Where to from here for the hotel and hospitality industry?

Google’s Consumer Insights research tool has identified a significant growth in South Africans’ search interests during level one of the Covid-19 lockdown. Searches such as “things to do”, “weekend getaways”, “flights to and flights from”, and destination-related searches have surged 200% in the past two years. Hashtags such as #friendcation, #baecation, #brocation, #famcation, #solocation and #staycation have a prominent position in the spine of popular culture. And these new behaviour trends may just prove to be the saving grace for the hotel and hospitality industry.

The tragedy of Covid changed the way we view travel and placed the hotel industry on a precipice. It is only now, in hindsight, that we can acknowledge the treasures our forced behaviour evolution may have been able to usher in. 

The Bo-Kaap an area of Cape Town, South Africa formerly known as the Malay Quarter

Web 2.0 disruptors

In 2017, Gauteng roads were aflame with the rage of metered taxi drivers. Earlier that year the country’s busiest port of entry — OR Tambo International Airport — was blocked on the R21 and R24 highways, and later vehicles were torched in the capital city as a smoke signal to the Gauteng government. The protest was against the rise of Uber — the on-demand ehailing “crook” that was threatening the livelihoods of the significantly more expensive metered taxi drivers.

Even today, five years later, when you land at the Pretoria Gautrain station, a “violent hotspot”, and need an Uber or Bolt to get you to your destination, you’ll have to communicate with your driver via the app, and agree on a hidden area for the pick-up. This is the only safe way, lest the Uber/Bolt driver be attacked by  metered taxi drivers over territory.

It seems that, in a bit more than half a decade, even through a life-threatening pandemic, the metered taxi industry has failed to find ways to better respond to the enduring threat of gig economy-driven industry disruptors.

The hotel and hospitality industry would be in danger of finding itself in a similar predicament in the absence of innovative responses to iindustry disruptors. 

Such possible responses form the backdrop of the annual Hotel and Hospitality Show. In its fifth year, and hosted by the DMG Events, the Hotel and Hospitality Show interrogates the character of the local hotel industry, and expanding tourism growth in the Covid era. Local and international exhibitors, along with industry leaders, will gather to network and showcase products across interiors, lighting and design, technology, security, catering equipment and more. 

‘Adapt or die’

History puts it to us that innovation is the metronome to the rhythm of survival and triumph. The South African hotel and hospitality industry experienced a similar threat from the gig economy as the transport industry. Airbnb, with more than two-million South African users who chose not to book a hotel, is a prime example.

Evan Schiff, portfolio director of food, hospitality and trade at DMG Events, says, “As the old saying goes, ‘Adapt or die’. Much like Uber in the metered taxi industry, Airbnb largely disrupted the hotel industry. I’m purposefully only mentioning ‘hotel’, because Airbnb falls within [the broader] hospitality [industry]. Hotels are not dying but evolving; there are numerous exciting innovations in action that are reshaping the face of the hotel industry as we know it. We have put together a remarkable team of experts who will be exploring these innovations at the Hotel and Hospitality Show.”

Curiocity, a network of African design hostels and hotels in Johannesburg and Cape Town, is one of the hospitality companies exploring the kinds of innovations Schiff speaks of. With tourists as its primary market, Curiocity does not only offer hotel stays but has expanded its reach to offer guests local experiences. From road trips, hikes, and tours (such as inner-city walking tours, a Soweto tour, and a cycle tour) to meditation sessions, beer-and-braai nights and hands-on virtual immersions, Curiocity aims to more just a bed.

A cycle tour

The founder and chief executive of Curiocity, Bheki Dube, has this response to the threat of Airbnb: “If you can’t beat them, join them, while staying ahead in your lane.” 

Curiocity is listed on Airbnb, and also represents hotel trends such as the so-called “hometels” (which blend aspects of hotels and vacation rentals), and coliving (a community designed specifically for its inhabitants to share living spaces, and sometimes workspaces, with a common attitude or goal). 

Curiocity is big on design: from hyper-local design, reflecting the unique character of the destination and integrating area artists and cultural themes, to experiential social spaces, building a sense of community in lobby areas with the types of public spaces offered, from shared workspaces to kitchens to game rooms.

A decision to maximise on the more traditional modes of practice has been the choice for City Lodge Hotel Group. Its chief operating officer Lindiwe Sangweni-Siddo says, “Anyone who sells a room for the night is competition but hotels and specifically City Lodge Hotel Group are able to differentiate on a number of levels.”

Covid, unstable economy

The loss of a large part of the primary clientele of Curiocity, City Lodge and companies like them, due to travel restrictions and remote work, compelled them to return to their domestic market and understand the requirements of domestic business and leisure guests. Furthermore, it obliged them to become more tech-savvy, accelerating the industry’s slide into the future.  

City Lodge became more innovative and even opened its brand-new Courtyard Hotel Waterfall City, which enabled it to showcase its environmentally sustainable elements (which were launched group-wide just before Covid hit), such as introducing environmentally friendly guest amenities (using biodegradable packaging); contactless check-in; the use of smartphones to open guest rooms (this innovation is still rolling out); a paperless environment and the use of QR codes for menus in its restaurants.

Curiocity moved from having 30% domestic clientele in 2019 to 50% in 2022. The company readjusted its prices to cater for various income brackets. Says Dube: “Think of it as a plane, you have first class and economy but we all get to the destination at the same time. That’s how we have structured our pricing.” 

As far as the hotel and hospitality industry is concerned, the only blocked highway will be due to a lack of innovation, and the only smoke to rise will be from the lack of preparation for another calamity similar to the pandemic. 

The Hotel and Hospitality Show will be on 19 – 21 May 2022, Sandton Convention Centre. 

International innovations

InterContinental Shanghai Wonderland is where technology meets design at the world’s first underground hotel with 18 floors underground and two floors underwater. The rooms come with a digital assistant.

CityHub in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Copenhagen are urban hotels for digital natives. Tech-infused futuristic, app-connected, private hubs are part hotel, part hostel, part tech heaven. Check-in is a 24-hour self-service process via lobby touchscreens kiosks. RFID wristbands are used as access keys and to pay for drinks and snacks at the hotel’s self-service bar. The multifunctional app is a virtual concierge, a local area guide, an instant messaging platform where even city hosts can be contacted for tips and advice.

Wyndham Grand hotels across America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East offer a 5% discount to guests willing to go on a tech detox during their stay. Guests are given a timed lock-box to put away their smartphones and other devices when they check in. Instax instant cameras are then provided to guests to take photos, which can be printed out in real time. Families enjoy late-night family room service menu, shadow puppet books, activity backpacks and toolkits for building in-room blanket dens.

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