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When the yin changes, so will the yang

The future of post-pandemic hospitality Hygiene, flexibility, access to nature, sustainability, brands they can trust, and the option for longer st...

The future of post-pandemic hospitality

Hygiene, flexibility, access to nature, sustainability, brands they can trust, and the option for longer stays and “workcations”. That was the prevailing narrative—as summed up in Expedia’s Travel Sentiment Survey 20/21—regarding what we’ll want as we begin traveling.

But is that all travelers will want in 2021 and beyond? Now is the time to consider how the pandemic will change travel and how to position brands and properties for differentiation and long-term success. Hint: it’s not all about hygiene.

The last fourteen months have seen fundamental changes in the way we live, work, and play—trends which are highly likely to outlast the pandemic. More than a financial crisis or even a terrorist-related incident like 9/11, the pandemic of 2020 has impacted people at a deeply psychological level. People confronted their mortality in new, sustained ways that may very well have long-term implications. According to a UK YouGov survey, only 9% of Britons want life to return to “normal”.

This will inevitably change the way travelers think about leisure travel and its entire purpose.

Leisure travel sums up our dreams, aspirations, and self-image. It’s a way for us to indulge our quest for something different, a way to express our often-hidden selves; a way for us to fill the perceived gaps in our lives. As the antidote—the yin to the yang of “everyday” life—travel will change. There will be no return to the old normal. Hospitality—and in particular, boutique hospitality—will need to deliver greater value than it has in the past.

Here are just a few of the trends to watch for and use to create new positioning, brands, offerings, and marketing.

A redefinition of leisure. Now that work can be done from anywhere, where will people live? According to the USPS, people moved from larger cities to smaller towns. For affluent consumers, there’s been a flight to smaller and recreationally-oriented communities, while the ultra-wealthy sequester themselves on their yachts for weeks at a time. If those affluent consumers are living where they used to vacation, where will they vacation in the future? Leisure, redefined, has already accelerated the digital nomad trend.

We predict that in 2021 and well into 2022 (and even beyond given vaccination rates and further mutations of the virus) this will mean that affluent travelers will need experiences that are even better differentiated from what they’re experiencing in their newly renovated recreation-area homes. They will need even more exotic locales (assuming full vaccination); they will require an upgraded experience that gives them something they can’t get at home. Depending on the brand, this could be locale but most likely a different and upgraded set of services that go far beyond pampering.

In loco parentis? While never quite an afterthought in hospitality, kids will become an increasing focus—and opportunity. While remote schooling was less-than-optimal for many, it did open parents’ eyes up to the potential of “education everywhere”. During the pandemic, affluent families moved to Mexico, Greece, the Caribbean, Indonesia, and further for long stays, with kids being educated on Zoom, in “pods”, and via enrichment programs. We see these education alternatives stretching “high season” such that the traditional Christmas, Easter, and Summer vacation periods until they are meaningless. This could change anything from revenue projects to the size and design of facilities.

At the same time, hotels and resorts will get serious about providing not just the entertainment for kids but also the education of kids; not as pandemic one-offs but as ongoing offerings. While some resorts have done admirable jobs of offering educational opportunities for kids in “classrooms” (and far beyond), hotels and resorts need to become even more serious about the education of their guests’ offspring. We see hotels hiring full-time educational consultants; competing for the best tutors on a regional, national, or even global basis; and perhaps even competing with other hotels for the best educational offerings Will there be four-star ratings for educational amenities?  Will there be co-branding opportunities with the likes of Khan Academy?

Could future vacations center on kids’ educational and enrichment opportunities with parents tagging along for the ride? In reality, this is already the case in some instances (Disney!), but we could see this being an even more explicit trend…private schools for the mobile child attended via Zoom. If marketing wasn’t already targeting kids, it will be even more in the future. We can even see college-town hotels targeting consultants who specialize in getting kids (legally) into elite colleges.

Rethinking the value of travel. Ever since the birth of the first lifestyle hotel in the late 1980s, affluent consumers the world over were being courted by hoteliers and others with “experiences”—often food and beverage or wellness-based. Even before the pandemic, this trend was both ubiquitous—and tired. As a well-heeled but jaded traveler sighed recently, “There are just so many fancy meals and cool hotel lobbies you can go to before they all start to look the same”. In other words, a great F&B program and a nice spa are nice…no longer enough to differationate but serve as table stakes to be in the game.

To take it to the next level boutique hospitality must be a transformative, aligning with a traveler’s values and their desire to experiment and grow, change, and become their best selves—not just to tick something off the bucket list, or to be entertained and pampered.

Ironically, this has always been the goal of the “traveler”—the gatherer of “authentic” experiences who favored cultural immersion, deep connection with locals, rudimentary accommodation, and street food. They would return from their travels with backpacks filled with local crafts, shifted perspectives, new language skills, and often, a new sense of self.

How can this kind of shift take place in a hospitality environment? Through a deep and thorough understanding of what guests want and value–not just from a hotel but from life. It will also require a sense of purpose on the part of the boutique brand; and sophisticated sensitivity to the role of communication in helping the guest with their transformation.

Some brands already have developed exceptional immersive cultural experiences—unattainable by most—such as the new Six Senses Shaharut in Israel’s Negev desert. Others center their programming around transformation through education, personal improvement,the opportunity to be of service to nature or humanity—especially hands-on, and coupling a guest’s values with an authentic local experience.  While well-heeled travelers have always gone on safaris, but andBeyond makes conservation an integral part of both the hotel’s mission and the guests’ stay. And we can see the kids’ programs mentioned above being extended to structured parental enrichment programs focused on the acquisition of new skills, new knowledge, and new perspectives on life.

The design of transformative experiences must look far beyond the physical journey to the psychological journey, a combination of head and heart, art and science.

Wellbeing, not just wellness. Similarly, with physical, mental, and emotional health so top-of-mind during the pandemic, we’re seeing an opportunity for pampering to up its game to something much more serious and impactful.

Put another way, what if, as the Swiss La Prairie ad asks, “Health is the new wealth”?

Boutique hospitality embraced wellness early on. But wellbeing goes far beyond hedonism or an evening meditation session to something more fundamentally interventionist—possibly extending far beyond the duration of the stay.

For example, it could combine advanced medical interventions such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR, often used as part of trauma therapies) with more holistic techniques with programs that extend the benefits far beyond the limits of the stay. Some hotels could even provide a luxe Ayahuasca experience. This trend opens up numerous options for new services and brand extensions—not just in destination spa locations, but in city centers as well.

By capitalizing on any of these trends, the hospitality experience–whether it’s education, transformation, or wellbeing–isn’t just a nice-to-have, but a must-have. That is how new value gets created. And it’s what can draw you closer into your guests’ lives.

Interestingly, many of these trends indicate a need to introduce new professional skill sets into the mix, from educators to psychologists to doctors. But reinventing boutique hospitality to build resilience and fresh opportunities will require new ways of thinking, doing, and being. Fortunately, some of this can be done through co-branded partnerships.

The effects of the pandemic will have long-lasting, far-reaching effects on the economy, consumers, culture…and hospitality. After the hotly-anticipated burst of pent up demand, there will be a shakeout as travelers begin to assess how they used-to-travel against their new expectations of themselves and the world. Boutique hospitality had better be ready.

The time to listen to customers and empathize with them, experiment, learn, and evolve is now.

Written by Regina Connell and Gail Piccirilli, Founders of Collective Work

Collective Work is a vendor member of BLLA-view their listing in the Marketplace here

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