Hospitality Industry
17 min read

Hospitality Industry: All Your Questions Answered

EHL Insights
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How big is the hospitality industry? What trends are shaping its future? Everything you need to know about one of the world's fastest-growing industries.

Brief history of Hospitality

How Has The Hospitality Industry Evolved Since Its Origins?

Although the original concept of hospitality remained largely unchanged since its origins - i.e. meeting travelers’ basic needs such as providing food and accommodation - the idea of building hotels for the sole purpose of hosting guests emerged alongside technological advances and the emergence of better means of transportation towards the end of the 18th century.

Away from home, surrounded by strangers and yet you feel welcome. Derived from the latin word “hospes”, meaning both visitor and stranger, hospitality has its roots in ancient history. 

Since then, the sector has shown an unbroken run of growth and the very concept of hospitality can be applied to nearly any company that deals with customer satisfaction and is focused on catering to meeting leisure needs of travelers rather than basic ones.

What is the Hospitality Industry Today?

Today, the hospitality industry is made up of four distinct sectors:

  • Lodging: Luxury palaces, boutique hotels, bed and breakfasts, camping grounds, hostels… the lodging sector covers an extremely diverse spectrum of properties.
  • Food & Beverage (a.k.a F&B sector): the largest sector in hospitality, it is made up of properties delivering food, snacks, drinks for immediate consumption, on- or off-the premises.
  • Recreation: recreational establishments focus on the entertainment and relaxation of guests. Properties such as movie theaters or amusement parks fall into this category.
  • Travel & Tourism: comprises means of transportation to move travelers from one place to another. Airlines, cruise ships, buses, trains fall into this category.

While all sectors are interconnected and reliant on each other, all hospitality sectors are quickly evolving due to new technologies and a changing customer mindset.

How Fast is the Hospitality Industry Growing?

Along with the overall economy, the global hospitality industry has enjoyed a spurt of massive growth over the last decade since the end of the financial crisis. According to the World Bank, the global economy has grown at a pace of more than three percent per year during this period. This unprecedented expansion has benefited the hospitality and tourism industry by stimulating the world population’s travel activity, adding countless room nights in both leisure, and business travel.

Key Hospitality and Tourism Statistics

1. International arrivals have increased from 900 million to more than 1.3 billion over a span of just ten years.

Not only has this boosted the number of rooms on offer, but has also led to a major contribution of global employment opportunities. Covid-19 has had a severe impact and international tourist arrivals plunged 93% in june 2020 when compared to 2019 and 65% during the 1st half of 2020. This represents an unprecedented decrease as countries around the world closed their borders and introduced travel restrictions in response to Covid-19.

All in all 2020 is recognized as the worst year in tourism history with 1 billion fewer international arrivals and US $ 1.1 trillion in international tourism receipts. Around 74% drop according to the latest data from World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) a level of 30 years ago. 

UNWTO’s extended scenarios for 2021-2024 point to a rebound in international tourism by the second half of 2021. However a return to 2019 levels in terms of international arrivals could take two and a half to four years. 

2. The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) names the hospitality industry’s importance as a main driver in global value creation.

Recent figures published by the WTTC suggest a global contribution of 8.8 trillion USD to the global economy in 2018, representing 10.4 percent of the world’s total GDP. The 2020 plunge in international tourism could result in an estimated economic loss of over US$ 2 trillion in global GDP, more than 2% of the world’s GDP in 2019.

3 - The hospitality and travel industry accounts for one out of every ten employment opportunities.

Bringing the number of people earning their living in the sector to a stunning 319 million in 2018 alone. The rise in revenue does not only benefit international companies and hotel owners, but also acts as a major factor in job creation for local populations and destinations. As of the latest data, around 173 million people were employed in the hotel and motel industry before the Covid-19 pandemic hit. 

4 - The overall growth in the travel and tourism industry was 3.9 percent in 2018 and was outpacing the global economy (3.2%).

The hospitality industry may seem to be struggling at the moment but it seems to be on track to recover as travel restrictions become more relaxed. However, it is worth for the industry to remain on guard from other disruptors aside the Covid-19 like technological innovation and digital transformation. 

Hospitality industry statistics

What Macro Trends are Driving Growth of Hospitality and Tourism?

1 - The booming global economy continues to create a positive momentum in the sector by contributing to the overall income per capita.

Since 2009, this number has constantly increased at an average pace of almost two percent per annum, leading to a growing demand for both international and domestic travel spending.

2 - Airfares have consistently become more affordable over the last three decades,

thanks to lower fuel prices, carrier competition and the rise of low-cost airlines. While these are not happy news for the airline industry, which is using ancillary fees to increase profit margins, it benefits travelers who can get more from their purchasing power.

3 -Corporate travel is yet another contributor to the healthy outlook and is projected to keep growing.

In China and India, the growth of business travel is particularly steep due to the relentless pace of economic expansion in this part of the world.

4 - Hotel operators are seeking to expand their portfolios through targeted acquisitions of smaller regional chains.

Mergers and Acquisitions activity in hospitality has somewhat cooled over the last few years, with operators seeking to expand business in a more controlled way.

What Major Challenges is the Hospitality Industry Facing?

#1 - The threat of climate change

The threat of climate change will adversely impact many major tourist destinations. Threats resulting from climate change, safety and security issues, as well as unprecedented migration streams are tomorrow’s game changers. The main challenges for the hospitality industry are the lack of predictability and the magnitude of such events – and how fast the industry can react and adapt. Hybrid operations might be one of the hospitality industry’s possible responses to increased risks.

#2 - Industry consolidation

Corporate consolidation has led to increasing concentration of size and power among the top players. Hotel operators will seek to expand their portfolios through targeted acquisitions of smaller regional chains. While the ultimate goal is to create value through cross-organizational synergies, this development also comes with downsides, as the management of structures with a diverse selection of geographies and a plethora of brands generates more complexity and threatens to increase overall rigidity. 

Hilton remains the world’s most valuable hospitality brand, with its value up by a 35% despite the Covid-19 pandemic. 

#3 - New competition from tech and digital players

Are major technology firms such as Google or Facebook threatening to replace hotel brands by offering technological solutions and creating novel markets to attract new types of customers? Thanks to their control over all types of data related to customer behavior both off- and online, tech behemoths could oust traditional incumbents into niche markets. Companies that fail to identify their niche are at risk of becoming mere revenue generators for technology companies. Some big enough brands may survive, but their business will get tougher.

#4 - Skilled talent shortage

As the accommodation and restaurant industry is creating jobs at the fastest rate of any sector in the economy according to the International Labor Organization, fueling this growth with the right skilled labor is yet another concern for owners. Attracting and retaining younger generations of hospitality professionals will require a lot of flexibility and attention from hoteliers in the future.

covid hospitality tourism

Covid-19: Impact on the Hospitality industry

The ruthless march of COVID-19 throughout the globe is first and foremost a human tragedy, affecting the health of hundreds of thousands of people. The consequences of measures taken worldwide to curb the pandemic are having a growing impact on the global economy. The impact being felt by the Hospitality industry is massive due to factors including, the migratory nature of the hospitality work force and the pause on global travel, tourism and restaurant services. 

Does the leisure and tourism workforce need to be rescued? Considering the industry contributes 10,4% of global GDP, supporting one in ten jobs on the planet, we can affirm that the tourism industry is one of the principal job providers. Furthermore, business recovery is expected to be slow: the UNWTO has estimated a 20%-30% global decline in international tourist arrivals. How hoteliers navigate the crisis?

This epidemic has introduced many variables that are currently fogging up the prospects of the hospitality industry. Due to the uncertainty of the changes in customer needs after the epidemic, hotels need to review their existing service offerings so as to adapt to the changes in:

  • Customer experience
  • Customer perceptions 
  • Shift in consumption patterns
  • Quality asset management

In the human side there is two strategies for hoteliers:  Retention or downsizing with their pros and cons. 

Is also the time to stabilize your employees, develop and implement your reopening plan to come out of theses challenging times stronger than before. With COVID-19, housekeeping has become more critical than ever. Those teams put their health in danger to look after the remaining staff and guests. 

Hotels, restaurants, spas, therapists,etc...are asked to put in place many sanitary adjustments that increase the cost function of the supplier. 

With decreasing infection rates and a slight recovery from the pandemic, many hotel and restaurant owners are raising the question on how to prepare for the post-COVID 19 world of hospitality. 

Covid-19 took the world by surprise and has had a drastic effect on not only the way business is done but also on how to survive. Many hospitality professionals have been left to assess the impact that Covid-19 has had on their business as well as what protocols will need to be implemented in the future. What  is the impact that the global pandemic has had on the hospitality industry?

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The way back from Covid-19: hospitality industry navigating the next normal

Travel will tentatively restart...What travelers think about their future travel and how hospitality industry players are responding to these trends?

When a lockdown ends, the first two things people want to spend money on is eating out and travelling. Confidence in domestic travel will rise although travelers will still be cautious. Will people prefer to stay close to home, choosing for example to drive or take trains to regional destinations? 

Covid-19 tsunami has wiped out a lot of the old ways of thinking about hotel strategies. In the long-run, hoteliers will need to adapt to fit to the new status-quo, and the new normal. 

As a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, travel behavior all across the globe changed, particularly in terms of the level of comfort when staying in hotels. According to a survey from statista, as of May 2020, 60 percent of respondents stated that they would be more comfortable staying in hotels after the coronavirus pandemic if there is increased frequency of cleaning and disinfecting procedures. Comparatively, nine percent of respondents were in favor of temporarily suspending some hotel services such as spas, casinos, and restaurants. 

Public opinion on how to improve customer comfort levels in hotels after the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic worldwide as of May 2020.

The Future of Hospitality Industry in the Wake of Covid-19

90% of the global population adjusted to life under travel restrictions and others stayed home afraid of the virus. The hospitality industry and the world continues to suffer considerable losses and setbacks due to the pandemic and the sector has been in a standstill. However, hospitality leaders remain strong and extremely agile to respond to all the roadblocks.

Four main interconnected trends:

  1. Demand is evolving more than ever with a clear change in behaviors and preferences. More domestic travels, more familiar, trustworthy and predictable. Outside activities are the main choice and hospitality industry is already embracing this.

    92% of consumers trust word-of-mouth recommendations from family and friends.

    In 2020, 58% of travelers were planning to take domestic trips.

  2. Health, Safety and Hygiene are the keywords. Social distancing, individual experiences and making sure not to stay stuck in another land will dictate the customer behavior in the short and medium run.

    80% of travelers fear potential quarantine as much as contracting the virus.

    69% of travelers mention cleanliness and health measures as a critical component of travel brands’ crisis response.

  3. Digitized and innovate. The integration of new technologies have been the reality during Covid-19. Purchases online, stay-at-home orders are on the rise with contactless technologies.

    45% of air travel passengers are ready to shed their paper passports for digital identities.

    89% of travel and tourism companies think the skills gap in local labor markets is a barrier to adoption of new technologies.

  4. Social, environmental and institutional sustainability. Restoration of the natural habitats, unemployment, wildlife protection, anti-racism movements...there is a public awareness and advocacy of sustainability in different areas.

    58% of consumers say they are thinking more about the environment since Covid-19.

    78% of conservationists have been negatively impacted by Covid-19.

    73% of consumers are taking note of brands that are making a difference during Covid-19

Many challenges await for the hospitality industry and the future may appear uncertain, however this can and will turn into opportunities for an industry that has demonstrated along the years to be extremely resilient, strong and adaptative. 

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What are the Top Trends in the Hospitality Industry?

Sustained disruption from online travel agents (OTAs) and digital players

Online Travel Agents (OTAs)

Well-established OTAs are continuing to look for new ways to challenge the hotel industry.

Expedia, for instance, has been expanding its global presence by focusing on "brand-agnostic customers" through more relevant local offerings and content strategies. A world in which we no longer search for information via browsers and apps as we do now, but instead ask a virtual personal assistant – whether it be Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, or Google Assistant – to book holidays or business trips for us - may not be too far off.

In the wake of these changes, there are many aspects for hoteliers to pay attention to, but there are also lessons to be learned in order to better equip traditional providers for what lies ahead.


Airbnb’s rapid expansion - embodied by its strategy roadmap aptly dubbed “Airbnb For Everyone” is another example of aggressive efforts for non-traditional hospitality industry players to play on traditional hotel business’s territories: the digital giant has drastically expanded the type of properties available to customers - from vacation homes and B&Bs to experiences or collections. The company did cut 2,000 employees in May 2020 and refocused on its core services: home rentals and activities hosted by locals in their respective cities. Airbnb is putting emphasize that now that business meetings are attended virtually, people will travel more often for pleasure rather than business. Airbnb is still considered the most valuable and leisure brand, with a value of $10.5 billion. 


Google has clearly been placing bets on the travel and hospitality industry by consolidating its various offerings into its Google Trips interface - tapping into its gigantic trove of user data and delivering highly relevant information to users across the various stages of their trip planning. Its tools range from Google Assistant to flight and travel data and put the company in a comfortable position when competing not only with major hotel chains but also OTAs.

Big Data, AI and customization in the hospitality industry

Data is everywhere and for companies that know how to collect and store it correctly it can be a major success factor. Big Data Analytics can help operators correctly predict whether high-rolling guests spending thousands of dollars on expensive food and drinks are merely celebrating a special occasion or if this behavior is the clients’ usual behavior while traveling. This sort of information is crucial in efforts to determine a customer’s lifetime value.

A deep understanding of customer needs through the collected information also enables hoteliers to stay relevant through their ability to offer personalized services to every guest, thus increasing their likeliness to return.

Unfortunately, many hotel owners tend to confuse personalization with simply selling upgrades or improving their email marketing. Hoteliers need to understand the limitations set by these challenges, but should not be discouraged since there are multiple steps that can be taken to stay relevant.

When it comes to ensuring that each room is sold at the highest price possible, revenue management is used to focus primarily on setting room prices and optimizing room inventory. Today, Revenue Management strategy goes beyond those aspects, and revenue managers should look for new ways to optimize revenue growth and profitability through data integration.

Digital advertising budgets will increase up to 78% in 2021 as businesses try to best communicate to consumers.

Digital transformation in the hospitality business

In today’s ever-connected environment, addressing current challenges head on means embracing the possibilities offered by an end-to-end customer experience. It is not about merely relying on a loyalty program anymore, it is about creating a broad and connected ecosystem across all brands and touchpoints.

Major players in the industry - such as Accor - have already realized the immense potential of new technologies and are currently looking for ways to incorporate them into their client offering.

An area where traditional hoteliers are lagging behind their more advanced opponents is online visibility and brand recognition. In the past some brands were able to create their markets based on the number of properties or an outstanding service offering. With the dawn of the internet and the connected rise of OTAs however, this trend has been disrupted. Because of the immense amount of in differentiable hotel brands, hotel chains can already barely compete with online travel and booking players, making new competitive strategies inevitable.

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Millennials and Generation Z travel trends: experience economy an customization

Millennials are a hugely attractive market, representing two billion people globally. Their collective spending is set to overtake Generation X by 2020, so it is not surprising that hotels have picked up on this trend.

Many are discussing how to best approach this group of customers and how to stay attractive in the light of changing values and behavior. Hotel chains have launched brands designed to appeal to this demographic segment, often by reducing guest room sizes and putting more emphasis on creating convivial common areas.

On the horizon however, the post-millennials of Generation Z are already picking up speed.

Both generations’ need for unique experiences has led to the surfacing of the experience economy. This buzzword describes the transition from a product- and service-driven economy to an experiential one. The combination of advances in technology with the changing values of consumers led to the success of social media and sharing networks as commercial platforms. This provides an opportunity for traditional hotel brands to leverage their existing brand equity to offer a range of more focused services and experiences that go beyond hotel stays.

Beyond the traditional hotel brand

After detaching themselves from physical assets, the time seems right for hotel brands to capitalize on their brand equity and find opportunities beyond traditional hotel stays to become universal travel and service brand. Wherever service and design elements are key to the experience delivery, hospitality brands have an opportunity to add and improve on the existing product.

In turn, this allows hospitality brands to create significantly more customer touchpoints with their target markets and collect more insights to help them create an ecosystem of services that could leverage off each other. As a way of circumventing hypercompetitive markets, hotels will also increasingly have to focus on niche markets, where customers are looking for a specific experience or service.

We categorize niche markets in the sense they could be royalty, they could be fashion, art, entertainment. They could be anyone of those items and we’ve actually been operating our business based on that for a long time .
Mathew Nixon, Business and operations transformation at Dorchester Collection.

Towards sustainable hotels

With the impact of climate change becoming more and more apparent all over the globe, societal pressure on providers in all industries is mounting. First steps are being taken, for instance, in the fight against single-use plastic products that are part of the roughly 300 million tons of plastic produced each year. Many major corporations and businesses are opting to ditch single-use plastics from their day-to-day operations and the hospitality space is no different.

Hotels and airlines find themselves with a unique opportunity to really impact the effects of global plastic consumption as they often provide disposable products at mass scales. Many critics say that the practice of reducing plastic waste is, while commendable, not nearly enough to make a true impact in the fight against rising temperatures.

A growing number of hotels are rising up to the challenge of running a sustainable business. Beyond plastic usage, general waste production, food waste, usage of local produce, energy and water consumption and many other factors are to be considered for operators that are serious about their claim. Going one step further, the term sustainability is also often used in relation to not only environmental protection, but also corporations’ approach to managing their people and their finances. All across the board, resources of all kinds are being used more efficiently in the hospitality industry and while there are various strategies being adopted by hotels, a paradigm shift is becoming more recognizable. 


What Do Top CEOs Have to Say about the Future of the Hospitality and Tourism Industry?

As an industry that depends on a stable environment in order to successfully operate - societal and environmental changes are having a greater impact on hospitality businesses compared to other industries. A recent global survey among CEOs by PwC has shown that heads of hospitality and leisure companies are notably less confident about their companies’ prospects for revenue growth in the near future than their counterparts in other sectors.

With disruptors in the industry, a wave of consolidation, and many external factors impacting their operations, hotel operators must find new ways to overcome these hurdles. Solutions to future challenges that companies are currently coming up with are the result of new thinking among the world’s business leaders and CEOs.

In a crowded field of competitors, hotels must find ways to distinguish themselves and position their property as distinctive destinations for customers, to develop preferences and loyalty in order to drive direct bookings. To do so, hotels must offer more highly personalized experiences that anticipate and go beyond the needs of their target customers – and count on word of mouth and allegiance to not only retain their customer base, but also grow it with more potential customers.

We have been a super good hospitality group for the last 50 years. We are not shying away from it. We are shifting and expanding the hospitality notion to Augmented Hospitality. We are being even more audacious and going one step further by saying: Since people want to be recognized, want to have something extremely personalized, why don't we try going from Augmented Hospitality to a Lifestyle Augmented Hospitality player?
Sébastien Bazin, Chairman and CEO of Accor (Source: Accor TV - New Accor Strategy).

Other ways that are often discussed when dealing with the impending changes are the implementation of new technologies, training employees to move away from standard SOPs to become true high-touch experience providers and modernizing the service offering towards individualization and “lifestyle” to create true differentiation.

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What will hospitality leaders do to remain competitive in an ever-evolving market environment?


Fully take advantage of technology and personalization to create experiences

noun_Mobile Shopping_2292556A generational shift towards how travelers are consuming hospitality services is making hotels evolve from being mere suppliers of accommodation to experience providers, leading to a need for outstanding customer relationship across all stages of their guests’ customer journeys.

Focus on talent acquisition and retention

noun_experience_2504812From targeted recruitment efforts to a meaningful interview process and to the actual hiring and onboarding process, organizations that are well-equipped to recruit in the era of millennials think holistically about the overall experience delivered to potential hires.

Embrace sustainability as part of your business model

noun_Mobile Shopping_2292556As a result, a growing number of international hotel companies have developed sustainability and corporate social responsibility strategies. These initiatives can be perceived as the beginning of a paradigm shift toward a positive form of hospitality.



What Will Hospitality Management Careers of Tomorrow Look Like?

Reshaping the future of hospitality jobs

Over the past two decades, the hospitality industry has experienced significant growth, with international arrivals doubling from 600 million to over 1.4 billion in 2016.

In 2018, the travel and tourism industry saw a growth of 3.9%, outpacing that of the global economy (3.2%). In that same year, the hospitality and travel industry accounted for one out of every ten employment opportunities – bringing the number of hospitality professionals to a remarkable 319 million. End of 2019 we were filled with excitement and optimism about the amazing tourism opportunities and growth that the new decade will bring.

In the 1st half of 2020 as Covid-19 restrictions were enforced we had a drop of 65% international tourist arrivals. The predictions from the experts mention we may have to wait 2024 before international travel returns to 2019 levels. 

However, many people across the world are seeing the return of international travel within the short term. 65% of Americans have booked international trips for 2021 rather than domestic. 

Confidence from a quicker return comes from the tourism expert community of the Middle East as well as the many vaccination policies started worldwide.

Travel and tourism may be up as global levels of wealth increase, but there are fewer qualified hospitality workers across the entire industry and the ever evolving market dynamics are leading to the creation of brand new types of jobs in the sector.

On the horizon for current and future hospitality professionals:

Employers across the board are looking for professionals with a combination of both hard and soft skills. In hospitality, developing skills such as cultural awareness, multitasking, customer service and communications - is paramount to effectively deliver outstanding customer experiences.

The increasing complexity of the hospitality sector and evolution of its modus operandis - due to the expanded use of technology and data, the evolution of business models with the separation of management from operations or the ever-increasing trend of brands becoming publishers - is leading to the creation of new job profiles, such as; asset managers, data scientists, or content marketing specialists.

The Covid-19 crisis has underlined the global importance of the travel and tourism industry economically as well as its interconnection with other industries. From small tour operators to multinational hotel chains and major airlines, everyone in the industry have been impacted by border restrictions as well as social distancing and lockdowns.

Covid-19 has impacted jobs and many trillion in GDP, the longer-term damage in livelihoods of those in this industry  remains to be seen. To every negative repercussions of a crisis there is also some positive change that could be foreseen for the future. The World Economic Forum’s recent “Rebuilding Travel and Tourism panel” at the “Sustainable Development Impact Summit” explored the intersection of consumer consciousness, acceleration of technology and destination management and found some solutions that could have the potential to reshape the way we market, manage and plan our travel:

  • Travelers are becoming more impact-conscious
  • Tourists are looking for experiences in nature
  • Digital solutions are improving sustainability
  • Long-term progress requires cooperation 

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