As we begin to set sights on a post-pandemic country and world, what will the new hotel stay look like in 2021 and beyond? Along with the comfort and familiarity of staying at a hotel for the first time in over a year, returning guests may well arrive with a different set of expectations, and be met with a host of changes: some drastic, some subtle. Most will be centered around health, safety, and length of stay.
Hotel guidelines and standards are evolving
Corporate travel managers will have health and safety concerns top of mind when they get back to the business of vetting properties around the globe. Additionally, travelers making their own decisions on where to stay will now venture out with a “be prepared” mentality. In contrast to pre-pandemic travel, look for travelers to consider questions around safety, security, and even about medical services and local hospitals. With everyone doing more advanced planning for trips of any duration, the pressure will be on hotel chains and independent properties to step up and meet these new requirements, with an eye toward proactively addressing traveler concerns and expectations.
As the industry shifts, measures are also being taken at the regulatory level to ensure changes are implemented effectively. The International Organization for Standardization, known as the ISO, is working on a new standard for hotel safety, with the intent of helping hotels address potential threats. The ISO guidance will have a focus on health, safety and COVID-19, in addition to addressing concerns including but not limited to civil unrest, terrorism, and local crime incidents. This standard is expected to establish guidance on managing risk associated with travel and offer procedures for training staff to handle emergencies and threats.
While it has the potential to be costly to implement this new guidance, hotels will benefit in the short and long term from the surety of being able to meet or exceed guest expectations and needs, in addition to the marketing power of promoting adoption of these new standards and designations.
What to expect in your next hotel stay
There are a variety of trends, changes, and mandates that have already occurred and a few that are recently emerging. Here are several ways in which your hotel stay may look different:
Reduced staffing – If you stayed in a hotel over the past year you might have noticed only one front desk associate and minimal other staffing. Hotels also stopped daily room cleaning under the guise of “safety”, thereby reducing hours for housekeeping staff and helping to shore up their bottom line. This trend, already in play pre-pandemic as an “eco-friendly” initiative, is likely to hold past the pandemic as properties continue to realize the cost savings.
No more buffet – Consumer preference (and hotel risk mitigation) will be anti-buffet. More likely, many properties will continue with pre-packaged, touchless, “on the go” breakfast options. And other hotels will bring back table seating. But shared ladles and other serving utensils can now be safely categorized as artifacts of the past.
Your next stay may be in an extended stay property - One of the biggest trends to emerge from 2020 is extended staying. Hotels and inns with a kitchen and living area, a laundry room on-site, and food for purchase fared best out of all traditional lodging types. According to Atlas Hospitality Group, extended stay occupancy rates were 72 percent during Q2 2020 vs 42 percent at traditional hotels during the same period.
Compliance changes are on the horizon - As lodging of all types and categories bounces back, lodging destinations of all types will be newly targeted by revenue-starved taxing authorities looking to refill state and local coffers. In 2021, we can foresee governments exercising the latitude within their control to seize on the increase of extended stay properties and change taxing parameters. A simple change in lodging regulations to enforce hotel tax collection up to 60 or 90 days of stay would allow jurisdictions to recoup significant revenue. Jurisdictions could also look beyond length of stay in determining whether to assess hotel, lodging or occupancy taxes. Since these taxes are pass through taxes, they could potentially increase the nightly total for hotel guests.
Smart rooms and other technology – Technology will swiftly jump to the forefront of the stay, particularly anything that reduces touch points and face-to-face engagement. Expect less human contact as part of a larger trend across industries, this fits squarely into technology replacing humans for cost savings as well as an effort to create safer stays. Hotels that don’t already have these may start to add features like keyless entry, scannable QR menus, virtual tv-remotes, voice-activated controls, wireless charging and connection, and concierge video chat or mobile concierge.
Security – While hotels will continue to place guest experience center stage, security will move up in priority as civil unrest, crime rates, and the nearby hospital or urgent care facility are more top of mind for guests.
The new “prepper” mentality is here to stay: what happens if I become ill for an extended period? Where is the doctor or medical facility? Does the hotel have 24-hour security staff on-site? We’ll all be doing more advance planning and preparation for trips of any duration once a safer travel and lodging experience is available to us.
Cyber security is also a key safety need as many guests are working remotely and want to be confident their information (as well as their company’s network and information) is protected from hackers. Hotels that are serious about maximizing their bookings are doing their homework and footwork now to proactively address these concerns.
Reservations for amenities – Facilitating social distancing will still be necessary, especially at the beginning of the return to travel. Guests might not be able to pop down to the pool, spa, or salon on a whim. Accessing these perks will likely require reserving a window of time, just as many of us are doing now in our hometowns.
Change is inevitable
Hotel chains will be luring us with new or attractively refurbished properties that boast longer stay amenities and services, with an eye toward capturing travelers with a new mindset on getting away, as well as getting the attention of corporate travel managers searching for the best options for employees. Properties of all sizes will understand that we’re re-entering a much-changed landscape for travelers, with a much broader definition of safety, and the potential for traditional lodging properties to attract new stays based on readiness for longer-duration guests. With travelers already booking reservations for this summer, hotels are looking at an unprecedented opportunity to assume new responsibilities, take measures that will help them differentiate their properties, and provide that new experience guests will anticipate.
About the Author
About Pam Knudsen: Pam Knudsen is an executive with Avalara’s lodging tax division She serves as a leading voice in lodging tax compliance and regulation, in addition to bringing in-depth experience across software/SaaS technology as well as ERP systems. Pam joined Avalara in 2012.