Feb 18, 2021 | Hotel Management | Reading Time: 8 minutes
As I write these words, the world is still going through the coronavirus pandemic. Trying to predict hospitality trends in 2021 seems like a bold attempt, but here I am giving it a try.
Almost a year after the worst crisis in the hospitality industry began, good things are starting to happen: vaccines are being distributed and in January, the volume of U.S. monthly meetings and events increased 7.3% compared to the previous month. It’s not that much, but it’s a start.
Yet, there is still a lot of uncertainty around the travel scenario. Many countries are on lockdown again and borders are closed once more. But there is one thing that most experts agree on: even with the vaccine, things will probably not “get back to normal” – thus the concept of “new normal”.
The way people interact now – in their personal lives and in business – is here to stay. At least for a while longer. People will travel again, but they need assurance that they are safe. The concern about health will keep impacting the hospitality industry for the next months, or even years.
With that said, these are the hospitality trends in 2021 that I believe have already changed the industry and give no signs of checking out soon.
I divided them into 4 big topics:
→ Travel Demand
a) Extended Stays
b) Leisure Travel
→ Revenue Management Trends
a) Added Flexibility
→ Marketing Trends
b) Hotel Website and Social Media
→ Guest Service Trends
a) Enhanced Hygiene Protocols
b) Touchless Technology
a) Extended Stays:
For many people, traveling has always been an adventure. With the pandemic, that statement got a new dimension. There are many hygiene protocols to be followed, tests to be taken, risks to be calculated. It takes a real effort to travel nowadays.
Add to that the financial factor. A lot of people have lost their jobs or are afraid to lose them so they are thinking twice before spending money on “extras”, like traveling. The financial crisis is not an incentive to travel per se.
That is why experts believe that extended stays will be a trend in 2021. Travelers will take fewer trips, but when they do, they will probably try to make the best of it – meaning staying longer at the same destination. Making the most of what can be the only opportunity to travel seems to be a logical way to think about the travel demand.
b) Leisure Travel:
I participated in many hospitality webinars during 2020 and all the experts I had the chance to talk to strongly believe that leisure hotels will probably bounce back sooner than the city center hotels.
Why? Because people have adapted to working remotely and companies realized that employees can work from home and be productive. More than that: companies have figured out that not every business trip is necessary and virtual meetings can save a lot of money. I haven’t met anyone who hasn’t done at least one business meeting via Zoom or Google Meet video conference in 2020.
Regarding leisure travel, the big trend from the middle of 2020 up to now is road trips. In fact, according to Pulse Report, ‘Domestic Travel’ made a comeback in 2020, now representing 49.7% of nights booked per annum, vs 23.0% in the year 2019.
Again, the risk factor plays a key role. Travelers feel safer when traveling by car than being inside an airport and a plane The environment is better controlled and there is less contact on the way. Plus, it is usually cheaper. Win-win.
Revenue Management Trends
a) Added Flexibility:
If we are not sure about how the travel scenario will be, especially if we think about international travel, it’s only logical that travelers are scared to book a trip they won’t be able to make. The pandemic is demanding that hotels not only have to adapt to the crisis but also find ways to minimize their financial losses.
By offering flexibility in cancellation policies, hotels encourage hesitant travelers to book now, keeping customer lifetime value in mind. The flexibility shows that hotels understand travelers’ unique situations and which they will remember that once things get better, generating loyalty.
Maybe during ordinary situations and normal days, hoteliers must strictly follow hotel cancellation policies to avoid revenue losses. But hotels need to show flexibility in times of crisis.
This is a quite controversial topic. Many Revenue experts claim that dropping prices won’t create demand, in fact, it will do more damage than good. But the truth is that the crisis hit everyone. That includes travelers who are more cautious to spend money and/or have lost their income.
I do believe that rates still play a role in the booking game. It is not the only factor to take into account but it is still relevant. Plus, if a hotel is the only one with high prices compared to its comp set, chances are people will prefer to stay somewhere else. That is why it is recommended that hotels adopt dynamic rates so they don’t get behind the competition.
One way to be able to put down the prices without compromising so much hotel revenue is to analyze the distribution channels and check if it’s possible to increase direct bookings. The direct channel implies that there is no paid commission, giving hotels more flexibility when setting a room price.
Another reason why hotels should focus on direct bookings is that this channel has proven to be the most resilient in 2020, generating 58.6% of bookings in 2019, outperforming Booking (41.5%), Expedia (22.8%), and GDS (26.6%), according to Pulse Report.
This hospitality trend seems to keep rising as people now prefer to contact hotels directly when there are so many questions before booking a room regarding hotel status, local status, protocols, and so on.
👉 Whatsapp Business is a powerful sales and marketing communication channel for hotels that can help you boost your hotel direct bookings. Learn the best practices here: [WhatsApp for Hotels]
3. Marketing Trends
According to Forbes, it is always best to answer the question on the channel of the customer’s choice if possible. Customers get annoyed really fast if they have to switch channels to get an answer.
But that’s not all. Besides having to change the channel of communication, many times when customers are forced to do so, they need to repeat themselves to the next agent in the next channel. That is the perfect recipe for customer frustration at best.
A true “channel of choice”’ experience allows customers to swap between communication modes based on needs and preferences, building greater levels of customer engagement and loyalty. It involves being available in different channels, including social media, and providing seamless customer service no matter the channel of choice.
A good recommendation here is to try to understand customer preferences to build the best communication strategy and get better results.
b) Hotel Website and Social Media:
The hotel website is the main asset of any hotel. After all, it’s where the hotel exists in the virtual world, which is as important as the real world. Thus, it continues to be considered the most important Sales & Marketing priority for hoteliers and ranks as the most important priority by 59.7% according to the Pulse Report.
It is extremely important that hotels focus on these factors since they are the main avenue to more direct bookings.
A good strategy to convert more on hotel websites is the use of chatbots that encourages more guest interactions during the booking process. This strategy is called conversational marketing and it has been proven to be very efficient and an inexpensive customer service asset during the booking process.
AI-powered chatbots remove lengthy waiting times and provide intelligent responses to questions, increasing customer satisfaction and direct bookings at the same time.
But hotel websites are not the only way to get more direct bookings. A hospitality trend we are seeing more and more is the power of social media as a sales channel. When people interact with a hotel brand, they are not just looking for pictures or general information.
In many cases, they also want room quotations and even directly purchase on Facebook or Instagram, as so many other industries do. Why would consumers’ behavior be different in the hotel industry?
Including social media as a sales channel can make a big difference in the hotel revenue. It will take strategy and one might think that the staff isn’t big enough to handle it. But, by not answering requests on social media, hotels will be losing many booking opportunities.
Here again, tech tools, like chatbots, can be the solution. Technology and humans working together enhances the customer experience and can provide the competitive advantage hotels need.
👉 Do you know that Asksuite won the Hotel TechAwards for the second time in a row as Best Website LiveChat and Chatbot? Learn more: [Best Hotel Chabot 2021]
4. Guest Service Trends
a) Enhanced Hygiene Protocols:
The pandemic is still going on. Even though vaccines are on their way, it will take a while before people start to feel safe and sound again. Thus, is no wonder that hygiene protocols will still be a hospitality trend in 2021.
Every hotel in the world has enhanced its protocol, and it’s likely that they will continue building on and improving their various healthy stay programs and partnerships. There is no other way than to adapt procedures, train staff, and give every assurance possible that guests and associates are safe.
But implementing new protocols is not enough. It is equally important that hotels communicate what they are doing to guests and their target-audience. There are many ways to do that: emails, chatbots, social posts, and signs spread throughout the hotel. The more the guests know about what the hotel is doing, the stronger the trust is to make a booking.
b) Touchless Technology:
Needless to say, the trend towards digital and contactless services has gained new momentum in 2020: mobile check-in, contactless payments, keyless entry, voice control, and biometrics are some of the options available.
Minimizing touchpoints will continue to be a primary goal across the travel sector. Mobile and QR codes are very popular hospitality trends right now and will probably continue even after the pandemic is under control. Why?
The boom of these technologies might have started as a way to reduce the spread of potentially harmful germs. But these technologies go beyond the health factor. They also talk about one thing travelers really like: convenience. And that won’t change after the pandemic.
The truth is that the adoption of technology was already happening before the arrival of the coronavirus. The health crisis was only a final push to hesitant hotels to embrace technology in many aspects of their operations, guest service included.
Who wants to go back to standing in line for check-in when you have the option of going straight to your room after a long trip?
Hospitality Trends 2021: Will they last?
I believe most of these trends are here to stay even after the pandemic checks out. When you think of the Marketing and Guest Service trends, it’s hard to think that they will simply disappear. Our digital behavior and our desire for convenience won’t change anytime soon.
Perhaps in terms of Travel Demand and Revenue trends, we could see a variation in the future. But it’s my belief that they won’t change that much in the short term. The financial crisis will impact these hospitality trends a while longer, and travel demand won’t bounce back quickly.
One thing that 2020 has taught us though is to be prepared for the unexpected. Flexibility and adaptability are, in fact, the biggest hospitality trends.
👉 What are the hospitality trends in 2021 in your opinion? Share your thoughts in the comments!