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Ed's letter: Are you experienced?


As the English summer continues to meander its unpredictable way through August, testing summer holiday packing skills to the limit, the global hotel results season has come to a close, giving analysts the chance to put away their slide rules and stop thinking of ways to mute out the sound of the beach in the background.

And what did we learn? All the global operators are seeing a light at the end of the tunnel, all of them are thinking more thoughts about technology in their operations and all of them are looking to combine that with more efficient staffing to, well, try and cope with the lack of staff, which is a global issue - although one felt deeply in the UK because of Brexit.

We learned that all the operators had enjoyed a ‘diverse’ year, but that it was native French speakers Accor who were willing to go all out and shame the rest of us by calling it ‘heterogenous’.

But it is on the edge of the sector where one finds the more intriguing trends and none more so than at Airbnb, in as much as an organisation which has around six million listings can be described as being on the edge of the sector.

But first a word of caution. Airbnb’s listings are a diverse as it’s possible to be, which enables the platform to appear to be right on trend with any trend going. It has a property and a location to fit all comers and is not afraid to position itself as a leader, when it may well be a follower. The difference between the two is of no import to its investors - the flexibility lets them sleep at night.

But that’s not to say its results don’t make a good round up of what trends the sector is enjoying and the most-recent Q2 was rich with topical fun. There was plenty of chat about flexibility and about how the company expected to welcome more people working remotely, so many than it hoped to take the seasonality out of its business.

Many of those in our sector can’t work remotely and one can’t help but notice that Google was happy to support home workers - if they look a 25% pay cut. But it is thought likely that some increase in remote working will be encouraged, so those who don’t object to home workers using their wifi, upgrade it now and make sure you have a decent kaffee und kuchen offering.

In a related area, the group also looked to long-term stays, with people working so remotely they were able to temporarily relocate and try out another location. Long-term and extended stay products were the only ones to have a successful - or as close to - pandemic and investors have been piling in ever since. Most of the global operators have a brand which fits the niche and have been expanding, but traditional hotels less so. Time to convert the odd room? Maybe so. We can all remember hotels from our youth which had permanent residents and it worked out pretty well at Fawlty Towers, sort of.

The final observation, slightly more accessible, was the enthusiasm for experiences. CEO and co-founder Brian Chesky said: “You can only sit at home and watch Netflix or streaming services for so many nights in a row before you want to get out of the house and do something and be with other people. And I think there's going to be a huge amount of pent-up demand for people having authentic experiences all over the world.”

Chesky may sometimes feel a little scattergun in his approach. But he’s not wrong about this, which everybody in hospitality can deliver.

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