With COVID-19 vaccinations beginning to roll out, 2021 brings the travel industry a much more positive outlook. We’ve all learned a lot over the past year and we know that agility, innovation and efficiency will remain key to success as the future unfolds. It’s also important to be aware of industry trends and take action on those that apply to your property in order to stay competitive.
Read on for current hotel trends that are impacting the majority of lodging operations right now and for the foreseeable future.
Short booking windows
The unpredictability of outbreaks and travel restrictions over the past year has made travel consumers cautious and hesitant to make travel plans. On average, hotels have witnessed the booking window shrink to less than seven days prior to check-in. With last-minute vacations becoming the norm, the traditional practice of lowering rates to fill rooms may not be so applicable right now.
Increased travel uncertainty has also brought about a need for flexible booking and cancellation policies to boost consumer confidence. Even as 2021 progresses and vaccinations become more widespread, this new customer expectation is probably here to stay.
Border closures and consumer concern over virus exposure at airports and during flights prompted travelers to discover the joys of staying local. Even as vaccinations begin to roll out, many travelers will remain in wait-and-see mode, hesitant to venture too far during the coming year. Lodging operations in destinations with local demand will do well to promote staycation packages that celebrate the local experience, incorporating wellness amenities and safe outdoor experiences where appropriate.
Travel uncertainty caused by the pandemic has driven an increase in direct bookings as travelers seek reassurance and improved communication through booking directly with properties. During the coming year, independent hotels should be sure to utilize user-friendly website booking engines and connections to metasearch channels to take advantage of this trend and strengthen their direct booking strategy going forward.
Intensive cleaning & safety measures
COVID-19 safety policies were of utmost importance to travelers when choosing a hotel last year, and high expectations of cleanliness and other safety measures will likely continue beyond this crisis—at least as long as the memory of it persists. It will be important for lodging operators to maintain high cleaning standards along with clear customer communications as we come out of the pandemic to continue to drive guest satisfaction.
COVID-19 only accelerated industry adoption of contactless technology, which hotels had already started to embrace before the pandemic hit. Now more of a necessity than a luxury, contactless tech—including contactless check-in, keyless entry, digital concierge and guest messaging—helps keep guests and staff safe, improves efficiency, encourages guest engagement and is fast becoming a standard guest expectation.
System integration and automation
Operating a hotel during a pandemic required hoteliers to figure out how to deliver enhanced services with reduced personnel and resources. Hotel system integration with the property management system at the core allows hotels to do just that by increasing automation, efficiency and personalization, while reducing costs. Although system integration isn’t a new concept, both lodging operators and technology vendors will drive a more accessible technological ecosystem with faster, easier data connections between systems for improved efficiency, a better guest experience and further innovation.
Personalization driving loyalty
Automation and contactless tech bring greater opportunity and need for personalization. Despite the current need for reduced physical interaction, hospitality must maintain the human connection. In our digital dependent world, data is key to personalizing the customer experience—and, now more than ever, personalization is key to winning loyal guests. Integrating your PMS with hotel systems like CRM and guest engagement platforms will help you target the right offers and experiences to the right customers to build guest loyalty.
Another side effect of COVID-19 is an increased awareness and drive toward sustainable travel, and hotels play an important role in helping people travel responsibly. Even small steps, like food waste reduction, recycling and water conservation, make a big difference. Consider collaborating with local food producers and other organizations to support sustainability in your community and be sure to evaluate the viability of your options before making any changes.
While the future is ultimately unpredictable—especially as the world continues to grapple with a pandemic—the above trends help point hoteliers toward actions that can improve operations, the guest experience, and revenue, now and in the foreseeable future. All the best for a successful 2021!