Sadly a tremendous amount has changed since my last article and, whilst many factors affecting business travel will essentially remain once we finally emerge from the devastating global effects of COVID-19, many will be altered considerably by recent world events.
Of the far-and-wide disruptions caused by the Coronavirus pandemic, the global travel and hospitality industry are undoubtedly amongst the worst affected sectors in the short term. The industry is currently staring down a barrel with little light ahead as the virus has yet to plateau, and we face the likely reality of a serious global recession.
Whilst the outlook appears particularly bleak in heavily affected areas right now (and may have again altered once this feature goes live), the fact is no one can foresee how long Coronavirus will keep the world on its toes!
Looking at similar past events, such as the spread of SARS, can maybe offer some hope in these otherwise dark times, however. Though the impact of the two viruses are not entirely comparable and, not wanting to underestimate the devastating impact of this virus on the hotel industry, it is nevertheless useful to analyse the different phases of a pandemic spread and how it impacts the market: STR reports that after SARS-related travel restrictions eased, the bounce-back period in China and Hong Kong took markets back to pre-SARS levels within three months. This means that six months after the WHO had declared SARS a global threat, hotel markets had all but recovered. This is heartening and we should continue to have hope.
We can expect to see a significant amount of hotel closures, at least in the short term, as hotels struggle to find solutions to curb the significant decline in revenues. This will be an increasingly difficult time for hotels as they grapple to find the best strategies to not only reduce their exposure and negative financial impact in the short term, but ensure that they are able to react to positive market changes once the threat of the virus subsides.
Consolidation of travel spend
Corporate travel budgets will, without doubt, come under further pressure, and consolidation of spend will become increasingly important for travel managers. Whereas in past years, corporate clients would often utilise the services of two or three travel agencies and have their travel spend split across different agents, they’re now more likely to opt to consolidate such spend with just one agent, as well as leveraging off corporate agreements and global buying power. Hoteliers therefore need to manage these relationships more closely than ever.
Focus on personalisation to remain
Personalised service was set to be a key trend in 2020 and beyond, but will likely be even more so when things ‘return to normalcy’ and hotels strive to compete and achieve differentiation in a tough global economy.
Corporates will most likely also increasingly look for specialised travel managers who know the business inside and out and who can make personalised recommendations that will help grow the company. Hotels can personalise experiences for business travellers by storing guest data to ensure they allocate rooms as per preferences and potentially include add-on services such as a free conference room etc.
Bleisure will flourish once again
The conscious decision by business travellers to add days of leisure travel onto a business trip has resulted in a growing breed of bleisure travellers. The last few years have proven that the bleisure traveller is real and African hotels need to be taking these travellers into account by marketing both their business and leisure amenities, promoting nearby activities and destinations, offering fast reliable internet in comfortable surrounds, or offering corporate travellers specific bleisure packages which could include discounts on extra nights, along with tickets to local attractions, tours or events.
Growth in the SMME market
Those SMMEs able to outwit and outlast the negative effects of the global virus outbreak (and we pray they are many) have great potential to drive economic growth and employment in Africa, particularly as more African businesses acquire access to funding instruments and platforms. The challenge for players in the African hotel and travel industry is to ensure they are equipped to meet the demand for flexibility that entrepreneurs and SMMEs need to achieve business success. The coming months will be challenging for us all, however, sustaining business in the short term and preparing for market resurgence post the pandemic should be a priority for hoteliers navigating the business travel space in the uncertain age of Corona.