Within a few short months in 2020 we saw the booming hospitality industry, linked to the creation of 20 per cent of all new jobs across the world, collapse overnight. We went from living in the most internationally mobile society we have ever seen, to being stuck within the confines of our homes. Here, Stephen McCall, CEO of edyn discusses the topic in this month’s Leisure Insight.

This shift created a reckoning for both the hospitality industry and the travellers whose tastes and wishes we cater for, with extensive ramifications on the future of travel, the beginnings of which we’re now starting to see.

Stuck at home, people were left to question what they really missed about travel. Busy pools and minibars, unsurprisingly, were rarely the first things to spring to mind. Instead, people craved the experiential: a fresh and beautifully designed locale, new cultures, the taste and smell of new foods, the ability to see and do entirely novel things – in short, the opportunity to immerse ourselves in a completely foreign culture.

A strong desire for culturally experiential travel certainly existed before the pandemic, but the period of soul-searching which followed meant that immersive, memorable experiences were re-affirmed as the primary goal of travel. People no longer want to go to Paris just so that they can see the Eiffel Tower. They want to go to Paris so that they can come back feeling a bit more Parisian.

Tied to this growing appetite for immersive experiences has been a desire to travel for longer stints. After all, it’s hard to form truly memorable experiences in one whistle-stop tour of attractions.

But the demand for longer stays has also been driven by other pandemic-induced trends. As remote working has taken hold, many of those with office jobs have come to the realisation that they can now work from anywhere. In fact, some tech companies are even giving employees the ability to work abroad for long periods of time. As such, the line between work and leisure travel has blurred, with many travellers now extending their time away by working during their visits.

Additionally, with sustainability at the forefront of people’s minds, there has been a general pushback against excessive flying. In a recent survey by Booking.com, 83 per cent of global travellers said that they thought sustainable travel was vital and this sentiment looks set to intensify as the effects of climate change worsen.

The result of all this is that people want to make the most of their trips and stay for longer periods.

In just the last month, Airbnb, Vrbo, and Plum Guide have all issued statements saying that consumers have been booking longer stays. We have seen a similar trend: as demand for our offerings has grown to new heights, 60 per cent of our clients are now staying for longer than a week.

Determined to build for future success amid the pandemic, travel and hospitality businesses have been more ready than ever to seize upon these changing consumer tastes. What this has resulted in is an acceleration of prior trends to transform the face of hospitality in a lasting way.

From an operational perspective, consumers are demanding more from their experiences. They’re looking for more than just a room. The pursuit of experiences in their fullest sense is quickly becoming front and centre of modern hospitality, something that has always been the focus of edyn’s aparthotel brand, Locke, as we encourage our guests to engage with their local area, filling our properties with communal events and local art, food, and music.

When it comes to the growing length of stays, the industry has been similarly flexible. Many hospitality businesses have improved their pricing to encourage and accommodate extended stays, while Airbnb has even rolled out its ‘split stays’ feature to allow guests to turn their vacations into expansive journeys.

Perhaps the best example of how the industry has responded to both a greater demand for experiences and extended stays is the rapid expansion of hybrid hospitality, something we are pioneering. By giving guests the autonomy and security to explore on their own accord; offering them culturally enriching spaces with constantly evolving rosters of local food, drink, and events; and allowing them the flexibility to stay for as little or as long as they please; hybrid hospitality has developed to perfectly suit these shifts in taste.

That it should have adapted so well is little surprise. As a model, it has always been geared towards listening to consumers and empowering them through choice. For over fifty years, hospitality offerings were categorised from the top down. Visitors’ experiences were straight jacketed by limiting labels: leisure, business, resort, luxury – the list goes on. Hybrid hospitality was built on the principle of shirking these labels and giving guests a blended experience that offers them multiple avenues to explore.

This principle of trusting and listening to guests armed the sector well for this subsequent sea change in consumer demand.

The success of the model has been evident: within global lodging, hybrid hospitality has been the fastest growing segment with a compound annual growth rate of 40 per cent since 2014. This is the most agile and modern model that the hospitality industry currently offers and it is set to go from strength to strength in the coming years.

The last few years of travel and hospitality may have been difficult ones, but the future looks far brighter. Our industry has intelligently and swiftly begun to respond to significant changes in consumer tastes. With the current second uptick in travel as border restrictions and document checks continue to subside, we are confident that these changing tastes – and the hybrid hospitality boom they encouraged – are here to stay.