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Future of Travel Series: Hotels

Future of Travel [Part 4]: Hotels
 
We have referred to Airports as the gatekeepers and Airlines as the vehicle getting travellers back on the road. Now we come to Hotels, which are also a critical part of the journey. For many people the hotel/resort is the destination; but whether business trip or vacation, travel as we know it cannot resume until hotels re-open. Currently in Canada, up to 95% of hotel rooms are unavailable due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The situation is similar around the world. 
 
Getting travel back to “normal” will be a complicated “chicken and egg” scenario.  Nothing will happen, as we will see in a future article, until countries fully open their borders and drop the 14-day self-quarantine rule.   But even as countries relax restrictions, airlines will be reluctant to resume until the hotel and tourism infrastructure is restored. Paradoxically, hotels and tourism will not rebound until a reasonable level of airline service is restored.   Someone needs to make the first move, but who will it be?
 
Like airlines, hotels will be stressing hygiene and safety in their marketing. We’ll be hearing about their high sanitation standards and new physical distancing protocols. Expect to see tacky plexiglass barriers at check-in counters, maximum occupancy rules on elevators, mask-wearing, and staff wiping down surfaces all day long – all designed to inspire confidence in the hotel’s safety standards with guests. Hotel websites will tout their state-of-the-art disinfection products on their home page. Issues like room size, amenities, and services will take a back stage.  Hygiene and physical distancing will become the “New Luxury.” 
 
Early on a hotel stay may feel like being in a hospital!
 
Eventually hotels will evolve. With innovative technologies and procedures, as we will see with airports and airlines as well, hotels transform themselves to such an extent we will marvel that we put up with the old ways for so long. Hotels will be safer, offer more space and privacy, and provide more interesting experiences than we can imagine right now. 
 
Here are some predictions about hotels of the future:
 
1.       Hygiene will become a new standard of luxury. Along with room size, thread count, Michelin-starred restaurants, and special amenities., innovative hygiene features (and gimmicks) will be part of the hotel’s value proposition. Expect a new rating system for standards of hotel hygiene to take its place besides the scores of TripAdvisor, AAA ratings, and the like.   Countries such as Singapore have already set up a hygiene rating system. Expect to see one or two universal systems pop up, which we will consult before selecting a hotel. 
 
2.       Touchless & low-touch systems. Automatic lobby doors, apps for check-in, check-out, and access to your room. Smart elevators that “know” your floor by scanning your key card or app signature.  
 
3.       Tasteful design barriers to promote physical distancing. Architects and interior designers will have new challenges to find ways to keep crowds displaced and create the feeling of separation from strangers. Gyms, spas, restaurants, and lobbies may have to be redesigned. Expect to see more plants in the lobbies and restaurants. You’ll feel like you’ve been transported back to the 1980’s!
 
4.       Robots. Yes, the era of the Jetsons has arrived! 20- or 30- years later than we expected; but there will be robots. Cleaning robots, room service robots (I know!) The Westin Houston Medical Center is the first hotel in the USA with germ-killing robots, which use UV light to detect and disinfect areas throughout the hotel. Maybe robot concierges! They’re coming. Trust me. 
 
5.       Return to single-use plastics. Sadly, hotels were finally moving away from this, but expect to see throw-away plastic toiletries back in bathrooms. And, worse, other amenities commonly offered as a luxury perk – the cheese plate, bottle of wine, and basket of fruit in the room will disappear. Maybe to be replaced by designer disinfectants?
 
6.       Minimalist décor. With cleanliness taking top billing in standards of luxury, you may see a more restrained, minimalist style of décor. No decorative pillows or hard-to-clean antique lamps and furniture. Everything will want to look like it was freshly washed-down and blow-dried just before you checked in! With a significant spike in thorough cleaning and applying of disinfectants, many current objects and fabrics in hotels won’t stand up to this amount of abuse: expect to see more durable furniture, objects, and materials. How will we feel about artwork hanging on the walls? Maybe someone recently sneezed on that painting? Rooms may start to resemble a Ikea show room.
 
7.       Staggered check-ins and check-outs. While you’ll handle both tasks, no doubt, electronically; in order to further reduce congestion in the lobby area, hotels may offer more relaxed check-in and check-out policies; and even encourage doing this at unusual times of day. In fact, this might aid house-keeping so that more time can be devoted to each guest room.
 
8.       Restaurants, meeting rooms, spas, and gyms will be re-designed to prevent crowding. You’ll likely have to book gym appointments and make breakfast reservations. We will likely see the end of buffets. Hotel restaurants will likely set up cooking stations to replace the old experience, and allow them and the guests to keep a close watch on food preparation. Expect fancy TV Dinners (ie. Bento boxes) to be a big hit.  Without a doubt, seating arrangements will be more spacious with tasteful barriers placed between tables.  Gyms will have to be larger to accommodate greater spacing between devices. Pool chairs will be spaced out more; making the pool an even greater luxury.
 
9.       In-room Dining and Exercise Equipment Rentals will be promoted to further reduce congestion in the gyms and restaurants.
 
10.   Prepaid or filled-to-order minibars may replace fully-stocked fridges.
 
11.   Convention space will be re-purposed. Much to the horror of all large hotels, conventions are dead for at least the next year. That space can’t just be left empty. Some hotels will give up forever the pursuit of meetings and conventions, and re-deploy the unused space to create larger gyms, spas, and entertainment areas. Others will keep the space intact, but find new creative uses for large convention areas.
 
All these things – larger gyms, limited access to restaurants, new technology – have a cost; so as with airfares expect to see an increase in room rates after the initial lost leader promotions die down. As we mentioned in the previous article on airlines, travel may become a more exclusive experience, with fewer travellers and higher costs. It is hard to see how this will not be true also with hotels.
 
Right now, hotel marketing propaganda focuses on new hygiene protocols. This will get tired really quickly.  But cleanliness and physical space will permanently become a part of what is considered to be luxury.   Marketing campaigns of high-end hotels will pivot towards more subtle messaging, with the focus on comfort, privacy, exclusivity, unique experiences, creative food, and lots of space.
 
David Elmy, President
The Travel Group

 

 

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