The natural connection: Is demand for hotels changing in the wake of Covid-19?

Giles Fuchs, owner of Burgh Island Hotel, discusses how hotels can capture demand in 2021.

Summer 2020 saw the Great British staycation make a comeback. With much of the public seeking a break from intense stints at home and overseas travel limited, hotels and retreats across the UK reached capacity, sunseekers were turned away from beaches, and restaurant diners spilled out onto seafront promenades.

But as we look to 2021 and beyond, question marks remain over whether this ‘trend’ can last. Indeed, British escapes don’t have to be a Covid-only option. Offering benefits ranging from improved mental health to rediscovering the natural world, hotels can be there to support guests as they seek time for themselves in this rather hectic world.

Taking away that cabin fever

It isn’t surprising that more than half of UK consumers are longing to travel amid the pandemic – as a nation of workaholics, we long for those few times a year when we can take our mind off of work, spend time with family or experience something new.

With lockdowns having restricted this aspect of our lives, many are feeling a sense of cabin fever, isolation and burnout that is proving detrimental to our mental health. Indeed, with a correlation found between lockdown periods and levels of anxiety and depression, consumers will be eager to escape in 2021 with many planning to take more frequent, shorter trips within the UK.

These getaways won’t just offer an opportunity to post something new on Instagram, but also the opportunity to step away from our always-on, digitally connected life, intensified by widespread working from home practices.

Hotels will play a role in providing an experience that takes people away from their overwhelming lives. By offering simple niceties, from providing tourist information, to sharing enjoyable anecdotes about local history, restaurant recommendations, or facilitating activities and excursions, hotels can ensure that guests leave feeling refreshed.

Getting back to nature

More and more people are recognising the value of a nature escape to reduce these feelings of confinement. In fact, the NHS will soon begin to prescribe ‘nature prescriptions’ to those dealing with chronic illness or poor mental health, which will encourage them to take up outdoor activities or trips to areas of outstanding natural beauty. With 95 per cent of those suffering with low mental health reporting that spending time in nature improved their mental wellbeing, hotels across the UK can provide an immediate, low-cost escape whenever they might need it.

While 2020 has been tough on the industry, we must continue to do our part to retain the natural beauty of our surroundings. At Burgh Island Hotel, we have increased our programme of activities to provide additional opportunities for guests to connect with what Devon has to offer. From beach foraging with our head chef to sustainable shark fishing and artist-experiences, we work hard to ensure our guests feel connected to our island. While we are certainly lucky with our setting, city hotels can work to establish a similar connection by increasing al-fresco seating and dining areas, creating small kitchen gardens or simply providing detailed information about local parks and walkways.

Nature escapes aren’t just for now

Our desire to reconnect with nature is not simply driven by a need to escape lockdown. Studies show that the pandemic has made us more aware of our health, and we will continue to actively seek out ways to improve our wellbeing.

As we look to the future, it is evident that green and eco-friendly initiatives will help to attract guests. In fact, 27 per cent are actively seeking out more sustainable hotels.

Hotels must consider these changing attitudes and adapt the guest experience to appeal to the ‘green guest’, whether by investing in eco-buildings, renewable energy, recycling schemes or sustainably sourced products and ingredients.

At Burgh Island, we have invested in sustainability by refurbishing our building to improve energy efficiency, creating a solar panel array on a disused tennis court and training our staff in eco-awareness to minimise our burden on the natural environment. We also work closely with local producers to ensure that almost all of our food is sourced from within a 30-mile radius, which improves not only food mileage, but also supports local economies. For our efforts, we have been awarded the Green Tourism ‘Gold’ status, which we are immensely proud of.

The fruits of your labour

The health benefits of spending time outdoors cannot be understated. The simple act of encouraging your guests to venture outside can have a significant impact on their health.

While we may spend much of our time at a desk or staring at our smartphones, humanity’s relationship with nature persists. Research shows that just a few hours spent outdoors can prompt positive emotions, banish negative thoughts, and provide a significant boost to our mood. By facilitating local walks, sports and exercise classes, and other outdoor activities, hotels can create a sense of joy that keeps guests coming back.

While the pandemic will hopefully come to an end in the not-too-distant future, the human need for this connection to nature will not disappear. Appealing to this desire will play a vital role in overcoming the pandemic, not just by attracting guests, but also by boosting revenue streams — interestingly, guests are willing to pay up to 23$ for a room with a green view.

A promising future

As we overcome 2020’s struggles, we must consider how best to adapt. Not only to improve the financial health of our businesses, but to provide the post-pandemic relief, mental wellbeing, and long-term environmental change that we all desperately need.

The future is uncertain for hospitality, but the human drivers that create demand for holidays will not disappear. Driven by the need to escape normal life and reconnect with nature, people will seek breaks that provide retreat, health and experiences now more than ever.

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