The pandemic forced shifts in the way the world works and travels, presenting significant near-term challenges that unlock opportunities for hospitality businesses to reimagine their offerings. Summer 2021 saw a revival of leisure travel, as lockdowns gave way to reopening hotels, pent-up personal savings, and demand to travel. But as the Delta COVID-19 variant proceeds, fall 2021 might be fraught with curbed reopening in the United States and globally.
As children start returning to the classroom and families refocus on school and work, leisure travel might decline. Business travel has begun to recover in a meaningful way earlier this year but is unlikely to return to normal for several years with the realization that employees can remain productive without maintaining their historic levels of business travel. Faced with uncertainty, hotels might need to reimagine their current offerings.
With business and group travel set for a continued lag—at least in the short-term—the hospitality industry’s focus should be on rethinking leisure travel, particularly for high-value customers.
All facets of a hotel business, including products, services, customer experience, branding, and loyalty programs, should be repositioned to appeal to a predominantly leisure-driven market. New and loyal customers alike should receive personalized marketing that appeals to leisure travelers based on their specific profiles. Marketing should continue to mine historic data on customer insights to tailor experiences that target a wide array of travelers.
Business travel, too, will need to adapt to changing patterns of work, as it is one of the areas of concern for the industry. The permanent reduction of business-specific travel is real because companies and individuals are adjusting to a new way of working. On the other hand, opportunities exist for hotels to take advantage of increased employer flexibility and changing consumer needs.
Flexible work and the advent of ‘bleisure’ travel
In the pandemic-induced era of increasing work-life integration, the way that consumers travel is set to blend components of work and play. The “bleisure traveler,” who combines business and leisure, has created a new customer profile focused on personal health and wellness, local communities, sustainability, and opportunities to connect with friends and family.
If more corporations allow employees to work outside of traditional office space, leisure travel is no longer limited to scheduled vacation time such as summer when schools are on break. Hotel spaces should deviate from past modular designs with a shift to on-demand flexibility to meet the specific needs of the traveler and their family at any given point during the year.
The key for hotel properties is the understanding that service businesses are looking for ways to support employee flexibility and happiness; the emergence of hybrid travel provides an additional benefit to employees and an encouraging boost to the travel industry.