Having worked in the hospitality business for a long time, I feel we often under appreciate quite how resilient – and adaptive – this industry is. In the past couple of decades, we have seen the hotel distribution model upended by the online travel agents (OTAs); a major competitor arrival in the shape of Airbnb (and its emulators); and a global pandemic that forced hotels in many key markets to cease trading almost overnight. And yet the hospitality industry keeps on rolling; adapting to new realities and consistently treating trends as opportunities.

Amid a backdrop of strong hotel development pipelines in many regions, I have selected some of the key hospitality trends to be aware of and looked at how hoteliers are responding.

Welcoming the working nomad

With major employers like PwC embracing hybrid working models, and others such as Airbnb committing to work-from-anywhere policies, there is a huge opportunity for the travel industry to embrace this new generation of remote workers, who seek to combine employment with international travel. While there may be some jobs that cannot be done remotely, the knowledge and services economy is less restrictive in this area, given the exponential rise in use of video conferencing and collaborative working applications that was spurred by the constraints of lockdown.

For hotel operators, responding to this opportunity is about more than just installing good Wi-Fi. There has been a sea change in attitudes, too. This new generation of remote workers are interested in community; being among like-minded peers and enjoying a better-balanced life. At the same time, when they are working to a deadline they do not necessarily want to be surrounded by vacationers.

This means the age of the bland and forbidding hotel business centre is over. I expect to see funkier co-working spaces and suites reconfigured to include a desk/office set-up that can be converted to a functional meeting space when required. I also see a huge opportunity for travel destinations to create bespoke marketing programmes to attract working nomads – ideally with tourism boards and hospitality companies working hand-in-hand to amplify the message and ensure promises can be delivered on the ground.

The rise and rise of wellness tourism

As a hospitality consultant, I get more calls from hotels looking to reposition into health and wellness tourism than any other trend. And it’s no wonder – this market is booming. However, hotels need to understand that such a repositioning may not be so simple, nor without risk. Much depends on location: given that most hotels cannot afford to have full-time medical and wellness experts on the payroll, are such professionals available close by? Also, several brands are already operating successfully in this sphere, so it is important to check the local competitive set before making a significant financial commitment.

It may be better to look at smaller changes that can appeal to health-conscious guests without breaking the bank – something I call ‘light wellness’. Putting healthier choices in the minibar is a tiny gesture that can create a warm glow around your brand. It may be increasingly common to offer pillow or mattress menus, but why not go one step further by introducing sleep and wake-up rituals aligned to circadian rhythm cycles? You do not necessarily have to open a bespoke vegan restaurant or spend millions renovating your spa to be considered as a wellness-conscious hotel.

That said, what you do spend should pay back. Research shows health-conscious guests tend to be bigger spenders than average. For example, they may happily pay for things like yoga sessions and personal trainers, as well as choosing the in-house food and beverage options because they are trusted to produce healthier cooking, over untried local competitors.

Embrace technology in wellness

We are now much more engaged with our personal health; a trend accelerated by the pandemic and the explosion in wearable fitness technology. For the spa and wellness industry, this offers the promise of creating an opportunity and nullifying a threat simultaneously. How? Because new technologies like hyperbaric chambers, cryotherapy and such are more demonstrably effective than many ‘traditional’ spa rituals and treatments. Working with these scientifically proven treatments can also create fewer, but crucially, more interesting and better paid roles in the sector – something that is essential amid the wider ‘war for talent’ in hospitality.

Deploy smart technology in hotels

The hotel industry has an unbalanced relationship with technology. We tend not to be pioneers in technological development, instead choosing to take on applications developed for the commercial real estate sector, airports and the home, and then looking at how they can be integrated into so-called ‘smart hotels’.

But the hotel reception is not the same as an airport check-in – the need for a warmer welcome and a degree of personalisation is much greater in a hotel setting. If I am your guest, why not give me the option to check-in from a smartphone app while I am in my taxi heading from the airport? That way, I know there is a room waiting for me and when I arrive, I can head straight to it without delay. Crucially, though, if I wish for some human interaction, there are employees who have been liberated from behind the reception desk and are in the lobby ready to greet me, answer my questions and give me tips on the best places to go for food, drinks or sightseeing. As a guest, it immediately makes me feel that the hotel is well integrated into its surrounding community.

This kind of customer-facing role requires excellent soft skills – in addition to an encyclopaedic knowledge of the destination. Crucially, it is more rewarding, both professionally and potentially, in terms of remuneration. If you are a ‘people person’, it is a role you can enjoy and make your own – and these are exactly the sort of jobs we need to offer as an industry if we want to attract and retain the talent we need.

Marketing gets ‘transformational’

We often talk about hospitality being part of the wider ‘experience economy’, a term coined by Pine & Gilmore just before the turn of the millennium. Recently the same authors have developed the notion of the ‘transformation economy’, where experiences are elevated from mere enjoyment to actual personal transformation.

What does this mean for hospitality marketing? We will see a shift in messaging to amplify this notion of transformation through travel experiences, and particularly around health and wellness. Messaging will become even more personalised, especially in the luxury segment, and with digitalisation, such moves easier to pull off. The message will thus evolve to something like: “I see that you are travelling because you are trying to change something in your life. We can be part of that journey by being the place where you sleep, where you look after your health and fitness, or by becoming your place of work while you explore how your career can move forwards”.

One of the brands already doing this successfully is Equinox, which began in fitness but has now opened what it calls “the fittest hotel on Earth” in New York’s Hudson Yards. It promises a stay there will help you on your personal journey of being healthier, more focused and higher performing. It turns the transformation economy from theory to real-world practice.

Can the hotel ‘brand explosion’ last?

While the other trends I have highlighted can primarily be seen as opportunities rather than risks, this final one is more open to debate. It concerns the fragmentation of the hotel sector into a plethora of sub-segments, each with their own stable of competing brands.

Choice is generally a good thing for a consumer, but has this process gone too far in the hotel business? Are customers becoming confused rather than inspired when faced with so many brands? Will they trust once independent brands which are now part of a multinational group to deliver authentic experiences?

I personally think that such concerns are valid, and in time we may see some rationalisation as the larger operators focus on one brand in lifestyle, one in boutique, for example.

These are just a few hospitality trends that I have chosen to highlight. There are plenty more items on the hospitality leader’s strategic agenda, some of which – such as social responsibility – may ultimately prove more impactful than those mentioned above.

The red thread that runs through most, if not all of them, is the hotel industry’s ongoing battle to attract and retain staff. Much of what I have talked about is centred on delivering transformational, ultrapersonalised experiences to guests. But how can a hotel do this successfully if its front line workforce is changing every six months?

As an industry, we need to address the way we engage and excite young people to work in hospitality; deploy technology to give us more freedom to invest in people and employ roles that captivate both the staff member and their guests; and reclaim that notion of personalised, human-to-human interactions that Airbnb used to such great effect when it first emerged as a challenger to the traditional hotel business.

If the hotel industry can pull this off, it will deliver exceptional growth because this is the way that guest demand is going.