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The end and start of the year is often a time for reflection, and as the hospitality industry’s most challenging year came to a close, we wanted to take the time to reflect on what has changed in hospitality, what lessons can be learned and what needs to be prioritized for 2021.

Our first panel discussion focused on helping hotels navigate COVID-19 related shifts effectively and efficiently. Moderated by Sarah Mulder, Co-Founder of Fire on the Hill, our panel of experienced hospitality professionals included, Julie Grieve, Founder and CEO of Criton, Caryl Helsel, Founder and CEO of Dragonfly Strategists and our very own CEO Katherine Grass. The discussion provided a number of key insights to highlight the importance of the right tech investment to help hotel operations teams achieve long term success in the new normal.

The year of change

This year has inevitably seen huge changes in the hospitality sector. Hotels have had to pivot their services and offerings as their guests have changed.

Julie said, “The big thing has been the shift to leisure travel from business. We have also seen a huge shift in preferred destinations. The UK resorts at the seaside and forests are beating last year’s numbers compared to the city centre. So, adapting offers to meet the new traveller needs compared to the trends of last year is crucial.”

One of the biggest changes from this pandemic has been that hoteliers at the board level now understand how technology can underpin their offerings. It’s not machine vs person, it’s about how technology can help enable operations. Guests want to understand what you’ve changed, and digital technology will be a key in achieving this.

Technology has a big role to play

Technology is key. The need was always there from the guest, but hotels are now forced to provide this. We use technology in all other aspects of our lives so we can expect people will be receptive from staff to guests. It’s never a good time to do something new, but if this pandemic has taught us anything it’s that you just have to get on and do it! For example, resorts with lots of activity-based items are now using technology to enable them to run, from wearable tech, to mobile and kiosk tech for ticketing.

Our industry has lost people, but we still need to service guests and when guest numbers increase hotels won’t be able to hire people back as quickly as you’ll need them. Now is the perfect time to invest in technology, as you have a smaller group of people to train and there will be less disruption to guests as occupancy levels are still low.

Katherine said, “Legacy systems that are complicated and pen and paper processes aren’t going to cut it. Hotels need long lasting solutions. You want solutions that will help you adapt when the occupancy changes suddenly but isn’t complicated to use. Operations solutions and installing technology needs to deliver real and measurable value, and insights and information so hotels can see if they are doing something faster than before and how it has helped them operationally.”

Looking to 2021

All of the panelists agreed that 2021 will be a challenging year as we continue to adapt to the new normal and that areas such as corporate travel will take a longer time to recover. However, with every downside there is an opportunity, and in this pandemic, we have seen great opportunities in areas like domestic travel, so adapting models and packages tailored for these needs will be essential for success in 2021. Most importantly, hoteliers will need to be as efficient as possible in the next six months, so they are prepared for when numbers begin to see a return to normal.

Caryl said, “2021 is likely not going to be back to the levels of 2019 but we are seeing positive trends and seeing small growth in the US. We have to build trust in travel and areas like effective and rapid testing will be really important to help do this. I’m hopeful but I think it will be 2022 before we are back to the familiarities of 2019.”

Thanks again to all our panelists for this insightful discussion, it has been a challenging year but by embracing technology and pivoting business priorities there is a great opportunity for hotels to build back better.

Read the insights of our next two panel discussions:
"Traditional hotel roles have changed: Ensuring staff productivity and memorable guest
"Hotel risks and rewards in 2021: Optimizing profitability"