Opened by global CEO Stephen Rushmore, the session was moderated by HVS London chairman Russell Kett, who polled the attendees finding that some 51% of the 1,800+ global delegates expected RevPAR [rooms revenue per available room] to return to pre-Covid levels during 2023, with a further 23% anticipating a return in 2024.

Most expected hotel values to return to 2019 levels by 2023, with 28% envisaging this in 2024. Getting corporate and group business back emerged as the single most important issue for 37% of the audience, with 29% most concerned about when international visitors will return. And, in the light of the current hospitality environment, delegates demonstrated an optimistic investment approach, with 45% preferring a “hold and buy” strategy.

Based on their extensive market experience, regional variations for the hotel sector were voiced by the HVS global leaders.

Charles Human, HVS president Europe, predicted a stop-start recovery, largely because of on-going local lockdowns and the further imposition of travel restrictions. “We expect regional commercial markets such as Germany to start to pick up initially, but gateway cities will be the next challenge – London is a shadow of its former self at the moment,” he said.

Hala Matar Choufany, HVS president Middle East & Africa, commented: “Perhaps the good news is that Africa has the potential to recover ahead of the Middle East, though it is very dependent on the international market. Its recovery will be tied to air traffic and connectivity, whereas in the Middle East few cities have diversified their segmentation so they are heavily dependent on the corporate sector with limited domestic demand.”

Hok Yean Chee, HVS president Asia, anticipated a slow 2021 with recovery in 2022-23 and RevPAR levels returning to 2018-19 levels in 2024. Similarly, Mandeep Lamba, HVS president South Asia, said occupancies across India were likely to come back in Q3 2022 and RevPAR in Q2 2023. “It’s going to be leisure and mid-market hotels that will lead the recovery here. Our knight in shining armour in India is going to be the domestic traveller and everyone is going to start focussing on them like they never have done in the past,” he said.

Rod Clough, HVS president Americas was more upbeat, expecting recovery in 2021 and into spring 2022, resulting from travel demand. “While we have a few difficult quarters ahead, we expect an unleashing of demand next summer into a good recovery period in the fall of 2021. In the US people want to be travelling to events and conventions and meeting colleagues. As a society, travel is in our DNA and the desire for travel is getting stronger,” he said.

While recovery was anticipated to take several years across the world, the panel expected a continuation of global hotel development. Said Rod Clough: “Next summer when things are coming back we will need hotels in new neighbourhoods and in emerging destinations. The train has slowed but it’s still moving forward.”

Hok Yean Chee also anticipated hotel development would continue in China, although costs were likely to rise because of the need for a different design with social distancing a new consideration. “In China and Indonesia there is a lot of domestic travel prompting demand for more hotels,” she said.

Charles Human was more circumspect: “Land prices in Europe will fall which is a help, but that’s not enough to entice developers. Those hotels under construction will continue but in some areas the pipelines are too big, so a slow down won’t be such a bad thing,” he said.

Hala Matar Choufany said she expected development in her region to continue, but that it would take a different shape as developers assess supply and demand. Speaking of the changing nature of corporate and MICE [meetings, incentives, conferences and events] travel, she said: “There will always be an element of face-to-face corporate travel, but things will change – we have to accept that and quantify it. There is no way we will go back to the old days of corporate and MICE travel – particularly as corporations now have limited budgets for it. Hoteliers will potentially identify new segments that will compensate for the loss in corporate business.”

Charles Human was more bullish about the return of corporate travel. “Zoom works in pandemic times but not in normal times,” he said. “Sometimes remote meetings can be very unsatisfactory. I do believe there will be new opportunities for hotels though, in particular in the restaurant space with so many high street restaurants closing. The sector is heading for change and operators will need to adapt to the new world.”

Rod Clough in the US ended on a positive note. He expects new sectors to emerge as a result of the current environment. “There will be small meetings to facilitate personal interaction – hotels are a beacon for this. We have to move into a new world. The hotel industry is made up of innovators. The industry may look different, but it will emerge innovative and vibrant,” he said.

Hala Mata Choufany was similarly positive: “When we travel less for work, we will travel more for leisure,” she concluded.