If ever there was a year when we needed a vacation, 2021 was it. The past year was pivotal for the travel industry as many of us tired of making do at home in favor of a much-needed change of scenery and mindset. In 2021, 87% of Americans made plans to travel either domestically or abroad, according to Tripadvisor. Going into the new year, the challenge for the hospitality industry is to stay ahead of this societal shift.
Contributed by Nico Barawid, Co-founder and CEO of Casai
As the industry seeks to keep up with demand and deliver on today’s travelers’ outsized expectations, several trends will emerge. Here are my top 5:
Home is anywhere
Working from anywhere as accelerated by the pandemic has opened a new world of possibilities to seek the ideal work-life blend rather than work-life balance. No longer are we looking to create hard lines between the times and places we work and the times and places we enjoy home, family and leisure activities.
This dovetails with the reality for a large portion of Millennial workers who, impacted by high mortgage rates and an overall higher cost of living, are avoiding the financial risks of home ownership by renting rather than owning. Without being tethered to a single location, they are free to embrace a more nomadic lifestyle without having to disconnect or sacrifice career aspirations.
For the hospitality industry, serving these consumers means it will need to provide a travel experience that makes taking a meeting from Tulum or Saõ Paulo just as easy as from New York or San Francisco. Features such as high-speed WiFi, accessible in-language tech support and 24/7 concierge service for those working across time zones will need to become the norm at all tiers and price points rather than an amenity reserved for corporate or luxury travelers.
Latin America will thrive
As someone from the U.S. living and working in Mexico City, I’ve joined a thriving expat community across Latin America. The lower cost of living, mild climate and proximity to the U.S. make the region ideal for living and working. According to Migration Policy
Institute data, there are approximately 800,000 Americans living in Mexico. So clearly, I’m not alone.
With the large number of start-ups designed to simplify everything from buying a used car to opening a bank account, venture capital investment in the region is robust. Last year alone resulted in US$4.1 billion in VC investment in Latin America. This will give tech hubs like San Francisco, New York and Boston competition for talent.
This phenomenon will have a cross-industry impact as well, as dollars continue to flow into the region. For the hospitality industry, this means the playing field will get even more competitive. The key to success will be to offer a distinctive experience that balances respect for a region’s culture and history while seamlessly becoming a part of a tech-driven future. Offerings such as app-enabled travel planning, check-in and guest services, for example, will signal that your brand is one step ahead of consumer trends and well-positioned to meet their changing needs.
Loyalty is up for grabs
It’s time for hospitality brands to up the ante on customer satisfaction. After a long period of uncertainty, consumers aren’t playing it safe when it comes to brand loyalty. Increasingly, they are abandoning the tried and true for new experiences and new brands.
A recent McKinsey survey found that 75% of consumers have tried a different store, web site or brand since the start of the pandemic. This newfound desire to step away from the familiar indicates that consumer loyalty across sectors, including travel, isn’t guaranteed. Gaining travelers’ loyalty means going beyond the expected to make meaningful connections with consumers so they become loyal brand advocates.
One way to do this is by capturing data at all points along the consumer journey. For instance, companies gain a plethora of information when they ask consumers to fill out profiles upon booking their accommodation. Information as simple as whether they’re traveling for business or pleasure can be used to add memorable personal touches to hotel rooms or apartments such as a choice of device adaptors and an external computer monitor or sunscreen and beach towels. Additionally, a customer survey upon checkout can help identify improvement areas that will increase ongoing affinity for your brand and services.
Whether it’s the airplane overtaking the ocean liner for long distance travel or having a fast and affordable car service at your fingertips, the application of tech to create or increase convenience has been its primary stock-in-trade for decades. Moving forward, the role of technology for the hospitality industry will be to go beyond simply creating convenience to adding value.
It’s predicted that in the next decade, we’ll experience more progress than in the past 100 years combined. Technology will continue to shorten the time it takes to go from the idea phase to launch. It will also become even easier to gain and act on consumer insights. Imagine opening the door to your travel accommodation to the sounds of a music playlist that’s been curated just for you, finding the coffee table featuring all your favorite reads, and a fridge stocked with your go-to brands.
AI will also make it possible for new and exciting immersive experiences for travelers. Paying a virtual visit to a local attraction before investing time, energy, and money will become more prevalent. Creating truly impactful, personalized experiences will make brands stand out and gain consumer loyalty.
Travelers are taking advantage of the mindfulness trend and extending it to their travel experiences. Mindful travel is the practice of immersing oneself in an unfamiliar setting and focusing on what you see, hear, smell, taste and feel so you can experience destination travel in a new and more personalized way. Studies show that the ability to be present in the moment is enhanced when we engage in solo activities. The events of the past year have caused an increase in the need to connect with our inner selves through our outside world.
Interestingly, even group tour companies are evolving their offerings to cater to single travelers to address the growing market of people who want the option to experience destinations alone or, when they wish, as part of a group. This is an example of how the industry can meet consumers where they are and help insulate itself from becoming outmoded as their needs evolve.
The ongoing impact of the pandemic will continue to upend the hospitality industry and create lasting change. The ability to be connected no matter where we are, the desire to venture to new locales, the need for personalization, and new and novel uses of technology will take center stage for U.S. travelers throughout this year. Hospitality brands that can adapt will be well positioned to increase relevance and customer satisfaction in 2022 and beyond.