From this summer’s air travel chaos to staff shortage in hospitality sectors around the world, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on travel persists to this day.
The hospitality industry continues to move towards recovery after years of unforeseen losses, although experts believe there are still several years to a full recovery. A recent American Hotel and Lodging Association report notes that room revenue for this year is expected to exceed 2019 figures on a nominal basis, but when adjusted for inflation, revenue per available room may not reach pre-pandemic levels until 2025.
The data is perhaps unsurprising, given the increased interest in vacation rentals through Airbnb and VRBO during the peak of the pandemic. Many travelers have expressed a preference for renting a private home that allows for privacy, cooking, and space for the whole family to gather.
But that doesn’t mean the hotel experience is kaput. Below, industry experts explain how hotels are trying to keep travelers coming back to these familiar accommodations — and some great deals you could take advantage of in the process.
Focus on workspaces
Since March 2020, many offices have closed permanently, while others remain significantly emptier, as flexible policies allow workers to come in only a few days a week or as infrequently as they wish.
Business travelers, who used to work from their company’s office in another city, no longer necessarily do so. And even those who aren’t traveling for business are enjoying the opportunity to "work from anywhere" and explore new destinations after they’re done for the day. As a result, many hotels are now marketing themselves as ideal workspaces for bleisure travelers.
“Since so many people are working from home, we are seeing incentive programs for hotels,” Jessica Nabongotravel specialist and author of "Catch Me If You Can: One Woman’s Journey to Every Country in the World" says HuffPost. "They’ve set up different layouts around various properties, so people have spaces to work in."
Marriott International’s efforts to reinvent the Sheraton hotel brand began before the pandemic, but the chain’s focus on communal and private workspaces has become even more relevant over the past two years. Redeveloped properties in metropolitan areas like downtown Phoenix, Arizona and Denver, Colorado feature modern tables and counters, comfortable seating, cafes and other new environments that encourage work and the collaboration.
“Our lobbies are designed with spaces to meet in small groups for remote work, but we also offer closed, soundproof booths for video calls or a solo workspace,” said Amanda Nichols, global leader of the brand at Sheraton Hotels and Resorts. "We’ve heard from our hotels that guests and locals are becoming regulars in their lobbies, choosing to meet clients or colleagues at the hotel while some offices remain closed."
Non-staying guests can take advantage of these types of workspace options by doing business from publicly accessible hotel lobbies or, in the case of Sheraton, by purchasing a day pass for 12-hour access to a private bedroom and business facilities on the property.
Long term stay offers
Remote and hybrid work models also give people the opportunity to spend significantly more time in one destination than they might when they have to be in the office five days a week. Now, instead of a weekend getaway to a new city, travelers can plan a Wednesday-Tuesday trip, work weekdays, and spend the rest of the time exploring local attractions, restaurants and stores.
Hotels are responding accordingly with offers that encourage visitors to choose their properties for these extended stays.
“Miami Beach hotels are offering travelers the opportunity to extend their stay with length-of-stay offers and remote work packages, catering to the new bleisure nomad,” said Steve Adkins, C.hairdresser Miami Beach Visitors and Convention Authority. "For example, Dream Hotel South Beach offers the "Dream Longer" Packagean offer of up to 25% off stays of seven nights or more.”
Indeed, industry experts have named the extended stay business model as one of the strongest areas of recovery since the start of the pandemic.
"While rentals could provide a cost-effective option for travellers, especially for large family groups, hotels offer standardized features and services that the customer is more familiar with," said Mychal Milian, Director of Complex Operations at AC Hotel Fort Lauderdale Airport and Marriott Fort Lauderdale Airport. "Branded hotels have a loyalty base of leisure and business travelers who are incentivized by frequent traveler programs that will offer highly attractive benefits such as room upgrades, late check-ins, airline miles, access executive floor, etc."
In addition to the usual amenities and loyalty program perks, many hotels have enhanced their offerings to attract visitors in the age of COVID. Think complementary spa treatments and fitness classes, restaurants with Michelin star chefstailor-made cocktail bars offering extended happy hourslive music events and themed seasonal experiences.
"Many hotels are offering more immersive and personal guest experiences to attract visitors…everything from offering in-room gym equipment to stargazing experiences to arranging private hotel tours. art/graffiti or culinary excursions," said Katie Fontana, vice president of communications. and PR to Dream hotel group. “There has always been a focus on guest experience for any property, but hotels are really stepping it up and becoming more of a lifestyle entity.”
Ash Tembe, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at AIC Hotel Groupsaid his brand has been working to put together exciting offers that people can experience individually or in small groups after the lockdown comes out.
“In addition to tempting reservation offers and promotions, each property has curated an exclusive menu of private experiences, including cooking classes, tastings, bonfire experiences, dance lessons and more, which allowed customers to book them and experience them with the people they traveled with," he said. Explain.
Focus on strengths
Even without additional amenities and experiences, the most basic hotel stay can offer perks that aren’t necessarily available with vacation rentals. Recent hotel ad campaigns have highlighted these differences.
"There’s nothing like a great hotel stay," Nichols said. "Personally, I loved walking into a hotel and seeing how people love the feeling of being together and traveling again. Walking into a hotel and feeling the energy of the people around you, that feeling of open your bedroom door and see a freshly made bed awaiting you, along with the personalized service you receive with every interaction.
Professionals are understandably quick to tout the benefits of convenient, personalized service with concierges, room service, baggage assistance, housekeeping, and even just the presence of a 24/7 desk. /7 to meet unforeseen maintenance issues or other needs.
Pandemic-era marketing highlighted the familiarity of the hotel experience, increased flexibility with cancellation, connection with others and dedication to wellness and stress-free travel. Of course, there has also been an emphasis on health and safety, from the American Hotel and Lodging Association”Safe stay"Hilton’s Initiative"CleanStay“program at Accor”allsafe" to plan.
"Our main message centered around the strict protocols established at each property, giving travelers the instant peace of mind they’ve been looking for," Tembe said. "We have also remained flexible with our policies, adapted to changes seamlessly, and been proactive in our communication to keep our customers informed."
Increased variety of accommodation options
Another way hotels are working to compete with the vacation rental model is to set up their own.
"A home rental can be a great choice if you’re looking for more space or privacy during your stay, for example, for a large family reunion," Nichols said. “We know that many of our Marriott Bonvoy members enjoy using home rentals – part of the reason we launched our own home rental platform, Homes & Villas by Marriott International, is that our research has shown that about one in four of our members were already using home rental services.
She pointed out that the Houses & Villas program allows Marriott Bonvoy members to stay in a home rental, while redeeming loyalty points or earning more points for future hotel stays.
"A home rental can also give you more choice in terms of location," Nichols added. "In fact, 40% of the locations where we have home rentals are new destinations in the Marriott Bonvoy ecosystem."
Although the Marriott program tends to offer high-end, luxury vacation rentals, there are also more affordable rental options from other hotel brands.
“For those who prefer an apartment-style stay, Yotel Miami is the first Yotel hotel to also offer Yotelpadsaid the hotel’s general manager, Gilberto Garcia-Tunon. "Pad spaces — ranging from studios to one-bedroom and two-bedroom — feature full kitchens with appliances, dishwashers, washers and dryers, living rooms with custom Murphy beds, and balconies with views breathtaking views of Biscayne Bay and downtown Miami."
Whether these efforts to compete more directly with Airbnb and VRBO is successful remains to be seen, but the reality remains: Hotels want you to come back, and they think outside the box — er, standard room — to make it happen.