As vaccines roll out worldwide, industry leaders are already looking ahead to the coming travel boom and making their plans to welcome back guests. But things will be far from ‘back to normal’. Travelers will be placing a new premium on their personal security, and expect their airlines, hotels, and service providers to go above and beyond to guarantee a safe and peaceful trip.
To find out how the travel and hospitality industries are prepping for the return of business and leisure travel, we spoke to Jennifer Hawkins, Founder and President of Hawkins International, a leading travel and tourism PR agency based in New York, working with some of the world’s biggest names in the industry.
Surviving 2020: The Art of the Pivot
There’s no getting around what the brutal year 2020 was for travel and hospitality. After a record year in 2019, with 1.5 billion tourist arrivals, the sudden halt brought on by the pandemic was a blow to the industry around the world. In spite of this, Hawkins believes there is a lot of tenacity and fortitude among people that work in the travel and hospitality industries, who are dedicated to getting the industry back on its feet after COVID-19.
“It’s forced a lot of businesses to rethink their businesses, pivot their business models, and get really good – really quickly at communications,” said Hawkins.
The difference between those who survived and others who went a step further was often a reflection of their ability to leverage the creativity of their workforce and offer authentic, safe, and engaging experiences for their guests. Companies started to find new opportunities to keep their businesses afloat in unorthodox ways, such as venues offering online yoga classes, virtual star-gazing sessions, online cooking classes, and even cocktail making parties!
How To Be Heard Above The Noise in 2021
As hotels reopen there will be a clamor for the attention of early-bird travelers willing to step out first into the world again. To stand out from the crowd, Hawkins believes the best approach will be to highlight each and every new process that will help them adapt to the new realities of travel.
“Any hotel that is going to capture the imagination and confidence of guests will have to indicate in very cohesive and clear fashion what it is that they’re doing. They will be much more accountable to their guests, and have a different level of vetting going forward.”
This doesn’t just mean greater attention to detail when cleaning rooms either. Event planners will be looking for clear protocols and processes for cleanliness and staff engagement before booking a new conference space. One form this might take could be new industry-wide standards which will ensure consistency and instill confidence in travelers, wherever they are in the world.
As Hawkins puts it, “people want to compare apples to apples!” That means whether you’re doing business close to home or halfway across the world, it would be possible to know in advance that your destination is verified as a safe location, rather than just a website with the right post-COVID buzzwords.
How ‘Touchless’ Options Will Give a Competitive Edge
Many are predicting a travel boom following the wide rollout of vaccinations, which could potentially bring more challenges for the industry, such as long lines at the airport or check-in. In response to this, one factor which will influence customer choice in 2021 will be which travel and hospitality services can offer them a minimal to zero contact experience.
“I think this is where touchless services are going to be amazing. A lot of European hotels, especially on the luxury side, let you check into your own room. On the other end of the spectrum where there are kiosks for check-in, and where you are not even interfacing with another person. I think we’ll see more of these workarounds so people are not queued up just to get a room key” said Hawkins.
Self-check-in can be easily integrated into existing PMS systems, and guests can quickly verify their own identities by scanning their ID with their own phone to collect the necessary registration information. This will suit the increasing demand from travelers to be more independent and feel in control of their experience.
Innovation Born Out Of Necessity
Closing our chat, Hawkins pointed to the fact that the best success stories from the past year share a common theme: those that thought outside the box in a time of necessity created some of the most innovative solutions. In fact, thinking ‘outside’ in general will continue to be a boon for any location that has the capacity.
“Hotels will do well if they can take advantage of any outdoor space they have even post-pandemic. After a year of being cooped inside, people are really appreciating having nature around them, and it’s good for the soul” said Hawkins.
Thank you to Jennifer for sharing her insights with us! If you’d like to find out more about Hawkins PR, read their annual Lexicon report which has just come out here.