By Linchi Kwok
The COVID-19 pandemic had made an unprecedented impact on the global economy in 2020. The good news is the long-waited COVID-19 vaccines will soon become available. Let’s hope that the coronavirus will disappear soon as we enter the New Year.
Looking back before we look forward
At year-end 2019, I predicted a few 2020 trends in hospitality, retail, and tourism businesses. For example, I recommended that we should pay special attention to the following areas:
- A shifting focus on food delivery, sustainable food, and quick-casual restaurants.
- Using AI and facial recognition in service operations.
- The threats from Google, Amazon, and Airbnb as a (potential, new) giant tourism enterprise in the market.
- Investors’ growing interest in boutique retail stores and hotels.
- Customer loyalty issues as more travel companies adopted the dynamic pricing strategy even in their frequent traveler programs.
- Safety issues during travel.
Certainly, the global pandemic was not anything I could predict back in 2019, but COVID-19 might have just accelerated many of the foreseeable changes we expected for the future. Moreover, many of the changes we observed in 2020 will very likely stay in 2021 and beyond, including
Delivery and contactless self-service will continue to grow
Delivery service in restaurants and supermarkets, among other sectors, had observed a boost since the pandemic hit in March. Additionally, restaurants, hotels, and airlines have extended or rolled out contactless self-service through mobile apps, kiosks, and facial recognition technology.
A large number of fast-food chains also introduced new restaurant designs that embrace such trends, including double- or triple-drive-thru lanes, conveyor belt delivery, and food lockers for pick-up orders. In some cases, dining rooms become optional, where the restaurants only focus on delivery and pick-up services.
Meanwhile, Amazon began testing Amazon One, a new biometric payment device that relies on cloud and palm recognition technologies. Palm recognition might become a popular biometric tool in the future as it has some advantages over those more commonly used facial or fingerprint recognition technologies.
Home-sharing will remain a large share of the lodging industry
When the pandemic hit, I wondered if home-sharing guests would choose to stay in chain hotels instead due to hotels’ enhanced cleaning standards. It turned out that home-sharing and luxury hotels might recover sooner than other lodging products. Furthermore, Airbnb is ready for IPO in mid-December, targeting $30 to $33 billion.
As we discovered more about home-sharing services through research, such as their 7 P’s marketing mix, consumer preferences of sharing or accessing the accommodation facilities, and Airbnb listings’ agglomeration effect, some hotel chains had already gotten into the home-sharing business. Like Airbnb, hotels’ home-sharing arms are doing well even during the pandemic, which may encourage more hotel chains to enter the home-sharing market.
If COVID-19 becomes a catalyst for more hotel mergers and acquisitions, will more hotels get into the home-sharing market through acquisitions? Or the other way around, will Airbnb acquire a hotel chain or another OTA (online travel agent) site?
Work from home will stay but is not helping business travel
Many companies cut the budget for business travel, and an increasing number of organizations let employees work from home permanently. When fewer people commute or travel for work, the work-from-home trend does not help the hospitality and tourism industry but may stimulate extended-stay hotel growth.
When will travel recovery take place?
Some people believe that COVID-19 will forever change the way people travel. While indicators showed travel and hospitality businesses were picking up in the summer, largely from leisure travelers, nobody can precisely predict what the future holds. Until we can travel again, or more importantly, until people travel for business again, we will not see a real recovery. Right now, it is not a bad idea to target baby boomers for leisure demand.
Facebook is losing its charm to certain internet user groups. It becomes critical for us to know where our prospects hang out after they abandon Facebook.
Following the breakthrough results of the COVID-19 vaccines, it is safe to predict coronavirus restrictions will be lifted soon. I hope we will resume our normal routines shortly. Still, it will take a while before we can ease our cautionary measures against the virus.
What is the outlook for 2021? What other 2020 trends will stay in 2021 and beyond? Please share your thoughts with us.