NEW YORK, N.Y. – As we look back on an astonishingly bad year for the hotel industry, there are only clichés on which to fall back. For example, there is nowhere to go but up. Surely that must be true.
I remember chatting with an industry commentator in early Feb 2020. The commentator boldly proclaimed that the biggest issue of 2020 would be a persistent labor shortage. It was an astute comment, but little did we know. Now that Americans are receiving COVID-19 vaccinations, there is an unmistakable bit of optimism on the horizon.
HX: The News asked a few of our regular contributors to share some of that optimism (cautious as it might be), along with some new year’s predictions. Redemption may indeed be in the offing. In the words of Andy DuFresne, “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things.”
How much optimism does the COVID vaccine inspire?
“This gives a cautious sense of optimism; tempered with unanswered questions. What is the volume of vaccinations and what is the delivery time? How many folks will actually participate? Is there a firm understanding that even with the vaccination, masks are still required, and will folks embrace that?” — Joel Carver, CEO, The Carver Companies
“I am very optimistic that we are on the right track as far as vaccinations. Next steps are to design and navigate our businesses, mindset, and wellbeing overall to continue to be vigilant and think long term. Even with the vaccinations, we still need to think about social distancing and mask wearing to protect others around us. With that said, hospitality and food spaces, I believe, should continue to think touchless, inviting, and engaging outdoor spaces with social distancing in mind; transparency as to what the operator is doing to keep customers safe, and easy ways to order and pick up food is important now and post Covid. Having diverse and changing/flexible ways to engage a customer, as well as creative labor models will provide resilience to businesses during any economic period—up or down.” — Melanie Corey-Ferrini, FCSI, NCARB, founder, Dynamik Space and 3.14dc, Seattle
“Almost every hotelier I spoke with in 2020 regarding their future outlook indicated a vaccine was the only hope. It was just about unanimous that to return to ‘normalcy’ a vaccine was imperative. Based on this feedback, I would say this is the source of optimism for 2021. This should prevent further interruption in the hotel industry.” — Hannah Dziczek, business development manager, Plum, Boston
“The first half of the year will be long as much will remain the same. However, come summer, I am confident there will be plenty of business returning as the dam of pent-up demand finally breaks and customers return to hotels in significant numbers. Of course, this ignores the significant financial hardship hoteliers have been facing and the reality that many might not be around by next summer because of federal and state governments willfully ignoring hoteliers’ pleas for financial relief.” — Glenn Haussman, president of Rouse Media and host of the No Vacancy podcast
“It gives us a lot of hope. We realize it will take several months before things return to a semblance of normal, but we see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. People are eager to do things like enjoy a fine meal out with friends in a relaxed setting.” — Kevin Kochman, president, KCL, Morton Grove, Ill.
“It offers a lot of optimism to me. As an event planner and association management professional, it begins to shine a light on the end of this pandemic. It also will help our leaders start to relax allowing, our restaurants and hotels to get back to the hospitality business we all miss.” — Wade Koehler, executive director, Foodservice Consultants Society International, Americas Division, Louisville, Kentucky
“The vaccines are a source of great hope for the hotel industry. Not only will widespread immunity re-invigorate travel, it will also eliminate workplace fear. People often forget that hotel staffers are frontline, essential workers – you cannot work from home if you are a room attendant! The people of our industry are everyday heroes who have worked despite their fear of the pandemic. Vaccines will improve workplace safety for millions of hotel employees and make it easier for these superstars to deliver comfortable, clean and friendly experiences for all of the travelers they serve every day.” — Del Ross, chief revenue officer, Hotel Effectiveness
“Well, although I am typically an optimist, the vaccines bring us hope but I am also a realist when it comes to when this will have a true impact that brings us back to some sort of normal. I believe that it is going to take the better part of this decade for us to truly recover as an industry.” — Joseph Schumaker, FCSI, founder and president of FoodSpace.
“We are optimistic, absolutely. We need to be patient, however, and prepared. Now that the uncertainty is gone, we need to use this time to plan for the future of our businesses, our business relationships, our relationships with our employees, our communities, and our customers. Use 2021 as an opportunity to re-energize, refresh, and re-engage.” — Elizabeth Shanley, The Fehlig Group, Providence, R.I.
What are your predictions for the business health of the hotel industry in 2021?
“If all of the above are true, then I see continued correction in the limited/select and extended stay segments; along with leisure travel. With group, we may see some growth in SMERF and small corporate this year. However, I project an 18- to 24-month booking cycle for large group/convention business. That clock will not begin ticking until we have a solid solution for COVID in place.” — Joel Carver, CEO, The Carver Companies
“Hotels that are in more remote areas and/or that position themselves as ‘retreats’ are bound to have higher occupancies as people continue to feel safer in less populated areas. Hotels that depend on business travelers or conventions will still be seeing low occupancy and event numbers thru summer and potentially into fall and winter. Having creative strategies to engage customers to stay or plan to visit hotels, will be important. — Melanie Corey-Ferrini, FCSI, NCARB, founder, Dynamik Space and 3.14dc, Seattle
“Based on feedback from the experts in this field (owners and operators) and what we are seeing at Plum, I believe 2021 will bring everything back to neutral and begin the healing process; leaving sustainability and growth to 2022 and subsequent years. 2021 should bring the dawn to a very, very, long night.” — Hannah Dziczek, business development manager, Plum, Boston
“Though the start of vaccinations will not automatically flip a switch where hotels will fill up instantly, it is symbolic of the beginning of the end of this crisis, which return the industry to health.” — Glenn Haussman, president of Rouse Media and host of the No Vacancy podcast
“I think beginning in June 2021, the event and travel industry will begin to rebound. My hope is that by then end of 2021 we are starting to see attendance and sales numbers back to pre-covid days.” — Wade Koehler, executive director, Foodservice Consultants Society International, Americas Division, Louisville, Kentucky
“I believe that overall 2021 is going to be a VERY difficult year. Although there is a ton of pent up demand for travel and other hospitality services, it will be slow as people return to fully being able to travel.” — Joseph Schumaker, FCSI, founder and president of FoodSpace
“I think the industry is going to come back, but how do we use this time to lead into building the right workforce, the right community? We want people to remember why they like to travel. We want these travelers to experience the essence of hospitality. A culture of employees who are connected and proud of their organization will welcome back guests with a new sense of purpose. I think people are going to be more discerning with their travel, so there needs to be an enhanced experience.” — Elizabeth Shanley (pictured, right), The Fehlig Group, Providence, R.I.