Here's an article I recently authored for Toronto-based Branders magazine.
Where are we headed now?
Let me first tell you a tale of a vanished world, a more innocent time when people wandered freely and visited new places at the last minute; effortlessly crossed borders without interruption; witnessed romantic panoramas (accessorized with hot tubs, palm trees, hammocks and always-full champagne flutes) in the most exotic of island destinations; took many a selfie on enviable backdrops; stayed in luxurious hotel suites; sought out the best deals on the internet and came home Monday mornings energized after spontaneous getaway weekends.
But then a plague swept across the land and changed everything. Suddenly you couldn’t travel for pleasure or for work. The airline business went belly-up. Car rentals, forget about it. Your favorite small and mid-sized hotels shuttered. You had to stay home, or wear a mask when you went out. Cool destinations became inaccessible. Big chain hotels downsized their brands. Thousands of service jobs evaporated. Only private jet travel boomed.
What can be told about the brand world of the future, now that mass tourism as we knew it is a figment of the past?
1. Brands will need to attract new talent, train new people, and emphasize workplace improvements to retain team members. With the loss of so many jobs and people reluctant to rejoin the workforce, it’s going to be arduous to get replacement staff into service positions. Prepare for tough times ahead in HR Departments.
2. The age of bargains is over. As brands struggle to recoup lost revenues, travel is going to be more expensive than it was before, with fewer irresistible deals. The getaway weekend special is on temporary hold until the industry stabilizes.
3. A younger demographic will venture forth, eager to get out after being sequestered so long, prepared to spend discretionary income on better adventures. But these adventures will need to track with their hopes and ideals. Youthful travelers will seek values-driven experiences that may involve cultural immersion, community engagement, good deeds built into relaxing holidays. Gen Z prefers glamping to cruise ships.
4. The luxury sector will be the first to rebound. The one percent is ready for a return to action. Among its seven ultra-exclusive hospitality offerings, the French Airelles chain recently opened a 14-suite property on the grounds of the Château de Versailles, where rates start at just above US$2000 per night for the entry level room.
5. Brands will need to promote their sustainability credentials. Green Pearls, a German chain with international presence, chooses its member properties based on sustainable initiatives and green projects. Their brand marketing focuses on owner profiles, ethical policies, local engagement, hotels and holiday homes in historic buildings, smaller scale, and zero food miles in F&B offerings.
6. Look for synergies generated around collaboration and cobranding. Already Airbnb has brand partnerships with Ikea and Lego. The small airline Eva Air has a branded jet emblazoned with Hello Kitty.
7. Big chains will grow meeting and conventions business. Volume is the name of the game. Heritage Hotels of Lisbon has spent the pandemic upgrading existing properties and preparing for the return of larger scale parties. Their brand emphasizes authentic Portuguese style and comfort.
8. Staycation is the new green. Travelers will opt for longer single location stays. Family-friendly resorts and residences will focus on long-duration guests with full-service offering. The Baglioni Group, an Italian luxury brand, shuttered four Italy multi-room big city properties and in June opened The Baglioni Resort Sardinia, located on Sardinia's north-east coast. They have a second resort newly-opened in the Maldives.
9. Ask the team. During the pandemic Hoshino Resorts, a remarkable Tokyo-based hotel group who have many hot water spa properties on the Japanese archipelago, retained all their staff, albeit with reduced hours. They asked their team for suggestions on pandemic workarounds, how to better accommodate guests, ways to make their service more responsive and efficient. One great innovation was a custom app which advised guests of wait times and guest numbers at spas. Another staff-generated brand strategy in response to reduced travel itineraries was to attract guests who lived closer to the resorts.