Future of hospitality

By Ralf Steinhauer, Director, Dubai Studio

12 August 2020

In the past few months a lot has been written and speculated about the future of hospitality during COVID-19 and post COVID-19 times. It has hit the industry in an unprecedented fashion and only now there is a light at the end of the tunnel due to slow opening of international travel and domestic staycation initiatives and offers.

There is a big question mark if we took globalisation and business as well as leisure travel too far but none of it will cease to exist. The necessity of business travel will remain even though it was amazing to see how adaptive many industries were in the past few month, shifting to home office and video calls without losing efficiency or productivity. Leisure travel will bounce back too as everyone talked about the first opportunity to get out and away after restrictions are lifted. Possible quarantine measures and opening of borders will dictate the capacity for international travel. It will take some time before it will goes back to previous capacities which will also affect the hospitality industry.

Even though hospitality might bounce back to pre-COVID occupancy, the industry has to focus on the necessity to diversify occupancy from external to internal tourism. Hotels need to re-connect with locals and the local community by diversify offerings and pricings. This shift to a more local mindset will likely continue, says Elizabeth Tilton, founder of hospitality services group Oyster Sunday. “Restaurants with huge accolades and international presence rely on tourists and travelers who come to experience that,” she explains. “So they have to completely take that away and ask what it means to feed their neighborhood and to become hyper-local.”

From a design perspective there will be a few changes to hospitality spaces. First and foremost, we will see more touch-less interaction and check-in by hand held device control. A greater focus on technology in general will be the new norm such as introduction of robots to take over certain tasks. Surfaces and materials that are easy to maintain and give users the confidence of safe usage will be preferred. There will be more time between check-out and check-in to give extra time for cleaning and disinfection measures.

We will have to see how interactions of guest will change now with health measures in place for social distancing and limited number of people in enclosed spaces. This will have an effect on lobbies, corridors, elevators, restaurants, bars, gyms, pools and other amenities offered in hotels.

For existing hotels it will be important to revisit HVAC systems, capacity and cleanliness which could result in a major overhaul and renovation work. For newly planned and designed hotels there could be a drive for introduction of private elevators, focus on health and wellness and a (temporary) shift from ‘co’ everything (co-working, co-living and co-dining) to individual use spaces again.

The impact on the environment needs to be closely considered as the current trend of single-use cutlery and crockery and reintroduction of plastic bottles reverses the industries’ efforts to battle waste. The end of the buffet could have a huge impact on reducing food waste and might be one of the positive outcomes of the current pandemic.

Changes will need to happen to ensure the comeback of the hospitality industry and the financial impact and its consequences is yet to be seen but on a positive note – people will always want to mingle, eat and drink, travel, and have a great time.