Post-Omicron optimism for the hospitality sector | Article

As hospitality embarks on another year of catering to guests amid the Covid-19 pandemic, there are plenty of reasons for the hospitality industry to be optimistic.

Despite the projected cost of Omicron, which could see the industry lose as much as £4bn, the lifting of restrictions offers hope that the worst is now behind us. PwC UK Hotels Forecast 2021-2022 predicts that revenue per available room in London will return to between 43% and 86% of pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2022. Regionally, predicted figures are even higher at 64% to 100% of pre-pandemic levels.

However, to realise this potential, solutions – designed to ease consumer fears, satisfy their desire for experience and adventure, and retain their custom – are required to nurture the health of the UK’s hospitality industry over the next twelve months.

Living with Covid

Despite fears heading into the New Year – from an increase in no-shows due to “HOGO” (the hassle of going out) to the rising cost of living – there have been positive signs that hospitality can sustain a positive post-pandemic recovery in 2022. Bars, pubs and clubs saw a 21% uplift in card revenue in January with the spending habits of 16-34-year-olds remaining unchanged.

As the last of the Covid restrictions are lifted and Spring brings with it some much-needed sunshine, hospitality can expect a swell in numbers. However, with anxiety rates having doubled during the pandemic, the sector must help to encourage and ease its guests back in as we learn to live with the virus.

Often, merely getting people across the threshold can be all it takes to have them rediscover your amazing offering. For hoteliers, ‘daycations’ can encourage those shying away from more ambitious getaways to use local hotel facilities during the day, helping them to rediscover travel experiences and providing a vital boost to revenue.

For hotels that offer access to other facilities, such as pubs, bars and restaurants, re-establishing and maintaining relationships with longstanding patrons can go a long way.  Promotional vouchers, discounts and proper marketing of Covid-safe communal areas can help to dissuade local guests from remaining inside their own four walls.

Sustaining momentum

Last summer saw a much-needed staycation boom in the UK. However, data shows that sales at the end of 2021 were still 10% short of pre-pandemic levels, with 2021 hospitality turnover £60bn below the £132bn generated in 2019.

Yet, some businesses have proven themselves as outliers to this trend and are inundated with demand – indeed, 80% of the Burgh Island Hotel’s available rooms for H1 2022 were booked before the year began.

Lacklustre demand during the post-Omicron period is not as insurmountable as it might first appear. Hoteliers must invest in themselves to maximise their existing offering, and technological investment is a great place to start. Many hotels are improving the guest experience and expediting the booking process with proprietary apps, which allow guests to make virtual payments, take virtual room tours and contact staff remotely.

Moreover, hotels have begun relying on artificial intelligence (AI) to make better use of guest data collected during their stay. This technology can help hoteliers make informed decisions about prices and demand, and to interpret guest data in order to apply more effective marketing strategies and tailor-make packages to fit the guests’ needs.

Investing in people

Staff shortages born from Brexit and Covid-19 have been the source of a different kind of plague over the past year. In November, there were almost 200,000 unfilled hospitality positions across the UK. While routes to solve this issue might seem obvious, such as raising pay and offering more financial benefits during employment, improving the esteem of hospitality jobs is equally important.

In fact, not only can alternative methods attract new employees, but they can also be excellent ways of retaining current staff. One area often overlooked is prioritising succession planning and Continuing Professional Development (CPD) opportunities. CPD differs from training and development in that it can be personalised, boosting retention by making employees feel valued in their role and offering them the skills they need to progress.

By utilising succession planning, hoteliers will enjoy the benefit of a more skilled workforce, making both the business and sector more resilient in the long run.

Through the looking glass

While a happy workforce, intelligent marketing and streamlined processes elevate your establishment’s value, a holiday can only be as good as the experience it offers.

As we learn to live with Covid, hotels must not put the pandemic behind them just yet, but they can still help guests do so. Studies have shown that 81% of us travel to make memories, while 78% do so for fun and adventure.  While health and safety remains a top priority, the primary concern for hoteliers must be to satisfy these wants, developing USPs where possible and maximising guest enjoyment.

Giles Fuchs, owner of Burgh Island Hotel,