The impact of covid on the economy has, to some degree, resembled its effect on humans. For some sectors, the impact of the virus on their activity was painful, but mercifully short and sharp. But others, like tourism and hospitality, are dealing with an economic ‘long covid’ - knocked for six, they’re facing a challenging, exhausting, and drawn out return to health.
In the second quarter of 2020, the sector’s value to the Jersey’s economy fell by 86% - bringing in just £8.6m in comparison to £62.1m the year before.
Nearly 2,700 claims were made under the Government’s Co-funded Payroll Scheme between April and December 2020, totalling £27.4m - the highest of any sector, accounting for more than a quarter of the total paid out.
But bouncing back financially isn’t the only challenge: they’ll be doing it at the same time as having to account for the colossal dent covid has left on consumers’ psyches.
So how do they do it? As well as adapting the experiences on offer, a clear, ‘conscious’ mission statement combined with technology is going to be key.
We’re not talking about the gimmicky sci-fi planes with drink-serving seats and customised scents that Airbus predicted would be the next travel-trend to take off pre-pandemic; but practical tools that make travelling a simpler, safer experience for consumers, while boosting businesses’ green credentials and productivity.
Express spoke to local and global businesses already well on the way towards that future…
Vaccine passports are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to covid’s impact on the future of tourism.
Wanderlust has now been infected by a wariness, and many mini-break jet setters who might once have spent weekends ticking off as many ‘hotpots’ as possible from their ‘must-see’ bucket list have emerged from their lockdown chrysalis as domestic dwellers.
Pictured: "Vaccine passports are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to covid’s impact on the future of tourism."
As global travel reboots, experts predict that the quality of destinations’ health systems will trump the quantity of sights for seeing in making a location attractive, with travellers preferring to take fewer, longer trips in ‘domestic’ locations that shun crowds.
It’s an attitude shift that Visit Jersey is hoping the island, which has a robust border testing regime (tick) and plenty of open-air activities (tick), will be able to seize.
They want to convince UK travellers to consider ‘closer to home’ Jersey a domestic destination as part of the Common Travel Area.
Maintaining that ‘every visitor counts’ in 2021, they’re urging local hospitality businesses to ‘Build Back Better’ to attract newcomers and get Jersey back on track towards its goal of one million visitors per year by 2030. In 2019, there were 770,700, and 439,200 overnight holiday visitors - the highest number since 2001.
Head of Product Meryl Laisney says technology will play a starring role in achieving that goal.
She describes it as “a catalyst for change for the creation of successful, compelling and valuable tourism experiences”, that will also help businesses make savings - something vital as they recover from the covid blow.
Pictured: Visit Jersey's Head of Product, Meryl Laisney.
“To remain competitive in the long-term, technology can present opportunities to enhance the customer experience, drive down costs by creating labour efficiencies, and respond to the changing needs of consumers. From contactless technology and artificial intelligence, to the general role of technology in the consumer journey and customer experience, technology can play a key role in helping businesses to operate in a more sustainable way.
It’s a view shared by Ben Phoenix, Co-founder and Director of Ezo Connect, a locally-developed text service built in 2016.
“SMS can be used for booking confirmations, check-in and check-out, as well to notify when a table is ready for seating and many additional updates throughout a guest’s stay,” he explained.
It’s a tool that fits neatly into his vision for hospitality’s future, which he imagines will be focused on “reducing prolonged face-to-face contact where possible, like queuing and spending time waiting in communal areas.”
It’s an approach with multiple benefits: it’s pandemic-friendly, enhances customer convenience, and simultaneously frees up staff to provide a more luxury, personalised experience “like a hotel or restaurant welcoming a guest.”
Pictured: “SMS can be used for booking confirmations, check-in and check-out, as well to notify when a table is ready for seating."
Frank Pitsikalis’s hotel management tool, ResortSuite, takes that same ethos of convenience, but adds to it a factor he considers yet more important: customisation.
“I hope that [the future of travel] will be more personalised with properties allowing guests to customise their stay and create their own ‘dream vacation’,” the CEO reflects.
ResortSuite aligns with this vision, he says, by providing a hotel with a “360° view of its guests”, sharing information on their “preferences, schedule, and past visits.”
“As technology and guest habits have changed, we have developed solutions to ensure our hospitality partners can change too. Guests now want to plan and customise their stay like they customise other areas of their life (ordering coffee, food, online shopping). Personalisation is the new luxury! ResortSuite offers online booking and mobile solutions that allow properties to provide guests the level of customisation they now desire.”
‘Personalisation’ was already identified as a key trend by Visit England in a report predicting ‘the death of risk’ in travellers’ habits prior to the pandemic. That shift is now set to accelerate - rattled by covid, holidaymakers are likely to be less willing to ‘go with the flow’, and want more control of their experiences.
“We have partnered with many properties to create property-branded online booking solutions with them. Guests of these properties can now book everything the property has to offer online, at a time that is convenient for them. Because a guest’s enjoyment of their stay is directly related to the amount they use a property’s amenities, guests are prompted to book other services during the booking process so they can take advantage of all the property has to offer,” Frank added.
Pictured: ResortSuite lets hotel guests curate all aspects of their stay, from start to finish, using their phone.
“Many of these same properties use our mobile property-branded app which further enhances a guest’s experience when they arrive by providing them with everything they need… An arriving guest can check-in on their phone, fill in any necessary health questionnaires, and head directly to their room using their device as a room key. During their stay, guests use their device to view or change their itinerary, make reservations or book classes, and make purchases (by having the cashier scan a bar code on their device that charges the purchase to their room). When they check-out, they do it on their device and receive a detailed list of charges from their stay.
“While technology allows guests to create the customised experience they crave, it also allows a resort’s team to better attend to guest needs. Instead of focusing on day-to-day tasks that are now taken care of by technology, guest-facing staff now have more time to be guest-facing. They can spend more time interacting with guests face-to-face, ensuring they are getting the most out of their stay.”
Among ResortSuite’s newer customers is Watergate Bay Hotel in Cornwall, whose Brand Director, Judi Blakeburn, agrees that technology should be employed to “remove administrative tasks from our roles so we can focus on being true hosts for our guests.”
She says that having a single resort software system has given the hotel “a very detailed view of our guests’ holiday choices allowing us to communicate in a highly personalised way – tailoring our approach to their preferences”, something she believes will be “a very powerful approach in time,” Judi says.
Watergate also employs a ‘concierge-in-your-pocket’ mobile guest app.
“They can use it to book our restaurants, spa and activities, see all our menus, complete any forms required for sports and treatments, check the weather, tide times and our webcam and see what’s happening locally. It already acts as their room card for settling bills and shortly it will also open their room door and be a place to check their bill and pay their balance.”
Pictured: Judi Blakeburn, Brand Director of Watergate Bay in Cornwall and Another Place in the Lake District.
But the pandemic hasn’t only driven tech change, as Judi, who also works for Lake District-based ‘Another Place’, explains.
Embracing customers’ post-lockdown lust for natural, unique and memorable experiences has led to activity innovation, with the latest offerings as varied as “full moon open-water swimming at our hotel in the Lake District, coastal fitness weekends on the cliffs and beach at Watergate Bay and off-the-grid food and drink event on the sand and lakeshore.”
Overall, Judi says a number of ‘Cs’ should be responsible for charting hospitality businesses’ courses in future - none of which are “covid”: community, cleanliness, compassion, “and of course the climate crisis must be at the forefront of all our decisions, our guests would expect no less.”
Building climate awareness and compassion into business practices have been key in how Jersey’s JPRestaurants - the business behind Banjo, Oyster Box, Crab Shack and Café Ubé - operates.
“I hope the future will see a more efficient and customer-focused offer in Jersey which enables hospitality businesses to invest and provide not only a better more sustainable experience for locals and visitors but also enhanced working conditions and long-term career paths for islanders,” says CEO Dominic Jones.
He says, “JPRestaurants was already a long way down the path to digitalising its business before the pandemic”, but that the last year has led them to “fast-forward” some tech projects.
“To ensure we are match-fit for the future, we continue to roll out technology in every area of our business. From purchasing and stock management, reservations and capacity management, recruitment and rotas to customer experience, feedback, marketing and business intelligence reporting.”
Pictured: Technology has made JPRestaurants - whose brands include Crab Shack, Café Ubé, Banjo and Oyster Box - more productive, according to CEO Dominic Jones.
This, he says, has helped improve customers’ experience: increasing productivity and efficiency means savings can be ploughed back into locations, the team and product sourcing, translating into “better physical environments, food and drinks and service.”
“We have also been able to enhance service for customers who are increasingly used to information and service being available 24/7 on their smartphones,” Dominic adds. "Whether it’s booking a table or a room, looking up information such as menus or allergies, ordering a Click & Collect or a drink at your table or paying your bill many of our services are now available instantly on demand at a click of a button.”
However, in Dominic’s view, giving customers a premium experience isn’t just about adapting the dining environment - ‘quality service’ now extends to the social context, and technology can assist with this too.
“From an electric delivery van and kitchens using carbon-neutral power to ethical sourcing, local charitable initiatives and becoming an accredited Living Wage employer, technology has enabled us to give back more to our island community and ensure a more sustainable environment.”
It seems the right tack to take, with the pandemic hastening the ascent of ‘conscious consumers’ - individuals more likely to opt for brands with a strong emphasis on sustainability, ethics and supporting local, and avoid those whose practices are more opaque.
60% of consumers surveyed by Accenture in 2020 reported making more environmental or ethical purchases during the pandemic, with nine out of 10 saying they were likely to continue.
Pictured: The pandemic has led to a rise in 'conscious consumers'.
“The recent lifting of the hospitality circuit breaker has shown that islanders haven’t lost their love of going out with friends and family but their demand for new and innovative experiences that offer value for money and build a better community and world will only grow in the future,” says Dominic.
“Despite the huge problems faced by the sector during the pandemic, there have been opportunities to enhance customer service and develop new ways of working to address some of the pre-covid challenges faced by the industry and put us in a good place to adapt and service these ever changing customer demands. Hopefully we can build on what we have learnt over the last year to adapt better to a rapidly changing and uncertain future.
“This will allow the hospitality sector in Jersey to stay ahead of the competition and play its part in addressing global challenges such as climate change, loss of biodiversity and inequality.”
The Visit Jersey team says it’s “committed” to helping industry leaders future-proof their businesses.
One of their recent initiatives saw Ben, Frank, Judi and Dominic share their experiences with more than 100 local tourism and hospitality businesses in a webinar - the first in a quarterly ‘Build Back Better’ series.
Last month, they hosted a Pop-In Surgery with Digital Jersey and Jersey Business to discuss the digital solutions explored at the webinar on a one-to-one basis with island businesses.
Emphasising Jersey’s need to “remain competitive and relevant”, Meryl said that Visit Jersey was continuing to invest in research.
“We’ve recently undertaken segmentation analysis working with the research agency, The Nursery. This insight will feed in to how we market to our target audiences across all stages of the holiday decision making process – from the inspiration stage, to the looking and booking. There are different motivations and barriers across the segments which we will consider when promoting the island to the future visitor.”
Even as trends and consumer profiles evolve, one ambition will not change: “having people return home from their holidays with lasting memories of Jersey, to ensure they are ambassadors for our island.”
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