After the unparalleled challenge of the last 18 months, you’d be forgiven for finding it tough to keep track of new trends in the hospitality and hotel industry—made even more difficult by rapidly changing technology and increased guest expectations.
And yet, as the world starts to open up again, hospitality professionals need to be even more alert to guests’ changing demands and shifting priorities, into the rest of this year and beyond.
We surveyed hospitality professionals from across the industry on their priorities in 2021 and beyond, and our findings confirmed that the future of hospitality is in streamlined, lightweight, intuitive, and automated technology.
Our data shows that guests positively expect keyless entry and digital hotel automation as part of their stay, and owners are increasingly turning towards it due to its agility, efficiency, and ability to face almost any new challenge.
Hotels and hospitality providers that want to survive and thrive must adapt.
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We’ve gathered some of the major trends and changes to be aware of in the coming years, so you can set up your business for success—whatever the world throws at the industry next.
Trends in hospitality: Our predictions for 2021-23
Trend #1: The traditionally low-tech hospitality industry will see a full digital transformation
Our research has shown that property and hotel rental automation technology is no longer a “nice-to-have” but a “must-have” for any modern establishments looking to survive in 2021-23 and beyond.
Hospitality professionals are prioritizing automation and keyless, contactless mobile check-in, and also seeking to use technology to replace front desks, keep costs low, and provide high-quality, streamlined customer experiences for modern guests via their mobile device.
Digital solutions also make life easier for staff.
Hospitality professionals are able to cut staff costs, reduce in-person contact, manage cleaning and maintenance remotely, and oversee the entire process from check-in to check-out, without having to be on-site or relying on staff being paid to wait around or be with guests in person.
But arguably the most seismic shift in the industry is that such streamlined new technologies are no longer the Hiltons and Marriots of the world.
Through the use of minimal hardware such as smart hotel door locks and cost-efficient software, this digital transformation is now accessible to even smaller, more boutique establishments. Such properties are now able to offer a Sonder operating model—including doing away with the front desk, offering instant check-in and check-out to guests, and operating via interactive, digital devices.
Empowered by tech, they can now give guests a super-satisfying hotel experience at the same level (or even more so) as the traditional big brands. We predict that increased numbers of hotels and rentals are seeking to implement hotel check-in automation and free their staff from the chains of reception, so they can become more efficient and helpful elsewhere while streamlining operations.
As Gilda Perez-Alvarado, chief executive for the Americas at JLL Hotels and Hospitality Group told MarketWatch: “Pre-Covid, all these tech features were ‘offensive’ in nature. They’re defensive now. You better get on it.”
Our data showed that 85.9% of hospitality professionals we asked said that “using technology to automate operations was a priority for them in the next two years”, while a similar 82.4% said that implementing “keyless technology” was also a priority.
Implementing digital technology can also help hospitality businesses to pivot quickly when needed, as shown by the Covid-19 pandemic. Keyless entry for rental properties replaces the front desk with ease, allowing guests to check in instantly using a keycode sent to them in advance. They have access to extra details, such as Wi-Fi password and room temperature, on the same portal, and there’s no excess contact or waiting around required.
Trend #2: People want meaningful experiences post-lockdown
Speaking of Millennials, modern travelers are now looking for more authentic experiences when they travel and are willing to exchange the formalities of a traditional hotel for a personal connection with their host and the place they’re staying.
Hospitality groups that use tech to simplify operations will free up staff from managing day-to-day admin, allowing them to share their knowledge of the local area with guests, and provide them a meaningful and caring experience—even if they aren’t physically present.
As Danielle Dirks, owner of Operto partner, Detroit-based short-term rental CozyHaus, explains: “I recall the old operational nightmares [before using Operto technology] that our team and our guests faced if someone misplaced a key in a lockbox or forgot an item upon checking out.
“Those keys and lockboxes slowed down our operations significantly. [But now], we routinely check in with guests by text and email; offer to help with groceries and pet care; and leave contact-free goodies such as freshly ground coffee beans...as well as fancy chocolates, and Korean beauty sheet masks.”
“I’ve always loved traveling and adored inviting travelers to Detroit to help them fall in love with the city as well. I have finally become the consummate hostess my friends had enjoyed for years.”Post-coronavirus, people are understandably looking for more meaningful experiences, and want to explore and do things they haven’t been able to during long lockdowns.
Family and friend reunions, and more group trips, are also expected to be on the horizon in 2021-23.
As Alexander Mavros, co-founder and managing director of Mavros Safaris, has said:
“We have seen an increasing number of requests for multi-generational trips and trips which include large groups of friends who are looking to reconnect with one another following an intense period of isolation.”
Mavros Safaris Co-founder and Managing Director
Trend #3: Guests will expect in-room personalization
Offering exceptional guest experiences isn’t just about offering them good coffee (although that goes a long way).
But, just as guests want to check in as soon as they arrive, with no waiting or needless interaction required, they also want to personalize their rooms and feel as though they can tweak things as they prefer.
Seamless technology acts like self-service, allowing guests to arrive, change the thermostat, AC, and light levels to their liking, and set personalized climate “programs” throughout the day. They can have personalized emails sent to them immediately after booking, and communication with the concierge or staff throughout, with everything they need for their stay at their fingertips.
More than two in five (44.7%) hospitality professionals told us that having “smart room home devices (e.g. energy, lighting) that guests can control” was a priority for them in the next 1-2 years, and one in five said “personalized stays” were crucial.
Connecting check-in with a specific guest means they also receive all the info they need for their stay via a single page on their devices, such as the Wi-Fi access code, a map of the local area, or recommendations for great local restaurants or takeaway.Platforms such as Operto allow this in a single browser and guest portal without an extra app to download, enabling guests to personalize their stay on their own devices easily.
Trend #4: Travelers will long for the great outdoors
It was inevitable; after months of being “locked in”, the anticipation of getting outdoors —whether a staycation at home or abroad, depending on restrictions—is rising fast.
This is not in contrast with the previous trends, however; truly agile technology does not stop functioning as soon as you leave the city.
Platforms such as Operto work whether you run an urban rental pad or a remote location; and many smart locks do not require Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or even a smartphone to work.
This makes the benefits of hyper-connected hotel technology accessible even to smaller hotels and businesses looking to offer guests a taste of the great outdoors after months stuck at home.
As Andre Rickerby, Chief Marketing Officer at Scott Dunn, has said: “After being isolated for months, travelers will look to embrace the purest elements in 2021. We [are] predicting a rise in guests seeking wide-open spaces.”
With appetite strong for outdoor adventures and travelers no longer taking trips for granted, guests are perhaps also more likely to splash out in celebration, after months of saving and postponing trips in 2020, to make that long-awaited trip even more meaningful.
As Mark Allvey, co-founder of Untold Story Travel, has said: “After months of physical and social distancing, we believe people will be seeking experiences that encapsulate the joy of coming together as human beings in the name of celebration: reuniting and reconnecting.”
Technology that allows hotels and rentals to upsell experiences, room service, and products—via platforms such as the Operto Guest Portal—will mean owners can capitalize on this excitement, and drive property and hotel revenue management even further.
Trend #5: Sustainability will still be a major priority
While climate change debates arguably took a backseat in 2020 as Covid preoccupied news bulletins, the issue is still not far from travelers’ minds.
Booking.com’s Sustainable Travel Report for 2020 found that 82% of global travelers said sustainable travel was important to them, and 58% said that they are looking to make more sustainable choices when travel opens back up again.
Millennials, as the majority of today’s travelers, are some of the key drivers of sustainability.
As Diana Verde Nieto, co-founder and CEO of Positive Luxury told events site Social Tables: “Millennials are twice as likely to support brands with strong management of environmental and social issues, and expect brands to not only manage their impact but communicate it.”
Improved technology helps your business to operate more efficiently and hit those sustainability goals, through simple touches such as remotely adjusting lights, thermostats, and AC.
Room cleaning can be coordinated seamlessly too, to cut down on washing and linen waste, while removing the front desk means no dead space in lobbies or large communal areas that require energy to heat, light, cool, and clean. (Switching to digital saves paper too.)
Trend #6: More people will take work on the road
It’s fair to say that the global pandemic has changed people’s approach to work, with many companies and employees now seeing that remote working and working from home can be possible, and even productive.
A trend that was already starting 15 years ago has exploded, with stats from Global Workplace Analytics showing that the number of people who work from home (WFH) in the US in 2021 has increased by 140% since 2005.
Three quarters (76%) of workers in the US would be more willing to stay with their current employer if they could work flexible hours, while people who work remotely at least once a month are 24% more likely to be happy and productive.
And this isn’t some niche idea: 4.3 million people in the USA work from home at least half the time.
It’s clear: properties that want to appeal to busy, increasing numbers of “business travelers” need to offer super-fast Wi-Fi, easy access, and great tech to thrive.
Solo travelers will also want to make sure that they are safe, whether from Covid or from intruders when exploring a place they don’t know.
Digital tech helps because it reduces face-to-face contact. It also means you can change access codes with each new stay, reducing the possibility of security risks; as only authorized people with the codes can get into the building, whether guests or staff.
As Dirks, of CozyHaus, explains: “Detroit is what most would consider a high-risk market, where lots of folks find ‘innovative’ uses for short-term rentals.”
She explains that implementing tech via Operto “adds an unbeatable layer of security to ensure physical keys don’t walk off...door codes can be updated or deleted if and when needed. This provides our guests with peace of mind in knowing that their door code is unique to them and that, unlike a normal hotel, staff can’t just waltz in”.
Trend #7: Travelers will be more health-conscious
With Covid never far from travelers’ minds, the importance of health, safety and wellness will become increasingly apparent.
One report on hospitality website The Points Guy found that “for many people, a hotel's Covid-19 safety policy seems to directly influence whether they make a reservation or book a room”, citing a January 2021 Yelp study, which found that consumer interest rose 41% for companies that had Covid-specific updates in their listings.
And a June 2020 TripAdvisor survey found that 92% of people said cleanliness was the most important factor in selecting accommodations, and 80% said that cleanliness or sanitization certificates were important when booking.
Wellbeing doesn’t just extend to Covid; in these times of mainstream mindfulness, guests are also keen to keep things easy and stress-free and are aware of factors such as comfortable temperature in bedrooms, and healthy lighting at night time.
Having integrated smart technology that allows guests to change this to their liking is a key way of showing them that you value their health and travel experience.
Trend #8: “Instagrammability” is still paramount
Instagram may no longer be the new kid on the block, but it still holds massive sway, with 1 billion users per month.
And, a survey by UK rental insurance provider Schofields found that 40% of consumers aged 18-33 think about how “Instagrammable” their vacations will be when choosing their next stay.
“Doing it for the ‘gram” isn’t going away, and user-generated content on social media—especially if a guest tags you or uses your business’s own hashtag—is free advertising for your business, pure and simple.
This means that if your hotel or vacation rental is “Instagrammable”—whether through beautiful or unusual design, or personalized touches—it will only help boost your profile, and help modern guests feel truly in their element.
Covid has also had an impact here too, with social media posting going beyond Insta-worthy design, to focus on whether a business is enforcing Covid-19 health precautions.New Yorker Taima Ta, founder of the travel website Poor In A Private Plane, said: “I look at location tags on Instagram to see real-time photos of people. Usually, you can see in the background whether people are masking up.”
Trend #9: Direct bookings will equal OTAs
They say “people buy from people”, and in an age of social media recommendations and personalized online content, relationships and the messaging between businesses and customers matter more than ever.
Gone are the days of faceless, corporate, soulless hotels; guests today want to feel more connected than ever to your brand.
As a result, direct bookings are on the up: data from Phocuswright, quoted by Travel Weekly, shows that by 2022, direct bookings are on track to equal bookings through OTAs, and grow to a 50% share.
As Hilton CEO Christopher Nassetta told company investors in late 2020: "We're focused on driving direct relationships and direct business. If you look at web-direct channels, they are growing at a much faster rate than OTA channels.”
This means that leveraging direct booking through your own website—without relying on OTAs such as Airbnb—is becoming paramount.
Digital platforms such as Operto can be set up to send personalized welcome emails and access codes directly to guests as soon as they book, as well as reminders and information tailored to their booking before, during, and after their stay, so they feel cared for and start building up that relationship with your business instantly.
Personalized touches in your hotel or rental space will also help your guests feel cared for, and giving them incentives (such as deals or discounts) to book directly through you will help them feel as though they are getting an authentic, personal experience; rather than being just another number on your booking calendar.
Trend #10: Technology will increase staff efficiency
The Annex Hotel in Toronto—one of our partners—reduced its staff ratio to 1.5 per 24 hotel rooms after implementing the technology there; while Breakfast Hotel in Hiroshima Japan—another partner—today operates 60 units with just one staff member.
When she was in the process of expanding CozyHaus, Danielle Dirks was able to employ just one part-time property manager per 12 units, largely due to the improved efficiency of her modern, hyper-connected operations.
As she explains:
“Now we can simply pull out a phone, and let someone in remotely if needed. It’s allowed our building partners to perform their routine maintenance seamlessly. It’s also allowed us to estimate cleaning and turnover times too.”
Hospitality industry trends: Technology takes center stage
So there you have it; we’ve taken you through half a dozen of the latest trends to watch out for in the travel industry in the next couple of years.
Of course, the common theme running through each is technology, with its ability to improve safety post-Covid, reduce excess waiting and face-to-face interaction, save on staff costs, improve efficiency and sustainability, tailor experiences to demanding guests, and more.
But we know it can seem overwhelming to make the transformation into a forward-thinking, Sonder-type hotel model if you’re not tech-savvy, you’re afraid to spend too much post-Covid, and you’re trying to satisfy ever-demanding Millennial guests too.
(Unsurprisingly, the hoteliers and hospitality professionals we asked said they were willing to invest in automation technology…but not too much, with the biggest percentage (34%) saying they were willing to invest 11-25% more in the next two years.)
But with Operto, you can keep costs low, and hardware changes to a minimum; and have a dedicated specialist working with you throughout the entire process, guiding you through from start to finish, and ensuring our technology is tailored to your business and hotel guest needs, without excess hassle or time.
By making the switch, you’ll be joining the vast majority of hospitality professionals who have already made the change last year—or are planning to do in the next year or so—and future-proof your business as the industry recovers from Covid, new trends continue to emerge, and hospitality looks to adapt and thrive to changes in the next year and beyond.
Connect your operations
Want to talk to an expert about digitally transforming your operations?