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Shaking up the status quo

Yes, the hotel industry will place a much greater emphasis on hygiene. Yes, it will reimagine F&B services. Yes, for better or worse and at least for the near term, it will replace touchpoints with technolgy so there is less face-to-face interaction with guests. The popular design behind social lobbies will have to be reconsidered. Those are the somewhat obvious changes to come as the hotel business eventually rebounds. But what about more grand notions?

What about re-concepting hotels to assure potential guests this is a space you can trust, where you feel safe and comfortable for leisure and business travel? What will that look and feel like? It seems too early to even consider as operators and owners are more focused on staying afloat, but it feels like a sea change is coming.

There are those who say be patient, and existing brands and concepts are already well positioned. Others, like outgoing Portland, Oregon-based Provenance Hotels President Bashar Wali, recently said the hotel landscape has been irrevocably changed and that he is leaving Provenance to think bigger about what will be required to appeal to guests after a vaccine comes and consumers are ready to venture out again.

Will there be an industry revolution? If there is, it is usually the entrepreneurs, the bigger thinkers, who deliver new ideas. I think about the likes of Ken Cruse and his Soul Community Planet concept for people who truly value personal wellness, social good and the environment.

His premise could point to any brand revisiting its corporate social responsibility platform. Perhaps those brands should become more hyperlocal or put greater emphasis on helping their own line-level employees who have been hit so hard by furloughs. That is the kind of thinking I hope becomes more popular.

With three hotels opened before the coronavirus crisis, Soul Community Planet allows guests to determine the rate they pay at check-out based on the quality of their experience. It is earthy and stripped down in some respects, while the linen and basic trappings are still high quality. Back in January, Cruse said he wanted to focus on secondary markets and grow to 50 and 100 units within five years. Is that what the future could look like more often? Could it be applied to luxury?

Or could the likes of Marriott International take one of its 30-plus brands and turn it on its head in response to whatever the new normal becomes? Could you imagine Sheraton with a complete new look and feel for next-gen travelers? Or is Element the real opportunity here?

It’s not like the hotel industry needs more brands, but like Bashar said, opportunity is going to come knocking. Who is going to open the door and what will we find on the other side? It is an interesting question to ponder. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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