The past 18 months have fundamentally transformed tourism, travel and industry. Global and local lockdowns, comprehensive regulations, shifting legislations and complex social limitations have taken impacted on some of the joy that comes with travel. But it has also introduced a new and different dynamic, one that has the potential to not just transform how the sector operates, but how guests operate within it. For Jeremy Clayton, Executive Director at The President Hotel, the past year has the potential to bring about long-term positive change that allows for highly skilled people within the sector to deliver higher calibre experiences.
“There’s been a noticeable shift in how people approach their travel planning and the destinations they visit,” he explains. “People now tend to spend longer periods in fewer places. In the past, it was a different location every few days, now it’s all about one place with multiple experiences. Visitors are wanting to immerse themselves into the location to discover more about it, the culture, the activities and the experiences. This is a huge positive for the travel industry.”
Jeremy notes that there has also been a significant move towards generational travel with more families travelling together – from great-grandparents to grandkids. This has been further influenced by remote working and digital offices. Families can stay and work from different locations, anywhere in the world and from anywhere they want. All they need is the technology and the connectivity and they can set up office overlooking a mountain, the ocean and anywhere in-between.
“This is an amazing spin-off from the current environment and restrictions that limit travel and engagement,” says Jeremy. “Hospitality suddenly becomes the new office, an opportunity to connect with the family for longer, a way of people connecting to new environments and experiences. People can work from amazing locations in the Cape and spend longer periods of time in different hotels. This is not only a change that benefits the traveller, but it is one that the industry can take hold of and leverage to drive growth and engage with people from all over the world.”
Tourism remains in a complicated space. Limitations on travel and challenges with the virus make it difficult to predict how these numbers will change, or how accessible South Africa will be for those coming in from different countries. However, the industry can use the complexities to create synergies. Translate some of the uncertainties into long-term stays and richer guest experiences.
“People have been forced into new patterns of behaviour with COVID-19, but these patterns do offer the sector some room to expand offerings and how they approach bookings and experiences,” says Jeremy. “For example, there has been a trend towards more authentic experiences and visually inspiring locations which could potentially open up jobs in outlying areas as destinations use this trend to create fresh experiences and attract new guests.”
Right now, the market needs to look to these trends, and others that may evolve out of the current uncertainties and environments, to create products that fit these new markets. The changes that have been wrought may very well be long-term, and may be the new standard in travel or destination selection which means that this is the time to adjust the business to fit the new guest. The new era of digital nomads, generational travellers, and settled down explorers. Business travel will be slow to pick-up, but digital nomads are always looking for new places to set down their laptops.
“Hotels will need to change their setups and structures to match the global move towards a healthier mindset, a mindset that isn’t just reduced global travel and carbon footprints but healthier menus and lifestyles,” adds Jeremy. “Companies are going to have to evolve rapidly to fit into the new travel ethos that’s emerging, but this is not an impossible ask. It’s about experience, adaptation, agility and the ability to pivot in new directions to meet the needs of the next generation of traveller.”
The guest experience has already undergone change over the past decade, but the last 18 months have kicked these into higher gear. Things are not going to suddenly slip back. People are going to keep on evolving their approaches and their planning, so the industry will have to evolve along with them. From menus to experiences to rooms to rates to booking systems, this is the time to grab hold of evolution’s tail and become part of the new way of travelling, living, and working.
“Invest into skilled staff who help you build relationships and discover new ways of engaging with guests; be as unique as possible in your offerings and packages; and see yourself as a destination that meets the needs of the next generation,” Jeremy concludes. “This is the era of sit-down travel, unexpected experiences, healthy living, and connections, and this is the time for the industry to help people make these connections and thrive.”