How Hospitality Has Changed

These developments are likely to outlast the pandemic.

How Hospitality Has Changed

Photograph by Kelsey McClellan

Twenty years after the attacks of September 11, we’re still carrying our conditioner in “travel-size” containers. What shifts in behavior—and protocol—are likely to outlast the pandemic?

Smaller (and slower) travel

Crowds were a big no-no during the height of COVID in the United States. As a result, private winetastings, personal chefs, small-group tours, and hospitality experiences catering to pandemic “pods” all saw spikes in demand. While some people may be ready to head straight into a sweltering mosh pit after being vaccinated, others, who enjoyed the benefits of more intimate activities—the personalization and greater attention to detail among them—haven’t been so quick to return to crowds. Expect this hyper-personalization to continue to manifest in myriad ways: travelers choosing small-ship expeditions and river cruises over mega-ships; vacation rentals with enhanced concierge services.

Trips will likely get longer, too: COVID-related travel mandates (like quarantine and testing requirements) have made shorter getaways less attractive, and a more remote workforce means it will be easier than ever to blend travel and “work” by the pool.

The comfort of clean

Research now shows that exposure to infected respiratory droplets—not to contaminated surfaces—is the primary source of virus transmission. But we got comfortable knowing that everything we touched was being sanitized: Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts partnered with Johns Hopkins Medicine International to consult on cleanliness, and Hilton linked up with Lysol to make disinfecting a top priority. Airlines, for their part, showcased their commitment to giving their aircraft a more thorough scrub-down and made contactless check-in more widely available at terminals—and even on planes. (JetBlue now offers touchless seatback screens; use your phone as a remote instead.)

This fixation on cleanliness won’t disappear but will evolve with time, comprising cleaning tech resembling something out of The Jetsons: Think airport bathroom–cleaning bots, UV smartphone–cleaning docks in hotels, and fogging devices that spray disinfectant.

A (real) biometric boom

Touchless technology was already on the rise as a matter of convenience: Airlines implemented facial recognition technology to speed up the boarding process, and Customs and Border Protection added it to Global Entry kiosks at more than 150 U.S. airports. But now that personal health status has become an unavoidable factor of the travel experience, touchless tech is necessary for the efficient identification of our vaccination and/or COVID-testing status, too. Already, there are numerous vaccine and health passport apps in development, including the IBM Digital Health Pass, the CommonPass, and the International Air Transport Association’s IATA Travel Pass.

Privacy advocates have long voiced concerns about the government cataloging our faces and fingerprints; the issue is no less contentious when it comes to personal health information. But like it or not, vaccine passport apps and mobile health technology are with us for good.

Alfresco everything

What started with social distancing evolved into a more pleasant way to experience gatherings of all kinds. Hotels enhanced their outdoor areas to help guests get more fresh air; parking spaces became parklets. The public—still wary of being in close quarters with strangers—flocked.

Instead of treating this flexibility as a short-term solution, the savviest hotels, bars, restaurants, and destinations have recognized its potential. In May, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio signed the Open Streets program—which blocked off streets exclusively for pedestrians—into law. In June, Paris announced its 9,800 once temporary cafés-terrasses would become permanent from April to October. Meanwhile, new hotel (and Stay List pick) Paradero Todos Santos on Mexico’s Baja California Sur peninsula has committed fully to the outdoor-as-indoor concept, with a lobby, spa, and suites set somewhere in between. Call it the power of the pivot.

>> Next: The Future of Hospitality

Michelle Baran is the senior travel news editor at AFAR where she oversees breaking news, travel intel, pandemic coverage, airline, cruise, and consumer travel news. Baran joined AFAR in August 2018 after an 11-year run as a senior editor and reporter at leading travel industry newspaper Travel Weekly.