We interviewed Arnaud De Saint-Exupery (Area VP & GM Hyatt, UK & Ireland) and Mario Flanagan (GM Andaz London Liverpool St). Participants' responses have been consolidated and edited for length.

What do you think have been the biggest changes in the hospitality sector in the last five years, apart from COVID-19?

Despite the lingering effects of COVID-19, 2022 was a better year for Hyatt hotels than 2019!

Labor: Finding the right people has been tremendously hard, made worse by Brexit. There has had to be a big focus on training staff and developing the talents of the next generation. It takes time to build the right team, and having the right people in place significantly increases customer satisfaction. Productivity of the team is also paramount and we are trying to mentor our teams to change their way of doing things. Good customer service is what drives additional revenue opportunities and adds more value to the stay, meaning that guests are more likely to return.

Technology: The evolution of technology has meant that hotels can be more flexible in how they do things and allows hotels to connect to new audiences as well as guests staying in the hotel. Although technology is improving every day, the general consensus is that technology cannot replace people and the human touch – robots may work in Japan, but using robots to replace staff is unlikely to happen outside of Japan. Although technology can significantly help the budget hotel chains, luxury hotels will always need human interaction – as service can make or break a stay.

Bleisure: The “bleisure” (part business travel, part leisure travel) mindset is here to stay and more and more people are combining work trips with extended vacation before, during or after the work event, with big hotels reaping the rewards of this new trend. As jobs lean into hybrid and remote work, the lines between work and life — and business and personal travel — continue to blur. Workers engaging in bleisure travel want the ability to get out of their rooms but still have access to Wi-Fi to relax or get work done. Savvy hospitality businesses are transforming these guest desires into stylish semi-public spaces where guests can engage tech on their terms.

Brexit: Brexit certainly affected the UK industry, not just in terms of workers, but also the supply chain of products, as hotels can no longer get the products they have relied on for so long. The whole industry has had to become more flexible and less demanding in their needs and specifications.

What do you think will be the biggest changes in the hospitality sector in the next five years?

Technology: Communications and targeting tools will continue to evolve and help the hospitality industry to increase revenue by targeting the right audience. We have started to use marketing companies who analyze metrics and data to be able to send paid adverts directly to our target markets. The larger hotel chains, including ourselves, are starting to employ chiefs of technology to keep up to date with the latest technology, which can help improve productivity in the tasks involved in the back-of-house operations. The use of clever technology also reduces the risk of mistakes. We believe there will also be a growth in the use of automatization programs, e.g., for roster creation and headcount planning. This technology already exists in other industries, but is likely to become more mainstream in the hospitality industry in the future.

Growth: Surprisingly, 2022 has been a better year than 2019 for a lot of hotel chains globally, apart from Asia, where travel restrictions still apply. There has also been a rise in the number of new hotels opening post COVID-19. Leisure travel has proven its resiliency and durability and has recovered more quickly than business travel.

The competition between hotels is likely to increase, as they will try to appeal to all client sectors. For example, Hyatt bought luxury resorts operator Apple Leisure Group, which took us into the luxury all-inclusive market. The global luxury travel market is expected to grow by about 11 percent by 2027.

Data: Data privacy is essential. Guests are becoming more concerned about data privacy and protection as businesses (particularly hospitality brands) collect increasing amounts of personal data for marketing and research purposes. Guests need and want control over their data and transparent information regarding its intended usage.

Hospitality providers must be informed about the law and appreciate why data privacy is so significant to guests, especially in the wake of recent legislative developments providing customers more rights over their personal information.

Travelers are more likely to remain with a business, spend more money and promote its services if they feel comfortable providing the company access to their data. Adopting the proper approach to data privacy is crucial for the hospitality industry because repeat business and reputation-building depend heavily on trust and loyalty.

What do you think about the metaverse?

We don’t personally believe it will be a thing in today’s world, and we are not convinced that it will feature imminently either.

However, we do believe it is plausible that hotels will start incorporating aspects of it more and more. It’s definitely a generation and mindset thing, as millennials and Generation Z would think nothing of buying add-ons for gaming, etc., so why not a hotel stay in the future?

How high on the agenda is sustainability?

Very high. Hyatt has launched a “World of Care” which deepens Hyatt’s commitment to caring for their people, the planet and communities. As the world evolves and new challenges emerge, we have brought our global environmental, social and governance strategy to life through our World of Care platform. Deeply embedded across all areas of our business, World of Care is our global approach to advancing care for the planet, people and responsible business.

Under our 2020 environmental framework, Hyatt achieved its 25 percent per square meter greenhouse gas reduction goals early across its three regions, took a leadership position in sourcing seafood more responsibly by becoming the first global hotel brand to set sustainability goals with the World Wildlife Fund, and initiated the transition to large-format bathroom amenities.

Each hotel has goals and strives to improve year on year – they do as much as they can – no plastic, eliminate waste, conserve water, responsible sourcing, etc.

A new Andaz hotel is being built with a net zero focus, i.e., no carbon footprint, and with a garden on the roof. In terms of achieving net zero hotels, we are focusing on new builds, as it’s much easier to control in new buildings.