The hospitality industry is down but not out and Discovery Hospitality’s Jopet Concio outlines ways the sector could possibly reinvent itself and find new roles to play in the lives of Filipinos.

This article is part of a Spotlight series on how brands can better connect with communities in the Philippines. Read more

Like a thief in the night, this pandemic knocked down tourism all over the world, in the middle of a hospitality-industry-high, felt from luxury hotels & resorts to hostels and communal lodging spaces. With travel, considered as the most progressive expression of human interest, a pillar of tourism, lodging, was shaken to its core.

Yet, from the rubble will rise, independent brands and smaller players, pushed to survive the ravages of a war against an invisible enemy. With a grim outlook never seen in a century, in the aftermath of the COVID-19 storm, the only question that remains is, where is the light at the end of the tunnel?

Hotel brands that capitalized on revenue sharing models, from local and global clients, unbelievably, are faced with dwindled revenues. No one could have predicted this crippling impact of a pandemic, having survived a serious bout of the original SARS outbreak almost 20 years ago.

With no historical data that can come close to what should happen in the next 2-3 years, the brightest minds of the industry will need to figure out how to repurpose accommodation facilities.

The visionaries will see how bedrooms can be transformed into classrooms, with hotels repurposed as high-end boarding schools and/or field trip destinations and retreat houses.

Family staycations are face-lifted to long-stay family “work-from-hotel” vacations, with online learning and zoom meetings enabled in luxurious suites. After all, hotel staycations are no more. There are only vacation rentals.

The digital nomads, restless at home, may choose to stay in resorts or island destinations for months, enjoying the open spaces away from crowds at night while doing Zoom marathons during the day. Bleisure just became the new normal.

The entire hotel can be a movie-set: With green screens providing the backdrop to epic scenes of exotic locations, superimposed during editing. The entertainment industry: Films, TV and Fashion, all buzzing inside the hotel “bubble” to produce “new normal” content, on the makeshift catwalks against the same green background, edited as if in Paris or Madrid.

The “bubble” opportunity continues. Convention hotels can transform into sports arenas with huge ballrooms converted into basketball courts, volleyball stadium and other competitive sports facilities.

In the meantime, the weekend leisure traveller is locked-up inside a hotel suite, indulging in room service caviar, dry-aged steak and vintage red wine, watching Netflix and YouTube all day long, or enjoying the live feed of sports events or movie shoots happening downstairs, inside the ground floor ballroom.

Staying in hotels and resorts for big conferences and meetings are not to see each other, but rather to be alone, together. After all, everyone needs a break from the household clutter and noise to focus and be productive. Might as well do it in an empty 5-star hotel suite with a 4-star room rate.

Repurposing living rooms of suites into “meeting rooms” for doctors and patients as “safe spaces” for the non-COVID-infected population, will save lives of people who refuse to go to hospitals for fear of the virus.

Convention halls will become extensions of BPO offices that were previously maximised in capacity, but now lacking the social distances demanded by the new normal.

Brands will curate hotel-grade merchandise, from coffee to cutleries to linens. After all, merchandise is a reminder of the relaxing hotel experience and the great old friendships between staff and loyal guests and patrons.

Hotels will feature original native delicacies and mementos, sourced directly from local growers or manufacturers, resold as part of their “community collection”, bringing the authenticity of places to the consumers sold together with the hotel stay… on a “Book Now Use Later” scheme.

With neighbourhood and office marketplaces dominating the retail landscape, hospitality-modelled e-commerce platforms will welcome these informal sellers within customized virtual spaces, where all kinds of stuff are sold, even hotel food, beverage and giveaways.

Online travel agency (OTA) and meta-search platforms will step aside as hotel digital marketing experts power-up marketplace booking (buying) engines, channels and payment gateways.

Targeting groups of customers has become harder, and the size smaller. Within demographic segments of the female working class, you will find the essential-oil sniffing, blue-collar graphic artist and gamer, who happens to like Adele; just one of the numerous micro-segments that will define the future products and services of the new normal world. But don’t look too far. Literally speaking. Proximity will drive people to destinations that are accessible by car or a short airplane ride.

Rebuilding the hospitality industry anchors on the recovery of the destination and the resilience of the communities. Expect hoteliers to dip their fingers in domestic marketing initiatives, collaboratively with competitors and other stakeholders, beyond government. Expect consumer brands to partner with tourism campaigns and local sustainability programs to get people to travel again or to support homegrown capabilities. The savvy hotelier becomes the one-stop-shop of strategic partnerships, for marketing, event management and execution of initiatives.

The hotel business, as we know it, may take a back seat, in the meantime. The light may be dim, at the end of a pitch-black tunnel, but the bright minds of the hotel and tourism mavericks will shine through these dark days and lead the rebirth of the hotel industry, with a vengeance it well deserves.

Further Reading

Looking forward: Philippine predictions post-lockdown and beyond

Brands in the Philippines need relevance, meaning and sensitivity to navigate the COVID-19 crisis

A portrait of the COVID-19 crisis as Filipino

2020 Asian Strategy Report: Insights from the WARC Prize for Asian Strategy

Why digital-addicted Philippines spends the least online