In this piece, Volker Heiden, the Area Vice President Sub-Saharan Africa for Marriott International explores some of the expected trends for the year ahead, and shares how Marriott will be meeting these new demands.
MOBILE MINDSET: The pandemic has accelerated the pre-pandemic trend of digitalisation in the travel sector. Digital platforms, which have long been the preferred source of content and commerce for Millennials and Gen-Z, will increasingly become a source of both inspiration and sales embraced by all generations. For Marriott digital transformation was already part of every aspect of our business.
The roll out of digital technologies to enhance the customer experience including mobile check-in and check-out, mobile room keys, via the Marriott Bonvoy Mobile app is a focus area for Sub-Saharan Africa. Selected properties have implemented these technologies and we aim to roll further implementation out across the market in future.
THOUGHTFUL LUXURY: With travel and holidays being restricted for most of 2020, luxury travellers will want to focus their travel plans and funds onto more thoughtful, sustainable travel – a less flashy, low key form of affluence. We will see an interest in luxury travel experiences that are ‘special’ and offer unique experiences, privacy, well-being and the chance to re-connect with family rather than more conspicuous forms of luxury holidays. Drive-to destination travel is up significantly as people choose locations that are reachable without getting on a plane, where the journey itself becomes part of the experience.
We see this trend in the region as South Africa is known as a classic big-sky country, ideal for an ultimate road trip experience. Just one day on the road in South Africa takes travellers through breath-taking mountains and valleys to world-class beaches or bushveld.
LIVING IN THE MOMENT: These last months have taught us all that life can change unexpectedly in a very short space of time, and our freedom and ability to travel, which we all took for granted, can be restricted in ways we never imagined possible. This summer in the brief window where people could travel again, we saw a significant increase in last minute, spontaneous travel plans. People were booking the day before a trip – and then extending their stay once at the hotel. We also saw people treating themselves to a suite or an upgrade as why not? This is something that will continue – people are craving a sense of adventure, excitement, indulgence – and a change of scenery after being stuck at home for months.
APARTMENT BOOKINGS: Consumers are looking to book apartment type/self-catering room categories within hotels to provide additional freedom and independence. To cater to this demand, Homes and Villas by Marriott International launched in South Africa last year.
Homes & Villas by Marriott International is a global home rental offering launched in 2019 by Marriott International with a vision to bring the company’s 90+ years of hospitality expertise to the home rental market. The initiative currently offers thousands of premium and luxury homes located across 200+ destinations throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, the Caribbean and Latin America and now Africa.
We see great opportunity for Homes & Villas by Marriott International in South Africa. Following a careful survey of the home rental market across the country, we have launched a selection of units located in Cape Town that we believe can deliver the best possible experience for our guests.
REMOTE WORKING: The region is seeing a trend where customers are looking for a third space to work and be productive, especially now that remote working is becoming the new norm. Working from home while schools remain closed is a challenge, and therefore we are seeing the trend whereby customers are opting to use our hotel spaces as places to work with products such as the ‘’Work Anywhere Stay Pass” which is available across selected hotels across Sub-Saharan Africa.
This new offering to work anywhere with Marriott Bonvoy is as an alternative to working from home. Marriott Bonvoy’s new Stay Pass package was designed as a flexible option whether guests are seeking a one-day stay or an early morning into the evening booking. This new offering is designed to help our customers to be more productive and achieve a better work/life balance by reimagining our hotel rooms as local remote workspaces. By providing flexible booking options, our loyalty members and guests have a familiar alternative when choosing where to work while earning points.
TRUST IN TRAVEL: Travel brands that are trusted will thrive as consumers recover from the impact of the pandemic. In times of crisis and uncertainty, consumers buy from brands who they trust. Consumers will have higher expectations of their travel experiences – the quality of the travel experience will be more critical than ever. Our guests have a heightened awareness of hygiene and this won’t disappear. Cleanliness will remain fundamental to the customer experience. Our hotels and associates have embraced our new cleanliness protocols, understand their importance and have worked tirelessly to ensure our hotels are delivering against Marriott International’s exacting standards.
RECOGNITION: Travel booking has become a much bigger decision – with more elements to consider and more expectations on the experience itself after a period of very limited or no travel. Consumers will be looking for the maximum value – both in monetary terms but also in terms of the experience for them – what they get out of a holiday personally. For us to give guests a sense of recognition, added value and welcome will become even more important. Existing members of our travel programme, Marriott Bonvoy, already benefit from this – in terms of upgrades, and exclusive member offers and experiences. Rewarding our most regular, most valued guests underpins everything we do – and this will become ever more important for us and for our guests as travel returns.
BUSINESS TRAVEL: While the pandemic has sparked the rise of video calls, webinars and digital meetings, it can never replace the need for face to face. People crave connections and collaborate better when they are together. While large corporates may be slower to resume travel, smaller and medium-sized enterprises are desperate to get back to business. To support these businesses as they return to corporate travel we have introduced Marriott Bonvoy Business Ready – a new programme designed to help small- and medium-sized companies get back on the road when they’re ready to travel again. Over the next five years, we will see business travel resume, but we’ll also see the evolution of business travel with hybrid events, where elements of the event take place in person, and others take place digitally. We’re prepared to adapt and embrace these changes at our hotels.