As business travel continues to recover from the pandemic, travelers are noticing changes - which although may not be new in 2022 - many expected immediate post-pandemic changes to be more temporary. Now it seems many practices could well be something more permanent in the hotel industry in place for at least the next few years.
When arriving at hotels new safety protocols and promotion of social distancing is often immediately evident, with a greater emphasis on contactless check-in, keyless entry, and sometimes mandatory mask wearing in public areas. There is also a newfound focus on sanitation with hotels directing more resources to disinfect public areas and rooms than providing traditional housekeeping services to ensure the safety of guests and staff.
Even though we have seen a return to pre-pandemic processes with social distancing and mask-wearing no longer relevant in many countries, we are likely to see some permanent change. One key area is the reduction of staffing levels at hotels. During the pandemic, many properties reduced their workforce significantly. With the current high inflation levels worldwide, the expectation is that they will not be moving back to pre-pandemic staffing levels to control ever-rising costs. Many hotels no longer offer housekeeping services particularly for shorter stays or will only offer the services upon request. Travelers may also see a shift in other services and amenities such as limited or even discontinued shuttle services, hotel spas, pools and fitness centers not open to the public and restaurants promoting contactless room service, removing traditional breakfast buffets or having very limited food and beverage services.
Compared to pre-pandemic hotel bookings, we are seeing a change in the habits of travelers. Where short hotel stays were once standard, with travelers usually returning home directly after their meetings, we are now seeing a trend toward extended duration stays, with stays averaging 16% longer in 2022 compared to 2019 trends and nearly 1/3 of business travelers booking longer stays. These longer stays enable the traveler to remain for additional events or connect with more people during one trip. A new focus on combining business with leisure, with travelers spending a few days working and using the rest of the time having a break with their family, is also driving this trend. With more people able to work remotely, multi-purpose travel offers an opportunity to catch up with work during leave while still enjoying time with family.
Shorter booking windows
A change in the immediacy of travel bookings is also evident. In 2019, only 10% of transactions were completed within 0 to 7 days of travel. In 2021 this number jumped to 66% due to the pandemic. Although we seem to be experiencing a more gradual return to pre-pandemic levels in 2022, about 50% of transactions are still completed within a week of travel and nearly 60% are completed within 2 weeks.
Even though we are experiencing a gradual return and expect to reach near pre-pandemic levels within the next couple of years, a full return to previous booking patterns is unlikely in the near future. Despite successful vaccine rollouts and people embracing the new “normal”, some travelers will likely remain cautious about making advance plans. Further variants of Covid-19 will emerge, flu season will play a role as well as a risk of potential new pandemics. These factors, along with increasing rates in a high inflationary market and companies placing even more of an emphasis on sustainability, the hotel stay we once knew is likely to change for the next few years and most certainly some trends will become permanent fixtures
For more hotel industry trends, and tips to future-proof your hotel program download the CWT GBTA Global Business Travel Forecast 2023