How will the industry shape up by 2025?
by IAIN SHAW
The year 2025 seems like a long way off, but we all know that life in the hotel business moves fast. The industry will look very different in five years, so now is the time to start planning.
By 2025, hotels will be jockeying to capture the imagination of Gen Z consumers, and a key area for action will be sustainability. A survey of 10,000 Gen Zs, published by Amnesty International in December 2019, found 41 percent regard climate change as a major global issue. Gen Zs will want to travel like their millennial elders, but they’ll demand to do so sustainably.
“Something we’re starting to see and will see more of is how people will start shopping by values, and having certain values that they expect from hotels,” said Emma Chiu of Wunderman Thompson Intelligence, which publishes the annual Future 100 trends report. “Rather than saying ‘I want a king-size bed facing the beach,’ they’ll say ‘Actually I want a room that has the lowest carbon footprint.’ The type of features that people will look for will be in line with helping nurture the planet.”
Energy-positive hotels will become commonplace, if not the norm. Norwegian architecture firm Snøhetta is behind the design for Svart, the first such hotel in the world. Located on the Arctic Circle and scheduled to open in 2021, Svart will generate enough solar power to sustain the hotel’s day-to-day operations, as well as covering the energy expended on building the hotel.
Many hoteliers can’t aim quite so high, but there’s plenty of room for improvement. “It’s all about being incremental,” Chiu said, pointing to the moves made by Marriott, InterContintental, and others to eliminate travel-sized toiletries. That initiative will become widespread, as will removing single-use plastics from hotel rooms. Hotels can draw examples from the sustainability-centered philosophy espoused by groups like 1 Hotels and Firmdale Hotels. “They really think about what they’re doing with their waste,” Chiu said. “They collaborate with interesting people when they want to get rid of bedsheets, for example, with companies that can help upcycle the items.”
“Having a strong ethical identity is no longer optional,” said Jenny Southan, the Founder and Editor of Globetrender, travel industry forecasting agency that recently published its Future of Luxury Travel Forecast: 2020-2025. However, the guest of 2025 will be discerning enough to spot token gestures from a mile away. “Greenwashing won’t wash,” Southan said.
Veganism is projected to occupy more space in the hotel industry of 2025. The Hilton London Bankside unveiled the first vegan hotel suite in the world in January 2019, featuring bedding and even a keycard made using vegan materials. In June 2019, the 11-room vegan hotel Saorsa 1875 opened in the Scottish Highlands offering vegan toiletries in addition to plant-based F&B offerings.
New approaches to hotel design will upend current norms. “Hotels will place a greater emphasis on enhancing the visitor’s experience through the design and amenities offered in guest rooms, restaurants, bars, and other communal spaces,” said David Duncan, President and CEO of hospitality management company First Hospitality.
Lobbies will be more social, while guest rooms will be less cookie-cutter, offering more choice and flexibility in terms of beds, interiors, and amenities. Event spaces will be more dynamic, informal, and customizable. Some of this will be an acknowledgment of Airbnb’s impact on the industry. “The trend of home-sharing and unique spaces will continue, and traveler demand for them will not diminish,” Southan said.
There also will be greater overlap between hotels and flexible workspaces. “Hotels that will succeed over this new decade will prioritize smart, homely design with multiple co-working space options for the booming freelance/remote workforce,” Southan said. “We will also see quirky innovations such as luxury bunk bed set-ups for groups, capsule rooms, pop-up properties, voice-activated in-room features, facial recognition security, and robot butlers.”
F&B will be more important than ever in 2025, not just as a driver of revenue but also in terms of guest experience and as a link between the hotel and the surrounding community. This means more outward-facing, street-level venues inviting direct walk-ins, more local products, and deeper connections with local suppliers. Southan said restaurants will be “embedded within communities, whether urban or rural, in an intelligent way, making genuine efforts to not just be a base for anonymous out-of-towners.”
“Guests will be more involved in the dining experience,” Duncan said. “As immersion in the local culture and transparency continues to be important, we’ll see new opportunities for guests to connect with the farms, artisans, and other purveyors supporting our restaurants.” Duncan said that F&B’s importance is such that his company has launched a new division, First Hospitality Restaurants and Bars, to “focus solely on creating vibrant venues within our hotels.”
WHAT YOU SEE IS WHAT YOU GET
Thanks to Instagram culture, dishes have never looked better. Taste, creativity, and uniqueness of concept are the next frontier, Chiu said. “Our palates are increasingly global, and the next generation’s palates are going to be far more diverse than any other generation. They’ll have tasted cuisines from all over the world from very early on, and they’ll be fine with certain things that you feel might be more mature – bitters, sours, these kind of tastes.”
One intriguing prediction sees the emergence of hyper-personalized menus and dishes tailored to the individual’s DNA. “On the fringe, certain restaurants are opening up this whole bio-data service where they’re able to look at your DNA samples and create dishes that are specific to you,” Chiu said. “That might be the next way to elevate yourself.”
Of course, tech, big data, and AI will be more comprehensively folded into hotel services and operations by 2025. The rollout of 5G networks will truly usher in the age of the internet of things, enabling hotels to implement all those guest-activated features forecasters have been telling us are just around the corner for the past few years, from the guestroom to the concierge. “Brands are already way past just the digital key,” Duncan said. “With Hilton successfully piloting the connected room, other brands are sure to follow. Information technology and security must also be top of mind as digital footprints are part of a modern traveler’s path.”
Technology-minded hoteliers also may be looking to the stars five years from now. The Gateway Foundation is aiming to complete initial construction on the Von Braun station, touted as the first “space hotel,” by 2025. The spaceport is intended to host 100 civilian space tourists, who could start arriving in 2027.
Back on Earth, hoteliers will be pushing the consumer experience to new dimensions. “We’ve barely scratched the surface of experiential travel,” Duncan said. The next evolution of experiential travel will see hotels deploy a range of tools, including tactile construction materials and sound design, to trigger sensory responses that will give guests a sense of being at one with the space and surroundings.
Chiu says this development is intertwined with the growing importance of wellness as a theme in hospitality. The hotel spa could be transformed by more experimental meditative and sensory-based experiences. “People are trying to find new ways to engage in their health and well-being through heightening different senses,” Chiu said. ASMR experiences (sounds used to trigger feelings of well-being) are one example. “We’ve not seen a lot of this happening in hotels yet, but we’re seeing a lot of experimental experiences as part of a well-being partnership,” Chiu said, citing the relaxation-focused ASMR performances offered by Whisperlodge as a possible source of inspiration.
The prudent hotelier regards long-range predictions with some skepticism, since forecasts don’t always quite work out. A 2015 study by travel marketing agency MMGY Global reassured hoteliers that millennials were as loyal to their favorite hotel brands as previous generations. A few years on, an Accenture survey showed that 40 percent of retail industry leaders cited loyalty as their biggest headache with millennial consumers. The launch of Marriott’s Bonvoy rewards program in 2019 was partly a response to the challenge of wooing millennials.
Position your hotel to experiment with trends, but leave room to maneuver. Marriott did not purchase Airbnb, as many were predicting a few years back, but it did launch its own vacation rental program, Homes & Villas. Five years ago, one of the big tips for 2020 was the millennial-driven rise of smartphone bookings. And mobile has indeed exploded, with Criteo’s Travel Flash Report indicating that by 2018, a third of hotel rooms were booked on a mobile device. However, that growth is dominated by online travel agents, and direct bookings via hotel platforms have struggled to keep pace.
Embrace new developments, but lead with a clear, updated statement of what makes your hotel stand out. “It’s about knowing what your brand strategy is and looking at how to evolve that by putting in key values that your hotel can represent,” Chiu said. “Perhaps your actions are similar, but your overarching messaging can be stronger than competitors.”
Finally, remember that these 2025 predictions could arrive sooner than we expect. “Acceleration of technology outpaces most of these industry predictions,” Duncan said. “Five years is too long to wait for new trends. Hoteliers must be vigilant of changes in other industries that are quickly flowing over into travel and must also be nimble enough to deploy relevant technologies at the right time.”