By Preetam Shetty

There is no denying it – the COVID-19 pandemic inspired a global shift that very few of us saw coming,  ushering in a period that was affectionately (and later, tirelessly) referred to as the new normal. For the better part of two years, the public stayed home, donned masks, limited social contact, traded in-person meetings for Zoom meetings, postponed events and celebrations, and, en masse, canceled travel plans for the foreseeable future.

While the global economy was under immense pressure with each passing lockdown and new restrictions, few industries were more gravely impacted than travel and tourism. Seemingly overnight, a bustling landscape rife with wanderlust and promise of culture, exploration, and escape came to a grinding halt, with no guarantee of a timely return to normal. Airport terminals and hotels fell uncharacteristically quiet as hospitality professionals questioned what the future had in store for their beloved industry. Now, finally, as the world takes what seems to be a collective breath, we find ourselves slowly emerging – ever cautiously – from the pandemic’s wake. Around the world, industries are coming back to life, and, in hospitality, the appetite for travel has returned with a vengeance. Hotels are finally ready to rebuild and recover, and, to do so, hospitality brands must identify (and better yet, understand) the post-pandemic trends which will define this new landscape.

It’s time for hoteliers to learn how to navigate this new world, and, with that in mind, we’ve uncovered the five latest trends set to shape the industry’s path to recovery.

Seasonal Trends Are Changing

Before the pandemic, the hospitality industry was ruled by a somewhat predictable ebb and flow of business, with travel demand fluctuating based on the time of year. However, in the wake of the pandemic, our industry demonstrates signs of increased variability, with travelers more willing to book trips during ‘off-peak’ travel times. In a recent Skift article, author Ted Reed wrote, “Pent-up demand is so strong that off-peak travel bookings are higher for pre-summer and midweek days. During the first travel industry earnings call for 2022, Delta Air Lines said yields for off-peak travel are improving as travelers move from the most popular travel times.”

This could perhaps be summarized as a “carpe diem” travel attitude; after two years of limited movement, travelers are eager to explore domestic and international locales whenever their schedule allows. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that “normal” is not guaranteed – and the future is always subject to change. Last-minute bookings are also expected to rise, with travelers more likely to seize travel opportunities in real-time, rather than waiting for a trip booked far into the future.

Heightened Brand Standards

This should come as no surprise, but the pressure is on for hotels of all sizes and scales as public health and safety concerns remain heightened in the wake of the pandemic. Now, more than ever before, hotels have a responsibility to protect and prioritize the safety of their guests, and brand standards must be elevated to meet guest expectations while appealing to new public scrutiny and calls for vigilance. Of course, this is no small undertaking, as many hotels had to dismiss talented staff throughout the pandemic as operations came to a standstill.

With this in mind, hotels are encouraged to invest in technology as they rebuild their team(s), leveraging the power of automation to empower their staff to do more with less. Moreover, with the help of intuitive platforms that take care of the heavy lifting (from an operational task perspective), hotel staff can focus their attention on the guest and guest safety. Self-service technology will also reign supreme over this time. Many travelers now prefer self-service, interacting with hotel properties entirely on their teams and with less face-to-face contact for select service touchpoints.

Fortunately, this technology also empowers guest data collection, which, in turn, allows for enhanced personalization. This is great news for hoteliers and guests alike, as data from a recent survey indicates that 81% of people would share basic personal information in return for a personalized experience, and 79% of consumers agree that the more personalization tactics a brand uses, the more loyal they are to that brand.

An Emphasis on Flexibility

Now, more than ever, guests crave autonomy over their experience. From the moment they book to the time they spend on the property, guests want a more flexible experience that caters to their ever-changing needs. This can be achieved in various ways – flexible booking, flexible cancellation policies, contactless automation, flexible payment options, flexible check-in/out policies, etc.

Fortunately for hotels, adopting a more flexible service approach delights guests while creating new opportunities for revenue generation. A property management system that automates flexible offerings allows hotels to showcase available options (last-minute bookings, check-in/out flexibility, upgrades, etc.) and boost last-minute unsold rooms and revenues. Moreover, offering early check-in/late check-out at discounted prices – although this may seem like a small or insignificant gesture – pays dividends in guest loyalty and satisfaction. The writing is on the wall; the more hotels cater to their guests, the more loyal those guests will become, especially in the post-pandemic landscape.

Experiential Travel

If we weren’t already familiar with the concept of FOMO (fear of missing out), the last two years surely solidified our comprehension of this phenomenon. As the saying goes – you often don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone, and, for avid travelers, the pandemic acted like a pressure cooker for pent-up travel demand. With this in mind, we are anticipating a rise in experiential leisure travel as travelers prioritize trips that offer unique or immersive experiences and adventure.

This should come as no surprise; we spent two years cooped up with no suitable vacation options. As the world reopens, travelers are eager to experience new cultures and activities again, creating memories that will stretch far beyond the trip itself. With this in mind, hoteliers should look to offer guests a wide range of experiential options that are unique and memorable (aka insta-worthy).

Permanent Vacation

With credit to the pandemic, an estimated 71% of Americans are now working remotely. Even as offices reopen and staff members are once again invited to work together in real life, many companies are adopting more flexible work models that allow their employees the freedom to work from home or in-person moving forward.

With the continued influx of remote work, many employees are now exploring working abroad to escape “pandemic fatigue” and embrace a change of scenery. As such, extended vacations may become the new norm, as guests look to make the most of their time away and pair their leisure trips away with time spent working remotely. According to a recent study by Great Hotels of the World, bleisure trumps in group business, and over 46% of hotels currently offer Staycation packages and rates, while over 23% offer workcation rates for long stay work/holiday.

Anything is possible with a strong Wi-Fi signal and a picturesque beach, right?

Are Hotels Ready?

The hospitality industry has waited a long time for the return of travel. Still, it won’t be smooth sailing, especially in a pandemic that has robbed hotels of talent and experienced staff. That’s why hotels need to embrace new technology and digital innovations to shine. All this adds up to a better guest experience, of course. But it also adds up to a better employee experience, and that’s just as important. To give guests the engaging experiences they’ve been missing over the past year, hotels need to put smiles back on the faces of their frontline employees. Digital tools can make work more rewarding, more engaging, and more fun — and that, in turn, makes it easier to retain the talented workers who deliver exceptional experiences for your guests.