HB on the Scene: Leaders discuss return of travel at NYU

NEW YORK—The second day of the 43rd Annual NYU International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference at the New York Marriott Marquis here, brought more insight 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 chair—U.S. travel, hospitality and services co-leader, Deloitte & Touche, industry leaders discussed what they think travel will look like going forward—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 Hospitality Group.

Flores said that while in the beginning of the pandemic 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 is radically different than what it was just six months ago,” he said. “They’re thinking full complement of services. One thing that we had done through the course of the pandemic is really look at service offerings and overall operating standards, things that were done intentionally because we’re in the midst of 100-year global pandemic—things like limiting housekeeping or not doing it on demand to really make the room, a sanctuary during the day for safety and comfort. And that was either appreciated or understood whereas now it’s become a point of friction.”

Alderman agreed with Flores’ assessment. “It has come back a lot faster than I thought,” he said. “I am not really getting a ton of love letters these days…The expectation and the demand is back.”

“Customer expectations are back in full and above where they were in some cases pre-COVID,” said Dean. “You have a consumer who was pent-up in their house. Coming to a hotel, they want to have not only the same experience, but an exceptional experience. If you are looking at things that are going to hold on, I think we are going to have modified housekeeping, but customers want a tidy. They want someone to come in the middle of the day to take out the trash and give them new linen.”

Wagoner said that when Outrigger was creating its 2021 budget, it budgeted less that in previous years for housekeeping. “We said we are going to budget at 70% levels because we said the consumer probably won’t want it,” he said. “Then we found out before the year started that there was a 90% take rate for housekeeping. We saw the surveys; 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 those services in a resort environment. I paid a lot of money and want a resort vacation.”

Cohlan said a lot depends on the expectation of the brand for consumers. “In our case, people come from experience and a personality, if you will. So, while we’re still subject to the same supply and demand, and not as many people working, and you couldn’t depress occupancy, no matter how high you may think you are. Waiting on line, you can still have fun if you do it right. So, in other words, the expectation in our properties tends to be ‘I’m looking for a fun escapist experience.’ You can get creative and you can sort of drill into the areas of expectation that are somewhat you’re not as [affected]by some of these external forces.”