What’s the Next Normal for Hotels?

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The next normal for hotels, according to travel and hospitality experts at McKinsey, will involve improving guest experience, sustainability and workforce satisfaction.

The pandemic and the economic turbulence of recent times has shaken up the status quo of the hospitality industry. But what will the “next normal” look like? Global management and consulting firm McKinsey & Co. asked five of its travel and hospitality experts — Margaux Constantin, Vik Krishnan, Matteo Pacca, Steve Saxon, and Caroline Tufft — to weigh in on what they envision hotels of the 2030s will look and feel like in a video.

Next Normal in Guest Experience

Hotels, which already were well on their way to making the guest experience more customized and convenient, will continue along that path, the McKinsey experts believe. One big change that Tufft envisions is that the check-in line will disappear as hotels begin to offer more flexible options. “You won’t have to wait until 4 p.m. to check in,” she said. Krishnan predicts the stop at the check-in desk will go away altogether as more hotels assign rooms via a phone app.

Future guests may even be able to use virtual reality to check out their room ahead of time, said Pacca. Communications between guests, especially international travelers, also will improve as hotels incorporate robust translation functionality into their mobile apps, said Saxon.

Hotels also will become better at harnessing the data available to move personalization and customization beyond emails and promotional materials, according to Pacca. “The customization of experience, for now, is a rarity. I believe we’re going to see much more of that going forward: the intensity of the light in your room, the coffee you will find there, the installations in the bathroom, the shower and so on.” Added Tufft, “I can see there being scope for even more of that [trend toward offering wellness in spas]: everything from how they evolve their menus to how they think about the use of light and technology in the room.” The rooms themselves may also become more flexible, using automation to convert a guest room from a daytime meeting space to a restful sleeping environment, said Saxon.

Hotels also will cater more to the younger generations’ desire to have unique experiences, they said. This could mean everything from providing unique programming, such as a yoga retreat with a famous teacher, to integrating more of the local environment into the hotel itself.

The Next Normal in Sustainability

Sustainability is another trend many hotels have been working toward for at least the past decade, and the McKinsey experts believe that will only continue to strengthen over the next decade.

Pacca believes this will be driven by consumer demand for hotels to become more sustainable for everything from “the materials from which hotels are built, the way the food is processed and served, and so on. Sustainability will be a big segmentation factor for winners and losers.” Guest rooms specifically will be a focus of the next normal, said Saxon. “Hotel rooms will have sensors to know: Is there a person in the room? And if so, what is the person doing? Therefore, what does that mean we need to do in terms of temperature control? Because the largest source of energy usage in a hotel is the HVAC systems.”

Achieving the Next Normal Means Attracting Talent

While automation and technology will play a big role in the next normal for hotels, “The hotel of the future is going to have to be a responsible employer,” said Krishnan.

Added Pacca, “Hospitality is about experience. Most of the experience is actually delivered by people—and people can only deliver a fantastic experience if they’re happy, relaxed, well paid, and well trained. So, winning will also be about the capability of attracting and retaining the best talent to give the best experience to guests.”

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