Organised by Questex Hospitality Group, the Annual Hotel Conference Reimagined had a different look and feel from last year’s in-person event. It combined pre-recorded studio sessions with live interactions across two days.
Re-thinking hospitality to shape a new normal was a half hour session chaired by Peter Hancock, chief executive of Pride of Britain Hotels. Hancock was joined by Deirdre Wells OBE, CEO of Visit Kent, and Hubert Viriot, CEO of Yotel.
Opening the conversation with a look at occupancy and rates, Viriot highlighted how there’s “different sides of the story” with a nod to the urban and rural divide. He noted that hotels in London were the most hit, with leisure-oriented, provincial hotels benefitting greatly.
Wells agreed, stating that Kent, as a coastal and rural destination, saw a 50 per cent occupancy in July which improved to two-thirds in August. “We’re heading in the right direction,” she said, despite restricted openings with lower capacities. Wells is however noticing a “revenge spend” in pent up demand with leisure travel providing the opportunity to elevate rates that business travellers are restricted from spending.
Viriot spoke about the impact of government rhetoric on business, claiming that at the beginning of September he saw a positive trend when people were encouraged to return back to work. The threat of a second wave has nevertheless hindered travel plans to London – Viriot describe it as a “short-lived, hopeful moment” for Yotel.
Assessing the capital’s recovery, Viriot delivered a strong message about the fundamental need for “consistent and quick testing” to help restore consumer confidence. “In some of our foreign properties where testing is common, we’ve seen this trend,” he said. “In Istanbul, testing is compulsory and our hotel here has achieved almost pre-Covid levels. We’re in lockdown from rest of world here in the UK which is challenging.”
Looking further ahead at the return of overseas travellers, Wells sees the opportunity for rural and smaller towns to capitalise on business meetings and events. She explained: “We need to make sure that we’re investing in and supporting the development of rebuilds. The world is changing… If we’re serious as a destination and country for increasing international visitors, then those larger scale hotels need to be built and we don’t have enough in Kent.”
Business models were also a focus of the conversation, in particular hotels that sit at both ends of the sector. Prompted by Hancock’s question on the prospects for luxurious hotels, Viriot believes consumers will ultimately be steered in two directions – towards affordability or luxury. “Those who failed to have an identity and connect with the consumer pre-Covid will feel this even more so,” he claimed. “It’s the wide, mid-scale element which is difficult.”
Ending the session on a positive note, Wells spoke highly of the industry as a resilient body: “We’re innovative and entrepreneurial. We need to be flexible and if [local authorities] can support us, we can come back better and stronger.”
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