HB on the scene: Executives discuss return of travel to NYU

NEW YORK — The second day of NYU’s 43rd Annual International Hotel Industry Investment Conference at the New York Marriott Marquis here, provided more information on the hot topics facing the industry.

During Industry Leaders Discuss Current Trends Shaping the Future of Travel and How to Capitalize on What’s Coming Next, moderated by Eileen A. Crowley, Partner / Vice President — Co-Leader of Travel, Hospitality and Services in the United States, industry leaders Deloitte & Touche discussed what they think travel will look like in the future and what it looks like now. The panelists were Jim Alderman, CEO, Radisson Hotel Group, Americas; John Cohlan, CEO, Margaritaville; Sloan Dean, CEO / President, Remington Hotels; Carlos R. Flores, President / CEO, Sonesta International Hotels Corporation; and Jeff Wagoner, President / CEO. Outrigger Hotel Group.

Flores said that at the start of the pandemic the guests were very understanding, as the pandemic continued they began to raise their expectations in terms of service and other areas. “The expectations associated with what they expect when they show up at the property are drastically different from what they were just six months ago,” he said. “They think of a full range of services. One thing that we have done during the pandemic is to really look at the service offerings and overall operating standards, things that were done intentionally because we are in the midst of a 100 year global pandemic – things like limiting housekeeping or not doing it on demand to really make the room a daytime sanctuary for safety and comfort. And it was either appreciated or understood as now it has become a sticking point.

Alderman agreed with Flores’ assessment. “It came back a lot faster than I thought,” he said. “I don’t really get a ton of love letters these days… The expectation and the demand are back.”

“Customer expectations are back in full and above what they were in some cases before COVID,” Dean said. “You have a consumer who was turned away in his house. When they come to a hotel, they want to have not only the same experience, but an exceptional experience. If you look at things that are going to last, I think we’re going to have housekeeping modified, but customers want tidiness. They want someone to come in the middle of the day to take out the trash and give them new laundry.

Wagoner said when Outrigger created its 2021 budget, it was budgeting less than in previous years for housekeeping. “We said we were going to budget at 70% levels because we said the consumer probably won’t want it,” he said. “Then we found out before the start of the year that there was a 90% turnout for housekeeping. We have seen the polls; we heard the chatter about what was going to happen and it really didn’t materialize. The consumer didn’t want it. The consumer came back and said, “I really want these services in a resort environment. I paid a lot of money and want a resort vacation.

Cohlan said a lot depends on the brand’s expectations for consumers. “In our case, people come from experience and personality, if you will. So while we are always subject to the same supply and demand, and not so many people working, and you cannot lower the occupancy rate no matter how bad you think you are. While waiting in line, you can still have fun if you do it right. So in other words, the wait at our properties tends to be “I’m looking for a fun escape experience”. You can get creative and you can kind of dig into the waiting areas that aren’t so [affected]by some of these external forces.

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