The path that has led us through the COVID recovery has been long and winding. At this point in the cycle, hoteliers may feel like they themselves are on a long road trip, looking at one another asking, “Are we there yet?” As an industry, we have a long way to go before we see a true return to travel in the way we are used to, but hotels are in a distinctly different place today compared with last year—a better place—and hoteliers across the industry have many reasons to be optimistic for the future.
First, we have learned that hospitality as an industry is deeply resilient, a resilience grounded in the consumer’s inherent desire to travel. As the uptick in travel that started last summer demonstrated, travel is seen by consumers as a highly desirable, and sometimes even necessary, activity. As a result, most people are willing to spend dollars on travel ahead of most other discretionary activities. That’s good news for hotels.
Second, many properties still have upside to realize from operational changes that were made during the pandemic. I spent several weeks on the road this year visiting many hotels across the Red Roof system, and it has been inspiring to see the lengths our owners and franchisees have gone to keep their doors open. Some of these efforts were required in order to keep functioning, but many of those operators adopted new, productive practices, and their hard work is about to start paying off.
For example, hoteliers have taken steps to improve profitability and day-to-day operations that will continue to benefit their bottom line for years to come. They have found better ways and methods to train new team members. They have cut back on amenities and services that were diverting resources away from improving the guest experience. These decisions are all going to positively and exponentially impact hotel revenue as demand returns.
Even as hotels benefit from these efficiencies, many continue to struggle with maintaining high levels of guest service and care. The labor shortage is a present and persistent challenge operators have been struggling with for a long time. It’s a challenge that will require both business savvy and a reinvigoration of the innate service orientation of hoteliers to overcome—but it is doable. Innovators continue to innovate, and new solutions are emerging, especially in new operations technology that may help the industry overcome even these challenges. I have seen it firsthand during my visits with hoteliers this year.
Finally, and importantly, the pandemic period has brought hoteliers closer to their communities than ever before. They know that their success depends on partnerships with local businesses and the ability to connect with their core booking audience. This will continue to be a benefit to hotel leaders in the coming year, particularly as they confront the many challenges in the way of full recovery.
The upcoming holiday season is likely to be a big test, as hoteliers balance the need for optimum service with the operational demands for lean staff and efficiencies.
At the same time, the hotel industry is an evolving ecosystem that continues to learn and grow. As we continue to refine the important balance between service and efficiency, it’s clear that there is reason to believe our best days and industry are yet ahead.
George Limbert is president of Red Roof.