While 2021 has been a turbulent year for tourism, the signs are promising for 2022. We asked 11 experts from the world of hospitality to share their industry forecasts and the trends we should be keeping an eye on.
The current events have undoubtedly taught the industry some valuable lessons, especially in terms of sustainable investments, flexible schemes and innovative solutions. The hospitality industry has recovered and will continue to do so, potentially exceeding historic levels, as it evolves and adapts to emerging trends and guests’ preferences.
The key to future success is how innovative and adaptable the industry will be moving forward. The traditional hotel model may no longer be as attractive to travelers who are now seeking experiences, uniqueness and have a wider choice of destinations/accommodations to choose from. Sustainable practices and cultural experiences will become key differentiating factors in travelers’ decision-making processes.
Travel and hotel demand will continue to grow as new destinations emerge and unique schemes are developed. While competition is increasing, travelers are becoming more sophisticated and have high expectations, which requires hoteliers, now more than ever, to change and realign their offerings and experiences in order to remain relevant.
KSA in the spotlight
As per the editorial of HN October – November 2021, I predict a tourism evolution and a revolution in the GCC countries. The hospitality sector in the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman will flourish. However, none will compare to Saudi Arabia, as it seeks to build around 150,000 hotels rooms, fund the development of 500,000 hotel rooms, increase the annual absorptive capacity of the airports by more than 100 million passengers and attract 100 million local and international visitors. Thanks to the visionary Crown Prince Mohamad Bin Salman, 2030 will mark a historical turning point in the kingdom’s hospitality sector.
Artificial intelligence (AI) will continue to be part of the hospitality landscape. Indeed, many of today’s jobs will be lost to automation and robotics. Linked to this technological shift is the rise of social media.
Sanitization all the way
As we enter recovery mode, it is now time for hotels to implement their plans for renovation, from changing their decor to introducing new designs. Hotel owners also need to optimize their strategies for refurbishing and innovating, with a focus on sanitization, as hygiene becomes a priority for travelers. Vaccine passes, such as the IATA Travel Pass, a mobile application that helps travelers store and manage their verified certificates for Covid-19 tests or Covid-19 vaccines, will assist in restoring travel demand.
Simpler structures, truer empowerment, less micromanagement and a greater sense of trust are things we can expect from the hospitality industry as we move forward.
Customer service matters
We will witness the development of front-line team members to carry much more responsibility, combined with an accelerated push toward using technology as much as possible. There will also be greater focus on customer service rather than meaningless metrics.
Creating travel experiences
Travel is slowly recovering as confidence is restored and people’s urge to explore, to be adventurous and to discover new places grows. Life is an amazing experience to be lived to the full, and once traveling becomes simpler, growth will be greater than ever.
On the road to recovery
We foresee sustained healthy recovery, with business travel restarting and countries opening up for tourism. In 2022, we expect to witness many more international events and trade fairs, which slowly started to return in Q3 and Q4 2021, with fewer restrictions and greater capacities.
Sustainability: a hot topic
Digitalized guest experiences and contactless technology will assist post-pandemic recovery. Furthermore, sustainability and a move away from standardization are hot topics, especially when we consider Generations X and Y.
In the UAE, for example, staycations became the norm during Covid-19. On a macroeconomic level, countries that were heavily dependent on international tourism were deeply affected by the pandemic and will only start to recover in the near future as more countries reopen. Safety and hygiene standards will be two things at the forefront of people’s minds going forward when booking their trips.
By the end of this year, I believe that the hospitality industry will emerge from this crisis in a slow but steady manner to pre-pandemic levels. We are already seeing very positive signs, with air travel restrictions being lifted.
The human factor
The top trend in the hospitality industry is emotional intelligence (EI), while the focus of other industries is on artificial intelligence (AI). As the name itself suggests, emotional bonding is key to any human-related service, and no robot can replace the emotional connect that personalized service has in the hospitality industry.
The pandemic has brought culture, family and roots back into focus. People will travel to unseen places to discover authentic heritage, cuisine and culture. Future demand will be driven by the exploration of unusual destinations more than commercial ones. Wellness retreats that promote mental health will also grow in popularity.
Most markets in the region are ready to return to 2019 levels of operation. However, further recovery is dependent upon recovery in key markets. As consumers regain confidence in traveling, we expect to see a return to pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2022, with 2023 achieving or surpassing previous levels.
Expansion in the Gulf
Further growth in leisure travel demand is expected in Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Expansion in Saudi Arabia’s domestic market has led to the proliferation of concepts throughout the country, in addition to the key giga-projects targeting international demand. In Qatar, the new 2030 strategy refocuses on leisure demand, with an emphasis on sun and sports tourism.
Workcations and more
Two key trends have emerged as a result of the pandemic. Workcations, which are extended trips to destinations that incorporate a work from abroad/home component, have become more popular. Also, we are noticing renewed interest in the outdoors, driven by demand for EWAA (ecological, wellness, agricultural and adventure) developments, although this has also had a positive impact for sun and sea destinations.
Top trends for the F&B sector include restaurant delivery services and ghost kitchens. For the hotel industry, we are seeing a rise in guesthouses and glamping.
Leisure travel needs time
Business travel is recovering quickly, but leisure travel will need much more time to return to normal, especially when it comes to long-haul trips.
The efforts of local governments to ease
Covid-19 restrictions to travel to certain countries will certainly increase business and leisure traffic.
Recovery in Kuwait
As the Covid-19 crisis incomparable to previous situations, it is quite difficult to forecast the future. In Kuwait, we expect full recovery by Q1 2024.
Hospitality trends in Kuwait
The top five hospitality trends include safety and hygiene, contactless payments, voice control, F&B delivery services and robots.
In Kuwait, we are also seeing trends in staycations, digitalized guest experiences and contactless technology, personalization, experiential travel and solo travel.
Recovery in motion
Leisure demand will continue to drive traffic to leisure destinations and resorts. STR predicts a gradual return of business demand over the approaching years, which will vary by destination. Overall, a return to pre-pandemic levels is forecast to occur by 2024.
Serviced residences are definitely worth watching, as they have proven resilient during the pandemic. The “work from anywhere” shift and digital nomadism is creating demand for workcation friendly properties. Hotel companies are investing heavily in this market segment and adding residential elements, particularly in luxury projects.
Domestic tourism has grown and will remain a key revenue source for many countries. I would love to see more focus on sustainable and regenerative initiatives rather than complete fixation on foreign arrivals.
Tech on the rise
We are already witnessing a surge in sales as people are going out. Hotel occupancy is on the rise, according to the industry’s managers, and salaries are increasing to compensate for staff shortages.
Also, technology has become an intrinsic part of operations in order to help streamline costs and boost profits. Eighty6’s digital platform is a case in point.
The hospitality industry is moving at a fast pace to adapt to the post-pandemic landscape. We are witnessing the growth of dark kitchens, while delivery is registering an upward surge. Aggregators are reviewing their fees and considering eventual consolidations.
I firmly believe that business travel will largely go back to the pre-pandemic norm. As for leisure travel, demand is slowly picking up even though people are still a little hesitant.
Expectations for 2022
For the past 18 months, people around the world have been wanting to explore the globe and reunite with family and friends. With borders opening, we have seen global travel increase. That being said, we are unlikely to see a return to pre-Covid-19 levels before the end of 2022.
The monitoring and tracking of vaccinations and/or Covid-19 tests is likely to remain in effect. Players in the travel sector (airlines and wider transport operators, hotels, entertainment assets, etc.) would do well to create and maintain a seamless process to support these requirements, making the travel experience as enjoyable as possible.
The need to travel
In general, people have always been keen to travel. The pandemic won’t change that desire to go and explore the world. In fact, we may see the opposite. After being unable to go on holiday for such a long time, travel demand is likely to increase as the world moves out of the pandemic. That being said, people might be more cautious, adhering to Covid-19-related rules and regulations. But in the long run, the appetite to travel won’t change.