Riding The Wave Of Travel Trends

The world is on the move and people are travelling more than ever

Shaun_Lamont.jpg

The world is on the move and people are travelling more than ever. It is estimated that by 2030, a global population of 8.5-billion people will take approximately 2 billion international trips, according to a report by the World Tourism Organization.
Technology tops the list for the way in which it has forever changed the way we travel. The Internet, smartphones, electronic payments and the power of social media have given consumers a direct voice to venues and with each other.

“While travel has progressed in leaps and bounds, so have travellers, which means we need to be constantly transforming and enhancing ourselves. This is key to delivering the right mix of services and amenities to cater to guests from existing and new emerging market segments,” says First Group’s Managing Director, Shaun Lamont, who is a leading mind in the South Africa hospitality industry boasts a R5.5-billion property portfolio, operating across three continents and servicing over 200 000 members worldwide.

“Over the years, the traditional hospitality model has developed into a more multi-faceted approach, from the basic amenities such as swimming pools, gyms, tennis courts and possibly a golf course to state-of-the-art event, business and conference centres and health spas that encompass so much more than just a vacation destination. These developments have had a substantial influence on the economic growth of the hospitality industry,” explains Lamont.

The company has, over the past three years, rolled out an extensive R179 million refurbishment programme across the properties it manages. Looking at the industry over the next five years, there are a growing number of new hotels planned for the South African market, according to the PWC Hotels outlook: 2017-2021. The report also indicates that the overall number of available rooms is expected to increase at a 0.9% compound annual rate, thereby adding 2 700 rooms over this period.

“Continuous investment to unlock the substantial potential that this industry has to bring is fundamental to staying at the forefront and delivering on customer expectations. It’s about looking to the future with innovation in our minds and our guests’ best interests in our hearts. And at the end of the day, the true test will always be the positive feedback you receive from your guests,” Lamont says.

“Let’s face it, what kept customers happy 10 years ago no longer works today and unless you embrace the ever-changing travel trends of consumers, you will find yourself left in the dust,” he points out.

Lamont highlights that while this can be challenging in some instances, there is now an opportunity to embrace low-cost, wide-reaching platforms that allow instant communication with our market and provide a potent means of quality control. “We need to bear in mind that as consumers use technology, they become more knowledgeable about hospitality on a global scale and with that, their expectations become greater,” he adds.

Going green

Another topical travel trend is eco-friendly tourism, especially with the impact of Cape Town’s water crisis. ‘Going green’ is no longer just a buzz phrase and Lamont believes that it’s only a matter of time before green practices in the hospitality industry become a baseline requirement.

“Our industry is perfectly positioned to influence change and there needs to be a progressive step in that direction. Establishments that aren’t taking issues of sustainability seriously will be negatively impacted in the future.

“Introducing sustainable tourism practices in our staff training has led to an eco-responsible approach to our daily operations and to our staff being vigilant in encouraging guests to do the same. We want guests to be part of the sustainable tourism experience when visiting our properties and hope that this will lead to them adopting some of these measures when they return home,” he says.

Out the box

A number of First Group’s properties have received awards for their ‘thinking outside the box’ approach to full-scale sustainable operational systems that include some fascinating environmental innovations.

These include water treatment plants to purify river water for the supply of fresh drinking water to the resort and nearby local community, worm farms, fish programmes to maintain healthy and sustainable dams, bat hotels, owl houses, beehives, calcamite sewer water management systems, energy-saving heat pumps, LED lighting, irrigation timers and planting grass that needs less water to grow.

Health and wellness is a global awareness drive that has become a travel trend influencer as well. “Healthier lifestyles now dictate the type of hotels or resorts where these travellers want to stay, and their decisions are based on the amenities and even the menu offered. For many, it could be the ‘deal breaker’ when planning a vacation or business trip, and it’s not limited to health spas or a golf course. An array of activities such as mountain biking, hiking trails and horse-riding that cater for an outdoor, healthier entertainment programme are being sought after,” observes Lamont.

Thanks to a ‘mobile-job’ era, business travellers now have the opportunity to take a few extra days of relaxation while attending to business, making the Bleisure trend an emerging global phenomenon. “Considering our tight economy, this offers an affordable way of rejuvenation, which will grow this category of travel in 2018 and beyond,” predicts Lamont.

He goes on: “Aligning our refurbishment strategy with the Bleisure approach has meant upgrading our in-room workstations and Wi-Fi connections so that business travellers can work in the comfort and privacy of luxury accommodation. Concierge services have also been up-skilled to assist with the planning of pre- and post-business leisure activities to nearby attractions.

“Resort bookings for business conferences have also grown in popularity because of the convenient onsite relaxation amenities such as golf, health spa treatments, direct access to beaches, etc. We have noted that conference bookings now include an increasing number of family and loved ones because there is such a seamless transition from business to pleasure once work is concluded,” he explains.

Promoting local tourism

“There’s so much available in our own backyard. South Africa is widely known as one of the most sought-after destinations in the world, thanks to our abundance of natural beauty, pristine coastlines, exciting wildlife and berg experiences, great weather and our unique rainbow nation of diverse cultures, which are steeped in history,” remarks Lamont.

Whether it’s for brand-new discoveries or returning to old favourites, he believes that hospitality players are perfectly positioned to encourage holidaymakers to learn more about our country’s beauty and heritage, which includes the promotion and support of local economies and communities as well.

“Ensure that your staff are kept up to date with the local tourist hub so that they can encourage guests to explore nearby attractions, taste the local cuisine and support the local artists and entrepreneurs. This approach will play a pivotal role in making a far-reaching impact in the local tourism value chain,” he adds.

Service must be at the heart of the industry

“Here’s the thing: as managing agents, First Group is constantly working on multiple channels to improve our operations and service levels. And why? Because we know there is nothing more important in the hospitality industry.

Lamont points out that the direct spin-off to great service is skills training and development, and that hospitality businesses that are not investing in staff training are bound to face challenges in their service delivery and, ultimately, struggle to stay afloat in this tough economy.

“Training needs to encompass all aspects of your business, as each person impacts customer service in one way or another.

“Furthermore, an investment in skills training is the best way to reduce employee turnover, which is one of the biggest drains on the hospitality industry.

“Bear in mind that while all customers are not the same, there is one thing that makes them all happy—superior service. Because when you think about it, the agenda of our industry is to make people happy,” concludes Lamont.

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