Friday 2 October 2020 4:00 am

The hotel industry needs to reinvent itself – and fast

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Robert Swade is managing director of Maze Hospitality.

In the 1800s, several new hotels emerged that reimagined the standards for luxury accommodation. Over the course of the next two centuries, grand hotels withstood the Great Depression, two world wars, and countless market disruptors — always finding a way to reset their role in society.

The global hotel industry has been through hard times before, and each time it has survived through innovation and reinvention. From lifestyle luxury and full-service to the diminutive boutique and the humble motel, the hotel has never been a concept with fixed boundaries.

Today, the industry is facing a situation that few could have predicted. The Covid pandemic has brought unprecedented job losses, economic ramifications and health restrictions. Never has the hospitality industry needed reinvention more.

This mammoth task has to be completed against the backdrop of the rise of AirBnB, a growing awareness of the environmental impact of air travel, and a desire for more meaningful experiences. Trends that asked questions of the industry before the pandemic have now left many hotels searching for answers.

Covid isn’t going away anytime soon, and hotels need to ensure that the changes that they deliver make a purposeful impact, not just for current conditions but for the post-Covid world too.

The good news is that while travel restrictions and safety precautions may be a blow for many businesses, the desire from consumers to get away and seek out new experiences has remained.

Read more: Why the government must give more support to London’s hospitality sector

Google data shows that the popularity of searches for “staycations” worldwide reached a 16-year peak shortly after the pandemic began. It’s a trend that has not gone unnoticed by the hotel industry as more and more businesses are now designing “staycation” packages.

We have seen great examples of reinvention in other sectors too. In Dubai, many luxury restaurants have adopted delivery models, and an Australian supermarket chain is offering short-term roles to the national airline staff while flights stay grounded, as it seeks to meet the increased demand for consumer staples.

Reinvention could come in many forms. For some, it means updating an entirely outdated business model, while for others only making refinements to an existing strategy. This will be a balancing act between growing revenues and managing the post-furlough impact. It may mean shifting marketing efforts towards domestic travellers, or building partnerships with local businesses. Whatever the case, businesses will need to seize this opportunity and adapt.

There is no time to hide behind all that Covid is preventing businesses from doing. Instead, we need to approach the situation with a positive, proactive mindset and explore how to reinvent the industry. As we approach the task of reinvention, we need to avoid “innovation for innovation’s sake” and deliver measurable and sustainable outcomes.

Amid all this uncertainty, one thing is clear: the hotel industry has existed and thrived for over 200 years, so we are certainly not at the end of its life. In fact, if owners and operators can get it right on reinvention, we may now be at the beginning of something exciting.

Main image credit: Getty

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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