If 2020 taught nothing else, it educated us on the value of being flexible with businesses pivoting on a dime. American distillers started manufacturing hand sanitizer, while LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, L’Oreal, and Coty used their facilities to produce large quantities for European hospitals. Fashion designers started making face masks. At home, confinement led to versatility, as living spaces transformed into workplaces, schools, and fitness studios. Actual fitness facilities, restaurants, and retail stores had to be flexible to stay in the game, in some cases repurposing parking lots into drive-in movie theaters, rooftops into yoga studios, and sidewalks and streets into dining venues.
The value of versatility and flexible multi-use spaces has been noted by architects and interior designers, and will likely be incorporated into plans devised for homes, office buildings, hotels, day spas and more going forward.
In hotel design, guest rooms will need to be flexible for people to engage in multiple activities within the same space – from working and resting to eating and exercising. Flexibility has to be designed into public spaces as well, so they can transform as events warrant over time. Easy ways to build in multi-functionality include use of lightweight, moveable furnishings and the utilization of outdoor spaces.
It’ll be the same for meeting spaces. Look for more indoor/outdoor areas, “Zoom Rooms” with digital interfaces for virtual meetings, and big spreads that can easily be converted into smaller spaces and vice versa. Expect hotels to start offering co-working spaces beyond the lobby, just as some converted guest rooms to day offices during the pandemic. There may also be growth in dedicated co-working areas, some taking advantage of unused meeting space. Innovators include Eaton DC, which introduced its Eaton House co-working space in 2019; and Hyatt, whose Work from Hyatt program includes daytime use of guest room ‘offices’ and plans for extended workcations.
Flexibility has always been a cornerstone of hospitality but the booking process had a more complicated relationship with the word. Travel planning has experienced a sea change in terms of flexibility. Booking windows have shortened as people wait for news of the latest border openings or closures. Meantime, as destinations, cruise lines, hotels and airlines scramble for business (and revenue), cancellation policies have become more flexible. Indeed, “flexibility has never been a more pronounced need,” said Glenn Hollister, vice president of sales strategy and effectiveness at United, the first US legacy airline to permanently eliminate change fees in 2020 while enabling customers to fly same-day standby for free.
Continued flexibility in travel planning policies is key to a faster travel industry comeback. According to a recent Amadeus study, 39% cited flexible change and cancellation policies as the #1 condition that would make them feel comfortable traveling again.
Of course, we wish such policies would become permanent, but more likely they will fade once business is on the upswing. That said, Paul Tumpowsky, CEO of Skylark, a hybrid offline/online travel agency, believes that as airlines largely dependent on business travel experience low demand, generous no-fee change policies may stick around longer than in the hotel space.
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