From revamping their culinary offerings to altering guests experiences substantially, luxury hotel chains worldwide are ushering in a new era of hospitality.

We speak to an industry expert to understand how hotels and travel sector players are adapting to the transition and what changes are in the pipeline.

Your views on how India’s hospitality sector can revive itself in this pandemic crisis?

Now that restrictions are being eased and domestic travel is gradually resuming, hotels should inspire confidence in travellers, not only by showcasing their own safety and hygiene standards but also by working with other key stakeholders like government authorities and airlines to effectively represent and promote the destination.

Clear and cohesive messaging is the need of the hour. Tourism boards, travel, hotel and retail segments can deliver unified, community-based messaging, outlining everything they are doing to achieve exemplary levels of health, hygiene, and sanitation.

It is important for the hospitality sector here in India to reflect, be nimble, and even adapt their operational models to consider alternate revenue streams. For example, large business-facing MICE hotels could consider dedicating spaces to co-working outlets, well-serviced with technology and personalised F&B options. It is easier for a hotelier to build consumer confidence by demonstrating their property’s irreproachable and regulated levels of hygiene compared to say a commercial space.

Upscale to ultra-luxury hotels could also adopt technology for contactless procedures at check-in and checkout, and for food ordering and delivery. Whichever route they ultimately choose to take when ramping up guest safety, it is important that their unique luxury experience and guest comfort levels are still prioritised. As such, luxury hospitality will become more thoughtful and more intimate than ever.

Where do you see the global hospitality industry in the next five years? What are the changes that you are expecting?

In five years, I am hopeful that the industry will be thriving and well-adjusted to a new era of international travel. We are currently in survival mode and the next two to three years will be critical from a rebuilding and revival perspective, not just in terms of occupancies but also for average nightly rates and RevPar (revenue per available room).

Prior to the pandemic, residential-style lodging was on a strong growth curve, but this segment will become a much more frequent choice in the coming years for leisure and business travel due to space, privacy, and security that stand-alone properties provide to families and groups of friends. Demand for small, boutique, buy-out friendly properties is also likely to have increased.

Dining and F&B operations will look very different from now due to the permanent change in the way we view on-property, communal dining following Covid-19. Concern around the hygiene of buffets will inspire hoteliers to offer viable alternatives. Luxury hotel dining outlets will provide more tableside service in intimate, socially distanced restaurant spaces with guests more likely to choose à la carte dining and room service options.

This shift intersects with a more engaged pursuit of sustainable practices in the luxury hospitality sector, creating less food waste and increasing the use of locally sourced, organic produce.

And with this in mind, I would go as far as to say sustainability and responsible tourism will no longer be an ambition for the industry, but a practical reality in five years. Destinations providing unique cultural experiences with a clear commitment towards the environment and local communities will attract the evolved conscious traveller. The current crisis is expediting our progress in this area.

What is the role of the brand in assuring guests/travellers that high standards of safety and hygiene are practised at the hotels they represent?

Our role is to provide loyal guests globally with effective advice for safer hotel stays as it relates to hygiene and sanitation. Back of house operations are now part of the new front of the house, so what was once behind the scenes will now be proudly displayed on hotel websites. We are including each member hotel’s approach to safety and sanitisation across all of our channels, including the brand website moving forward.

Further, we recently announced a global partnership with Bureau Veritas, which allows member hotels globally to have their health and sanitisation programmes certified by a leading global authority.

How is the brand altering its rewards programme to accommodate the transition occurring in the travel and tourism sector?

We have made a series of updates to I Prefer Hotel Rewards over the past few months to extend greater flexibility and diverse value-based offers to more than 3.5 million members globally.

Initiatives include the new Flexible Member Rate, which is valid until December 31, 2020, and offers access to savings of 10 per cent or higher on top of the best available rate for stays booked at more than 300 participating hotels. The new rate is also fully cancellable up until the day of arrival, providing travellers with peace of mind if plans get disrupted.

To boost everyday Elite member benefits, we have launched a new offer. The Elite Platinum offer features daily breakfast for two and a resort credit of US$ 100 per stay that can be used towards on-property expenditures. Available for travel now through December 31, 2020, this benefit is exclusive to I Prefer Elite members for stays at more than 170 participating properties worldwide.

We recently announced that we would extend the points expiration date for all I Prefer members globally through December 31, 2020, protecting members hard-earned loyalty status and points.

Any campaigns or promotions adopted by the brand to boost luxury experiences under their portfolio? 

We recently launched Loving Local, a global travel campaign designed to facilitate highly localised, luxury hotel experiences in 21 regional markets, including India, as consumers prepare to hit the open road once again for exploration and rediscovery of destinations close to home. Click here to read Business Traveller India’s recent piece on the Loving Local initiative.