When the COVID-19 pandemic pummeled the global economy, few industries were hit as hard as tourism. Lockdown measures, social distancing rules, border closures, and flight cancellations have suspended travel plans and kept much of the world stuck at home during what has historically been one of the industry’s busiest seasons.
“Never before in history has international travel been restricted in such an extreme manner,” read a report by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). The report found that more than 200 countries and territories around the world introduced measures to keep travelers from entering their borders during the pandemic.
But now, as countries begin to gain control of the pandemic and loosen restrictions, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Heartened by early signs of recovery, travelers are eagerly awaiting news on when and how to safely resume travel.
Travel will return—it has to return, as a large chunk of the world’s workforce and economies relies on it. However, the way we travel is going to look very different. Among the many predicted travel trends that will change how we travel are touchless technology and automation across the entire sector, health screening and tracking tools, and heightened sanitation measures.
As the industry plans for recovery, vacation rental companies and hotels are seizing the opportunity to rebuild in new, safer, more sustainable ways. In this article, we compare how home-share companies and hotels are adapting to the age of social distancing and rising hygiene concerns.
COVID-19 spreads primarily through person-to-person contact. Because the virus travels easily between people, social distancing remains the most effective way to limit its spread. This is how vacation rental companies and hotels are working hard to establish themselves as social distancing-friendly:
Vacation rentals. Medical professionals agree that vacation rentals may have a leg up on traditional hotels in this area. Generally speaking, private homes and apartments tend to be a more social distancing-friendly option compared with conventional hotels, where the chance of interaction with staff members and other guests is much higher. Even before the pandemic, many travelers favored vacation rental properties for privacy and extra space. In the wake of the global crisis, this privacy translates not only to increased comfort, but also to increased safety.
Hotels. Because many traditional hotels are more compact by design, conventional establishments may have a trickier time enforcing safe social distancing measures, particularly in areas like elevators and lobbies. In addition, many of the perks that drew guests to luxury hotels—such as trendy bars, fitness centers, and renowned restaurants—are now less attractive in the current climate.
Hotels are stepping up to the challenge by implementing measures such as laying out social distancing stickers on the floors and elevators and erecting plexiglass dividers in reception and dining areas. Moving forward, industry experts predict that future hotels will be designed to promote social distancing, with layouts that avoid overcrowding and direct foot traffic. In addition, hotel designers may move social and dining spaces outdoors with additions like canopies and climate-control and heating systems.
Even within the hospitality sector, where the process of interacting with customers has remained fundamentally unchanged for generations, industry leaders had begun dipping their toes into automated services before the pandemic struck. Let’s take a closer look at how vacation rental platforms and hotels will continue to promote touchless service post-pandemic:
Vacation rentals. Airbnb and many other vacation rental platforms are a few steps ahead, having long facilitated remote interactions between hosts and guests and contactless check-in.
Today, Airbnb guests are encouraged to communicate with the hosts via the app or online without ever meeting them face-to-face. Instead of a formal check-in or check-out, guests are often given a security code or access to a lockbox.
Hotels. In preparation for COVID-19 recovery, hotels are working to strategize and introduce fresh solutions as hygiene concerns fuel demand for automated hospitality. Leading the way are highly automated hotels like Yotel, where guests can check in and collect their room keys using a self-service kiosk, and robots deliver bags and room service items. Even classic luxury hotels like the Marriott and Four Seasons are adapting quickly, offering guests automated check-ins and access to chat platforms to reduce face-to-face interactions.
As The New York Times predicts, the hospitality industry will be defined post-COVID-19 by one word: “clean.” When travel begins to pick back up again, hotels and home rentals alike will have to woo back customers with the promise of hospital-like cleanliness. Let’s look at how both the vacation rental and hotel industries are tackling increased hygiene concerns:
Vacation rentals. In early May, Airbnb established the new Cleaning Protocol inspired by guidelines set by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The guidelines include specific information on preventing the spread of the virus, including the use of approved disinfectants, protective equipment, and masks. The Cleaning Protocol also requires a 24-hour waiting period between guests to help prevent virus spread through airborne particles.
For travelers who remain concerned even with these stringent cleaning policies in place, home share properties come with the attractive option of re-disinfecting the space themselves for added peace of mind.
Hotels. When it comes to consistency in cleanliness, hotels may have a slight edge. Chains and smartly run independent hotels have easier access to industrial-grade cleaning products and can train staff to clean according to a standardized cleaning policy. Hotel brands also have the marketing budgets needed to advertise cleanliness measures to the public and win back customer confidence.
While cleaning has traditionally been a behind-the-scenes amenity, major hotel chains are using marketing dollars to bring their new cleaning policies to the forefront. In the last few weeks, virtually every major hotel has come forward to announce their new state-of-the-art cleaning campaigns, includingHilton’s CleanStay, Choice Hotel’s Commitment to Clean, and Best Western’s We Care Clean.
Once the COVID-19 crisis has passed, experts foresee a spike in demand for mid- to long-term accommodations. The normalization of remote work is expected to give way to a rise in “digital nomad” travelers with reliable paychecks.
A recent report from Airbnb analytics platform AirDNA noted that the average global length of Airbnb trips has increased from 3.3 days to 7.7 days (133 percent) since the week of February 17, 2020. Both home shares and hotels are adapting to welcome the longer-term traveler:
Vacation rentals. Often boasting amenities like kitchens, laundry facilities, and office spaces, home share properties easily outshine conventional hotels for longer-term stays. Now, home-sharing companies like Airbnb are introducing even more measures to win over mid- to long-term travelers. Airbnb has rolled out new tools, alerts, and onboarding flows to assist hosts in facilitating long-term stays, and it has introduced advertising that promotes monthly stays.
Hotels. Traditional hotels may not have been built with the long-term guest in mind. However, growing demand for longer-term accommodation has given rise to a fast-growing segment within the hotel industry: apartment hotels.
Even before the pandemic, extended-stay apartment hotels had been booming in response to the gig economy, super commuters, and remote workers. Furnished hotel apartments appeal to the long-term traveler seeking social distancing-friendly accommodation with amenities like private kitchens, office spaces, and laundry facilities combined with services like phone or text concierge service and professional hotel-grade cleaning. The balance of long-term amenities and luxury hotel service positions apartment hotels to come out ahead.
When it comes to predicting the future of the travel industry, Airbnb President of Homes Greg Greeley said it well: “Homes have become a place of shelter, and the future of travel will also rely on a new comfort zone, with the privacy and benefits of a home away from home, without crowds or high turnovers.”
The travel industry will look different for the foreseeable future—perhaps forever. But as borders reopen, and we emerge from months of social distancing, travelers will be aching to hit the open road/sea/skies, and tenacious, industry leaders will be ready to welcome them.
Lifeafar is among the innovators that will greet the wave of new travelers in the aftermath of the coronavirus, and we are designing both apartment hotels and traditional hotels to exceed expectations when it comes to cleanliness, security, and amenities.
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