Markets Primed for Post-COVID Development: Checking In With Charlestowne’s Gavin Royster

The COVID-19 pandemic quickly and drastically altered the hospitality landscape. Despite the challenges the pandemic has brought over the past several months and continues to bring, Gavin Royster, director of development for Charlestowne Hotels, tells LODGING that hoteliers should not automatically shy away from development right now. Roysters assures that there is a market out there—maybe right in your backyard—for travelers seeking a local and meaningful experience.

Which types of markets are best suited for post-COVID development?

With the pandemic increasing traveler’s preferences for socially distant destinations instead of cities, there are opportunities to develop in more remote locations. A few examples would include destinations near national parks in the West, beaches along the Southeast, and the Appalachian Mountains. These locations are ideal since they offer extensive outdoor space and are drivable from major cities. Although travelers are looking for hotels away from dense populations, they also don’t want to have to travel too far by car to get there.

How will the hospitality industry be affected by the pandemic long-term? 

Since we are still in the midst of the pandemic, the long-term effects are largely unknown. One trend we believe will stick around is the heightened demand for destinations surrounded by nature that are easily accessible by car. These “staycations” were on the rise prior to coronavirus and will only continue to become popular options. Leisure travel will be the main focus for immediate development as group and corporate travel will be slower to return.

Why is now the right time to develop?

Hoteliers should not be deterred from developing during this time, despite the hard hit the hospitality industry has experienced. The construction development timeline spans around 12 months, sometimes longer, so a property starting on construction now would be expected to open when tourism is anticipated to recover. As long as financing can be secured, this is actually a good time for development.

Although some travelers may choose to fly internationally for leisure travel when restrictions are loosened, many are now seeking more meaningful local experiences. These developments in newly primed markets will give those travelers new options for boutique stays that they couldn’t get before. The hotels developed now can be equipped with thoughtful technologies, amenities, and services to cater to their ideal guests such as outdoor adventurers, luxury seekers, or local foodies.

What should developers keep in mind when evaluating markets?

There are many factors to consider when choosing where to develop during this time—not just what’s currently trending in the industry. Each market has its own unique advantages and disadvantages, so it’s important to assess what the market already has to offer. Is there a similar experience available, or are you bringing something different to the area? It’s good to understand the demographics of the property location to know if your development can stand out. By researching beforehand, developers can create their own checklist of what they’re hoping to accomplish.

What have you learned over the past several months that stands out to you? 

If there’s anything we’ve learned from this pandemic, it’s that engaging and thoughtful travel isn’t going anywhere. Travelers are looking for local getaways that provide them with a boutique experience they can’t get at home. This is the time developers should be seeking opportunities—even in their own backyards—that might’ve been overlooked in the past in favor of “popular” tourist destinations. They might discover an up-and-coming market ideal for new development.


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