Ah, 2020. A year made to never be forgotten.
Well, we’ve ripped up the rule book, adapted, innovated, dipped, climbed, and rolled our way through the roller coaster that is COVID-19, only to come face to face with the reality that the ride most certainly isn’t over. Despite some encouraging signs of recovery over the summer, COVID cases are rising again, restrictions are coming back into place, and as government support is being wound down, we are seeing a continued drop in business travel demand and must therefore continue to focus on navigating this crisis.
But that’s why we have amazing partners like ITM who create thought-provoking events such as Tuesday’s Thrive 2.0 virtual conference to educate, inspire and help us mere mortals figure it all out, which we were thrilled to support and sponsor. Full of interesting insights from esteemed business travel leaders across the globe, we can safely say the conference came a close second to that crystal ball we’ve all been looking for. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the news we were hoping for as UBS Analyst Jarrod Castle noted the trend of “one step forward and two steps back” as he forecasted a grim 25-40% permanent reduction in business travel.
Despite this discouraging news, it was inspiring to gather, listen and debate the current climate while enjoying a welcomed reminder that as travellers, executives and humans, we’re all in this together and that there will be a light at the end of the tunnel.
So, what does the future hold for the extended-stay sector? We identified six key takeaways from Thrive 2.0.
Serviced apartments are having their moment
Serviced apartments appear to navigate crises pretty well. Through 9/11, the 2008 Financial Crisis, and now Covid-19, the serviced apartment sector continues to edge closer to becoming the heart of hospitality for the business travel community. Sofia Oragano, Synergy’s Business Development Manager, points out serviced apartments “more than ever, have a seat at the table with travel buyers as they seek to ensure their travellers can continue to work productively and live in comfort. We really are the safer and more cost-effective option”. Features such as fully-equipped kitchens, ergonomic working spaces, and in-apartment laundry facilities allow guests to live and work comfortably, while also enabling them to control their environment.
Further, buyers now realise, as Synergy’s Claire Barrie, VP of Sales EMEA, noted: “what was once perceived as our disadvantages, such as smaller communal spaces, are now our clear advantages”. As traveller confidence dwindles, these features prove serviced apartments to be a popular alternative to traditional forms of accommodation due to the control it gives to guests, while fulfilling the need for social distancing without the need to adapt the core product.
If it’s our moment, then we have a duty of care
It’s not that we didn’t already have a duty of care, but today more than ever, it is our duty to ensure that our clients and guests feel confident and safe when choosing us. Let’s admit it — business travel is stressful on its own but throw a global pandemic into the mix, and it has the potential to leave us both anxious and confused. Claire Barrie hit the nail on the head when she noted the need for “communication, control, and confidence” when seeking to reassure our buyers and guests.
Coming up time and time again as a key theme during the conference, the importance of communication during a global pandemic is paramount — and we’re not just talking communication with buyers and guests, but all stakeholders. It is absolutely crucial we pick up the phone and ensure we understand our stakeholders, their challenges, and their priorities. We must work together to form a clear and common goal that works for everyone now and into the future.
Control and Confidence
With the uncertainty that comes with a global health crisis, comes the desire to control our environment in order to protect our health. Serviced apartments have come up trumps when placed up against hotels, as guests appreciate the benefits of an independent and comfortable living space which helps to minimize contact at a time when social distancing is part and parcel of daily life.
It is also critical that we implement appropriate protocols and provide the necessary tools guests and staff need to ensure they are in control of their health and safety. Synergy’s initiative SynergyCares delivers a nine-point health and safety programme, which makes a commitment to our guests and staff’s wellbeing across our supply chain and core inventory. But it is simply not enough to adopt these protocols as a marketing tactic and half-heartedly enforce them — it is our responsibility as an industry to implement measurable standards that we can review and adapt as the expectation for more stringent health and safety protocols become more and more essential.
Flexibility is key
Adapting fast and the willingness to change are more critical than ever in a pandemic environment. Darwin said it. “It’s not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the most adaptable to change”. We have all had to press pause and swiftly change the direction of our strategies, whether that’s through repositioning and adapting our core product, revising process and protocol, seeking new revenue streams, managing bumps within the supply chain, or switching from a five-day office week to working from home in the blink of an eye. The list goes on, but the message is the same – we need to be willing and able to change direction fast.
Claire Barrie notes the benefit of working with supplier partners to increase “flexibility of contract terms while balancing the protection of suppliers and mitigating the risk of cancellation charges” — further reinforcing the importance of communication and harmony across stakeholder groups — being flexible together.
Longer stays are in and shorter stays are not so normal
The impact of the pandemic has changed the way we view business travel — there’s no doubt about it. From the impact of frequent flying on environmental sustainability to the damning words “avoid non-essential travel”, the immediate future of business travel looks “challenged”. But dig a bit deeper, and you’ll see that executives are opting for less frequent but more purposeful travel, with a clear ROI. Shorter trips are out, but longer stays are in – and the serviced apartment sector is well equipped to handle this change in demand.
SynergyWork, Synergy’s newest initiative, has been developed for professionals looking to efficiently work from home while remaining safe and productive. The initiative combines all the comfort, convenience, and optionality of traditional serviced apartments with the added benefit of a custom work from home setup, from custom furniture to hardware options.
On the question of sustainability, travel buyers and guests may also place a higher importance on the location of apartments. Choosing apartments that are closer to a guest’s office location discourages public transport and encourages guests to opt for more sustainable ways of getting to work, including walking, biking, and using e-scooters. This idea of a personal “travel bubble”, as discussed during the panel “Servicing the Recovery — Ground Transportation”, addresses the issue of social distancing in a forward-thinking manner, bearing in mind its potential for a positive impact on the environment and the benefit of adopting such modes of transport on mental health.
It’s time to be more optimistic
Reggie Aggarwal, CEO, and Founder of Cvent, brought an air of positivity into the conference during his closing statement as he noted, “our mission is simple, and that is to bring people together and drive human connection, and I promise you, nothing will stop us, not even a global pandemic” and it’s true — we’re human — we will always want to see each other face-to-face. Put simply, this means there’s hope for the business travel sector.
After digging a little deeper with Claire Barrie after Thrive 2.0, it didn’t take long to see that she shares the same optimism — cautious optimism — but optimism nonetheless, for the future of the serviced apartment sector. For example, as awareness of the sector surges, Claire points out the process of procurement is becoming well-adjusted to the extended-stay sector and, as a result, “gone are the days where the serviced apartment sector had to fit in with traditional hotel RFPs” showing the sector is beginning to find its voice.
Claire also noted the flip side of dynamic sourcing strategies during these times of uncertainty and, thus, price volatility. But Claire stays realistic in observing that the ability to budget and forecast is an almost impossible task but that we must remain positive, exploit opportunities, and celebrate wins as they present themselves.
We are all in this together.
A clear, compelling message that came out from Thrive 2.0 — and the pandemic in general — is that while we have all been affected by this crisis in many different ways, we are all in this together. This is not about navigating the crisis on our own but collaborating and understanding each other’s requirements and partnering so that we can navigate the crisis as an industry and strengthen our relationships with all stakeholders as part and parcel. If there’s one thing ITM has proved to us all, it’s that we are better together, a sentiment well noted by Henry Luebbert, Synergy’s Co-Founding Partner during Synergy’s video at the beginning of the conference. We must continue to work together and strive for a better outcome for all. Oddly enough, maybe that’s why we are called Synergy.