The vaccination rate is climbing steadily. On Feb. 27, a third vaccine requiring just one shot was also authorized by FDA.

Hospitality and tourism companies are ready for the long-awaited travel recovery in 2021. Many have begun hiring. The hospitality sector alone added 355,000 new jobs in February, making up most of the nonfarm payroll gains in the market. Airlines, too, are preparing for recovery; they have resumed hiring and training and plan to buy new airplanes.

Post-pandemic travel, however, will very likely look different from what we knew about travel. COVID-19's devastating impact on the hospitality and tourism industry may have changed how these businesses operate forever.

Businesses must change to adapt to the new norms to remain competitive. By now, what changes have we seen? More importantly, what other changes can be anticipated?

The lodging industry is making rooms for the work-from-home and “bleisure” travelers

The immediate response that hotels and Airbnb took was to enhance their cleaning standards, aiming to ease travelers’ hygiene concerns of getting the widespread coronavirus. Nevertheless, with lockdowns, work-from-home orders, and companies cutting budgets for business trips, there is no real sense of recovery unless business travel picks up.

One type of lodging product seemed to be more resilient to the pandemic’s negative impact — the lodging facilities that give travelers the home-away-from-home experience, including extended-stay hotels and home-sharing services.

These lodging products offer extra space for people traveling with families and the flexibility of cooking home-style meals. They are also ideal for the work-from-home groups who want to stay in a second “home” without worrying about a daily commute. Continued growth can be expected for extended-stay hotels and home-sharing facilities.

Meanwhile, “bleisure” re-emerged as a new buzzword among hoteliers and travelers. More travelers will mix business with pleasure during a trip in the foreseeable future. Then, what does “bleisure” mean to hotels? For a minimum, hotels may consider to:

  • Redesign or update the guestrooms with comfortable working desks.
  • Maintain or upgrade a stable, fast, and secured internet network.
  • Rethink the use of public areas, turning them into small and flexible spaces for remote work.
  • Allow guests to add one or two foldable tables to the guestroom upon request, similar to meeting the demands for baby cribs or rollaway beds.
  • Promote the hotel as an excellent alternative for work and small team meetings.
  • Highlight the neighborhood’s local experience during off-work hours.

Restaurants must remain flexible to survive

Lockdowns and strict social distancing orders often mean no dine-in services for restaurants. The restaurant industry reacted to the pandemic immediately with a push for contactless self-service and delivery services.

A large number of quick-service and quick-casual restaurants also introduced new store designs to embrace digital trends in the third or fourth quarter of 2020. We have seen new restaurants with more drive-thru lanes, dedicated space for curbside pickup and mobile orders, conveyer belts for food delivery, expanded outdoor dining areas, and more. One restaurant chain also tested a new concept without a dining room, focusing solely on pickup and delivery services.

The pandemic challenges the restaurant industry to adapt to the new changes quickly. Being able to remain flexible is the key to survival. For example, restaurants must:

  • Continue focusing on mobile ordering, contactless self-service, curbside pickup, and delivery services.
  • Redesign the entrance to promote easy pickup and delivery services.
  • Allow for more flexibility in changing the dining room layout (e.g., moving tables and chairs around or removing some tables/chairs away to leave more space in-between groups).
  • If conditions allow, use retractable walls and an operable roof, a design that can maximize the use of natural lights and easily switch between indoor and outdoor dining.

Airlines may need more than “vaccine passports”

Airlines and airports have begun utilizing facial recognition technology for contactless self-service even before the pandemic hit the global economy. After the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic in March, airlines also introduced enhanced cleaning programs and added new air travel restrictions.

There has been discussion about whether “vaccine passports” will enable people to travel abroad in 2021. Besides the new seating arrangements and enhanced cleaning procedures, will airplanes with bacteria-resistant fabrics/materials be a (costly) solution?

As we are getting ready for post-pandemic travel, what recommendations will you make to businesses? Who is doing well in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and stays ahead of the competitors?