As the global pandemic has swept around the world, few sectors have been hit as hard as the hospitality industry. People have been unable to travel as countries have closed orders and imposed restrictions on their populations in an effort to control the spread. The businesses that serve them, in response, have experienced tremendous upheaval and closures.
As the world begins to look towards the future and what it might hold for those across different areas of the hospitality industry, EHL Regional Director in the Asia-Pacific region, Joshua Gan, hosted a webinar with some leaders in the sector, in collaboration with General Assembly Singapore. These different professionals, from around the Singapore region, got together to discuss the future of the hospitality industry.
The webinar explores the idea of the future in hospitality, and how the industry might change following the pandemic from a variety of different perspectives. Joining Joshua Gan:
Each participant brought years of industry expertise and their unique perspective.
The impact of 2020 on different aspects of the hospitality industry
The leaders who came together for this webinar were able to explore how the past year, and the challenges it brought, impacted the industry from a variety of different specialties. Joan, who works for a luxury real estate company currently working on a project in the Maldives, found that the year was really about managing the downs and the logistics associated with the unexpected closures and disruptions to supply chains.
"It became difficult to forecast performance moving forward."
Gisle, at the Hilton, found that within the company, unfortunately, they had to say goodbye to some colleagues just to be able to keep the business afloat and begin to prepare for the future. From the supply side, Huilin reported that severe cost-cutting measures had to be implemented to keep the business afloat. Similarly, Joel reported that Lyf brand buildings had very low occupancy rates by hospitality standards, which made it difficult to do business and forced them to carefully rethink how they could keep the spaces used.
However, the group also found that the year brought about positive changes. Forcing teams and companies to come together and support each other, try out new ideas to keep the business alive, and brainstorm creative solutions that they might not have otherwise been open to. These were all highlights named by a few.
Businesses were able to shift their focus, such as moving away from providing travelers with hotel accommodations, and instead focusing on supporting the community by providing housing for healthcare workers. These type of actions made them feel useful during the pandemic in some way.
The customers have also begun to shift with regard to their priorities, such as a greater emphasis on hygiene and safety.
This has encouraged those in the industry to similarly shift in how to provide services to customers and what they want to emphasize when creating an experience for their customers.
The role of technology in the hospitality industry and the potential it holds for the future
Like the rest of the world, the hospitality industry was forced online to combat the pandemic and avoid in-person crowds, hence, digital technology has become an increasingly important part of business success.
The introduction and adoption of technology in ways that brands might not have otherwise considered became an important part of the conversation.
The speakers noticed that technology opened up a variety of new opportunities for growth, such as using the streaming technology to connect not only with their colleagues and the rest of their business connections but also with guests. Streaming experiences for guests to encourage engagement allowed them to connect during shutdown. The success, however, indicated that it could potentially become an important part of the future travel experience.
Hospitality professionals have also noticed the importance of social media during this entire experience, as they have had to rely on these digital platforms to help greet connections that might be thousands of miles away. Instead of being able to hop on a plane to interact with potential contacts in person, they have been restricted to what they could do online. Those that had already adapted to the importance of social media made the transition easily, while those who had neglected social presences had to adapt quickly and found it a little more challenging to get started.
Even outside social media, the Covid-19 period has helped to show the importance of remaining abreast of the latest customer expectations and interests. Hilton, in particular, had made moves to introduce digital technology into parts of their customer experience prior to the pandemic. When the emergency hit, they found that the changes they had already introduced helped them immensely. That culture of innovation and looking forward to the future set them up for success throughout the difficult year.
Throughout this pandemic experience, those in the hospitality industry have also begun to look to those outside the industry, specifically those in the technological industry, to provide them with help and advice. Often it is those outside the industry, those who are not stuck in a particular way of doing things, that can help introduce revolutionary new ideas that help to boost the entire business sector.
Many business sectors, especially the hospitality industry, tend to get caught in the idea that there is a particular ‘way’ that things should always be done. When adapting to new technological ideas, it can be a challenge to know what customers really want to see. Those who found it the easiest to survive the downturn were the ones willing to think outside the box and find solutions that might be far from their typical forms of operation.
"A culture of innovation played a large role in the ability of organizations to adapt to the changes of the past year."
As the organizations learned how to capitalize on the changes that the pandemic produced, they found that they were able to experience new ways of doing business that might even last after the crisis is over. The ability to speak to investors, stakeholders and other business connections quickly and easily, regardless of location, had a positive impact on the decision-making and direction of the organization. Professionals could secure meetings more freely and not worry about incurring travel costs or losing time. This adaptation to meeting online with faraway colleagues has been a positive change that looks set to remain.
Employees and human capital are the future of the hospitality industry
Although hospitality professionals will have to start seeing some rebounding in their businesses to position themselves successfully to begin hiring again, investing in human capital will continue to be an important component of hospitality growth and success.
For those working for businesses in the hospitality industry, keeping employees engaged remains an important part of the work culture.
Keeping people involved in the business and connected to the mission helps to set the organization up for success when the business begins to move forward again. With the periods when business is slow, these organizations have the potential to closely examine how they manage their internal processes so that they can create more efficient operations for growth.
Overall, the hospitality industry continues to show remarkable resilience.
It is an industry that has seen rises and falls in response to world events many times before, and older, established companies-- like Hilton-- are familiar with this type of upheaval. The hospitality industry is poised to continue to grow and shows signs of tremendous recovery and expansion once traveling possibilities reopen. The opportunities to attract excellent talent that can help these businesses adapt to the new reality and take advantage of the changes and innovations available after this period of upheaval, will be significant.
Customers will be interested in how hospitality businesses manage safety and hygiene during their stay. Therefore, businesses need to know how to implement hygiene strategies within their establishments and how to communicate their values to their customers.
The emphasis on hygiene has brought another potential opening for innovation in the industry. Hospitality has thus far largely relied on chemicals that might not be entirely environmentally safe and could greatly hinder efforts towards sustainability in the future. Therefore, businesses can take this as an opportunity to closely examine how they disinfect everything from their surfaces in the workplace to the products they bring in, and even what they offer guests throughout their stay. Opportunities to look towards the future will abound, and convergence of sustainability and hygiene will be a potential area of innovation and change.
Sustainability was also a pressing topic in the hospitality industry before the pandemic, and it will likely come back following the reopening of borders and travel. Joan reports on her project in the Maldives, for example, where they are incorporating the largest solar power installation in the region which will help them meet sustainability goals and also improve energy costs.
The relationship between sustainability and rebounding businesses will likely become increasingly important. When sustainability is done well, it also generally saves companies money. As the businesses attempt to dig themselves out from the setbacks they have experienced over the past year, opportunities for adopting new strategies that can improve their sustainability metrics but also help the business save money will be readily accepted.
Moving forward: Hospitality in 2021
Although many of the speakers during the webinar do not expect travel to fully return for another year, this next year will offer tremendous opportunities for growth and recovery. Continuing to make changes that will allow their businesses to begin generating revenue and also improve their overall adaptability and agility will remain at the forefront.
Businesses across all industries have realized that the world can quickly change, causing supply chain issues and nearly shutting down industries as large as the hospitality and travel sector. Businesses that understand how to adapt to this reality and prepare themselves are the best equipped to navigate the changing landscape.
Customers will begin to return as countries reopen their borders and companies themselves have learned important lessons that will help them face the future. The experience of travel will adjust as customer expectations have changed and businesses realize the potential found in technology as well as the opportunities in sustainability and environmentally-friendly designs.