The trends that make hospitality irrepressible: Q&A with RLA Global’s Roger Allen

Turkey beach resort
Beach resort, Turkey

Roger Allen, Group CEO of advisory and management services company RLA Global, discusses the long-term impact of the pandemic on the leisure hospitality market ahead of his participation to the Resort & Residential Hospitality Forum (R&R) in Portugal on 25-27 October.

Hospitality Insights: How would you describe the leisure hospitality landscape now?

Roger Allen: We are seeing strong performances in leisure hospitality partially as travel restrictions are gradually lifted in many key markets and consumers are understandably eager to travel again. While occupancy rates are not quite back to pre-pandemic levels, there has a been a relatively swift return of demand with price less of a barrier. Consumers are willing to pay a premium for trusted operators who can offer a safe environment and experiential travel.

This increased demand and speedy recovery revitalized the market in recent months. What we see time and time again is that the industry is incredibly resilient, and it is the people that really make it so. Their ability to be creative and resourceful in hard times is what truly makes the hospitality industry irrepressible.

Hospitality Insights: What new initiatives have you seen put in place during the pandemic that will remain in the longer term? 

Allen: I expect several key initiatives to become standard practices in the longer term. In an example, stricter cleaning protocols will remain essential. With health at the forefront of the consumer’s mind, providing a safe and clean environment is no longer considered a given. The industry has to actively implement and promote stricter cleaning policies, communicate how they are protecting their customer’s health and continue providing a clean and stress-free environment. Hotels will go on putting greater focus on health-related features, maximizing outdoor spaces, operating high performance ventilation systems, and even retrofitting carpets to solid floors to reassure guests and heighten their sense of safety. Another initiative that I think will stay important is providing greater flexibility in booking or cancellation policies. Consumers needed more flexibility from operators due to the fast-changing travel restrictions and sudden flight cancellations during the pandemic and this expectation could become more permanent.    

The pandemic has accelerated the uptake of contactless and other digital technologies, and with more consumers comfortable and willing to adopt these, we can expect their utilization only to increase. Self-service check-ins, touchless payments and app-based services can not only offer cost savings but can also become revenue drivers for resorts. Regarding guest experience, providing seamless purchases at the touch of a button is now a basic expectation from most consumers. Offering more state-of-the-art digital solutions can positively impact the overall competitiveness and appeal of resorts, and even help them better differentiate themselves. As customer expectations are increasing and more and more players realize the value of these features and services, I expect to see much more investment in digital technologies.     

Hospitality Insights: What travel and hospitality trends will have the biggest impact on resort operations?

Allen: Today’s guests are looking for transformational experiences. Health and leisure have become the priority in this new market and resorts will need to carefully consider what that constitutes as a tangible unique experience they could invest in to and cash in on these opportunities. Having said that, operators will still need to take into account higher overheads, especially in terms of staffing, which will have a larger impact on the bottom line.

Hospitality Insights: Hospitality investors are increasingly conscious of ESG goals. How does this affect the resort sector?  

Allen: Lacking ESG goals or not having ESG policies in place can indeed affect the overall attractiveness or the actual investment value of resorts and other leisure assets. Investors stress that operators shouldn't see ESG initiatives just as necessary costs, but as new opportunities to improve profitability and returns. Think about potential cost savings that can be achieved through programmes aimed at boosting energy efficiency or cutting emissions. Implementing thorough corporate governance rules can also increase overall operational efficiency and contribute to a favorable and attractive work environment.  

Hospitality Insights: What are your looking forward to with regards to your participation to R&R?

Allen: This industry exists to bring people together and as always, especially after the height of the pandemic, it is about the opportunity to catch up in person with industry friends new and old.   

Roger Allen will moderate the CEO Panel, 'Re-Building the Leisure Hospitality Experience' at the Resort & Residential Hospitality Forum (R&R).