As our company and team has grown tremendously over the last year, Cloudbeds now has over 200 employees with multiple decades of combined hospitality experience from different sectors of the hospitality industry– ranging from hostel owners to front desk managers, revenue management specialists and more. Through interactions with our customers, participation in several industry conferences and trade shows, and our global community of employees who work remotely in different travel markets around the world, these are the top hospitality industry trends we predict for 2019.
Travel is usually associated with positive attributes, like enrichment and culture exchange, but 2019 and years to come may see travel become more and more weaponized. Things like stricter visa requirements, trade wars, and travel bans can be used as a means to shift and control travel habits that result in lost wages, jobs, and revenue for local workers and businesses.
Perhaps the most notable example of weaponized travel is when China banned tour groups from visiting the Pacific island nation of Palau in an effort to convince the nation to switch diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China. The ban caused charter airline Palau Pacific Airways to cancel flights from China due to decline in demand. Local hotels, restaurants, and travel agencies were also left at a standstill. In 2017, China stopped tours from visiting South Korea after the country installed a U.S. missile defense system. Most recently, in December 2018, Chinese executive and Huawei CFO, Meng Wangzhou, was arrested in Canada under the request of the U.S. for allegedly stealing trade secrets and violating Iran sanctions. Since then, Canada has been removed from China’s list of approved travel destinations and could potentially lose 600,000 tourists visits in 2019.
With ongoing tariff disputes between the U.S. and China and other visa and travel restrictions being put into place around the globe, we are likely to see travel be used as a weapon in political and economic warfare.
To be or not to be: Google as an OTA
From hotel reviews to flight search and maps, Google holds a chunk of the travel market in its hands. As Cloudbeds Director of Global Partnerships, Sébastien Leitner, puts it, “The OTA no one talks about is Google, yet they are a huge demand driver for travel.” Google claiming more and more of a stake in travel remains so new and untested that properties don’t know what to expect or prepare for when it comes to this unofficial OTA giant.
On the one hand, Google has continued to take steps into OTA territory– this year alone they launched their Google One service offering paying members exclusive hotel deals– but on the other, they serve as an advertiser to travel companies and encourage them to pay top dollar for premium ad space. Their practices seem conflicting, and some travel partners are starting to view Google as a threat. In fact, at Expedia Group’s Explore ‘18 conference, company CEO Mark Okerstrom named Google as their biggest competitor.
As we see it, Google can either continue to push forward in 2019 to become an incredible force in the hospitality industry or it can fizzle out and become a complete flop. Only time can tell, but the fact is Google has a tremendous amount of power and resources should they choose to push forward and take more strides into the hospitality industry.
Frictionless Guest Experiences
In the hospitality industry, good service goes way beyond “the customer is always right.” Everything should be easy for the guest, whether it’s checking in, checking out, or calling a ride-share service. The more and more technologies can interconnect with each other and automate tasks, the better the hospitality industry will become at driving great guest experiences.
As technologies automate manual tasks on the backend, hospitality jobs will shift (not disappear) so that employees can spend more time interacting with guests and making sure they’re happy. Meanwhile, guests will be provided with more seamless options like mobile check-in apps, in-room syncing with personal devices, and keyless entry via mobile device.
Cloudbeds found that hospitality employees spend about 4 hours a day on repetitive tasks like payment processing and room assignments– things that could be fully automated with technology. In 2019, Cloudbeds believes there will be a massive progression for better automation inside applications to remove steps so people can focus on guest experiences.
Health, wellness, and sustainability are themes that will go into property and experience design
The promotion of health, wellness, and sustainability is another growing 2019 hospitality trend. However, the implementation of these concepts is going beyond past trends of simply adding health foods, gym facilities or a spa center to a property. Now health, wellness, and sustainability efforts are being incorporated into properties’ ambiance design, transforming common spaces with tranquility-inducing inclusions like air purifiers, therapeutic lighting, and meditation spaces.
Tying back into the notion of providing a frictionless guest experience, many properties are making an effort to implement these themes in a seamless way. For example, Cloudbeds co-founder and CEO, Adam Harris, noted that certain citizenM properties provide an a.m. and p.m. shampoo and body wash: one to get guests energized in the morning and the other to encourage better sleep. He also pointed out that some Starwood properties have a program that will provide guests with sneakers and workout gear in their size, plus maps around the property, so guests can go on a run.
Social media and social influencing will change and evolve
With privacy policies changing and new restrictions like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) coming into play, brands and properties will be getting less exposure and access to their audience. How will the industry address this shift? The movement toward stricter data privacy regulation is something the hospitality industry will have to get comfortable with as these changes take place over time.
Moving forward, properties will need to evaluate how they store their guest data, send marketing communications to guests, and collect and share guest data with third-party vendors. And with all the new technologies and third-party integrations we foresee being implemented in the upcoming year, hospitality operators will also have to safeguard their guest data against cybersecurity attacks. Property owners will have a lot on their plate when it comes to guest privacy protection.
Another noticeable shift is the growing use of stories to share information on social media instead of posting on feeds, as well as greater use of guest-curated content, like images or videos, over commercial content like formal ads. Properties can experiment with this new sharing medium and content shift to keep up with changing trends in 2019.
Continue to ride the wave of digital superpowers
In 2018 we saw emerging technologies becoming more available and more popular in the hospitality sector, including: Google Home, Alexa, Siri, AI bots for hotel rooms, robotic concierge service, voice search, virtual reality, augmented reality, etc. Even though there wasn’t mass implementation of these digital tools in all sectors of the industry, 2019 will see wider spread use these types of technologies as the results of early adoption fuel the second wave of how digital superpowers are used in hospitality.
This is not to say that 2019 will bring a sweeping take over of digital superpowers, but the trend is likely to gain momentum. At Expedia’s Explore ‘18 partner conference, it was noted that half of all searches will be done via voice by 2020, and as guests become more comfortable and dependent on technologies like these within their home, there will be a wider expectation and demand for them inside their rooms while traveling.
Power of Asian Millennial Travelers
Over the next ten years, millennial travelers will enter their peak earning and spending years. About 60 percent of all millennials live in Asia, one-third of which come from China or India. This emerging travel market has a unique and powerful position in the industry as Asian Millennial Travelers are estimated to spend $340 billion on international travel by 2020. Any property wanting to win over travelers from this growing travel market will have to make some slight adjustments in order to be more accommodating.
In Cloudbeds’ Q&A discussion with Simon Morley, CEO of the southeast Asian Lub d Hostel Group, he noted that, “The biggest change we are looking at is ensuring there is enough information in their languages, especially for the Chinese market, to ease the experience of purchasing food, merchandise, beverages and activities.” Other tactics he mentioned for capturing this wide-ranging travel demographic include providing an authentic, local travel experience and promoting and atmosphere of inclusion.
On the flip side, as mentioned above, trade and tariff wars can shift travel patterns and push travel from Asia, especially China, to become weaponized. It’ll be interesting to see how travel patterns for this region might change in 2019 as a result of political tensions.
Move away from OTA-curated experiences in favor of local-curated experiences
In their search for experiences, 2019 travelers will rely less on TripAdvisor lists and more on guides and recommendations given by locals. Local sources of information can range from property owners that are interacting with their guests to tour guides who make restaurant recommendations as part of their service. The final result will be hyper-local experiences.
This trend comes from a growing desire from travelers to gain an authentic local experience. Millennial travelers especially reject the notion of the “tourist” who is an obvious outside observer in their destination. Instead, they want to immerse themselves in the experience and live like a local while traveling. That’s why this year we’ll see more emphasis and value placed on local tours and less on OTA package deals. Properties can prepare to participate in this trend by selling local experiences on-site, partnering with local tour guides, or creating an insider tour guide with recommendations for guests.
Cheers to 2019
As we move further into the new year and observe how these hospitality trends shape up and develop, it’s always good to evaluate your business’s progress and measure how your property is keeping up with your market. Of course, some trends come and go, but see if there are any changes you can make to better align yourself in 2019 to stay ahead of your competition. When in doubt, know that Cloudbeds will be here for you as your trusted partner, so be sure to check back in with us as we continue to communicate on top industry news and tips. Cheers!