conduct, kept the guest at the forefront of their business, and never misrepresented their accommodation as anything other than it was.
But then came Covid-19. And while those concerns are all hugely important to me still, of course, the last eight months have seen the whole industry pretty much poleaxed by the effects of the virus. From airlines to linen suppliers to major hotel chains, left empty of guests, from cleaning staff to bartenders, from investors to construction firms, hardly any part of the industry has escaped.
Back to the boom and bust theme, they were followed in my blogs by the word ‘reset’. I don’t pretend to have any special foresight, and I certainly didn’t predict the pandemic (that was our keynote speaker at the December Convention, our good friend Simon Calder! Although he did think it might be an brain-eating amoeba rather than a flu-like virus), but it does seem to me that there are one or two possible silver linings to come from all this, whenever we start to see some normality
The ‘reset’ theme has started to be quoted everywhere, as the whole of hospitality joins many other sectors in taking this opportunity to reform some elements that were slightly adrift. People were amazed by the clarity of water lapping the canals of Venice. And poverty-stricken locals in some of the most beautiful parts of the world were able to access their own beaches and forests in the absence of tourists, which would never be affordable in normal times. Some friends of mine who managed to travel in Europe and further afield during the summer enjoyed visiting deserted sites that would otherwise be single-line shuffling in the high season. So once we’re past the resurgence in single-use plastic to keep toiletries sterile and rooms sanitised, hopefully we can find compromises that respect individual safety but keep the environment pristine as well.
And beyond that, I see the idea of serviced apartments quoted right across the industry, for travellers seeking self-contained and private space, with kitchen and laundry facilities and little need to mix with others. We’ve been shouting into a cave for a long time – that our Members represent the absolute sweet spot between the adventure of alternative accommodation, like that offered by the sharing economy, and the professionalism of hotels, with the accreditation that comes with Covid-ready sanitisation and a pledge to keep the guest’s safety, experience and wellbeing front and centre.
Lockdown will still be horrendous for a lot of people. Hotels, pubs, restaurants, cafes, event spaces, and all of those they support, are set to be hit once again. And at the time of year when many rely on seasonal guests for a huge proportion of their income, it’s especially hard.
I would never, ever belittle that.
But as we start to emerge the other side of this – and we will – we truly are positioned to maximise the opportunity by offering exactly what the cautious consumer seeks. Whether that’s – eventually – the business traveller once he or she is free to travel again, or the leisure guest, realising we exist at all.