As global businesses evaluate their return to travel over the next 6-18 months, we have put together an industry roundup focused on the impact that Covid-19 has had on the corporate housing sector thus far. This summary is a result of our quest to answer the question: what is in store for corporate housing? And what are travelers’ expectations related to the need for housing solutions for short- and long-term needs, for work assignments and permanent relocations?
In addition to the input from our extended team, clients, and supplier partners, we included some comments and expert opinions from relevant business travel and housing sites and blogs.
The Level-Set on Hospitality
This year has been the worst on record for the hospitality industry generally, including the corporate housing sector. Some businesses report up to a 100% negative variance to 2019. Even though there has also been occupancy recovery in some specific markets due to an increase in road travel and redeployment in housing for frontline workers. All in, most businesses report confirmed bookings are off 50-70% since March.
ASAP Business Partner, Jan Freitag reported that brands and hotels will need to convince travelers that their properties have not been infected and that their hotels are safe spaces. Adding that from now on, the industry will have to come up with new ways to communicate to guests that the surfaces and spaces are clean and free from the virus. Freitag’s firm predicts that the revenue per available (hotel) room this year would be down 50 percent from last year, with a sharp rebound of 63 percent in 2021. Emphasizing that these numbers are in constant change, but one prognostication is clear: this is temporary disruption.
What’s Ahead? Three Words: Duty of Care
The implications for housing providers – whether hotels, serviced accommodations, bespoke solutions, or branded assets –are all the same: a sizeable commitment to cleaning protocols. Deep cleanings after every occupancy, industrial strength cleaning supplies, government-health agency recommended disinfectants and filtration systems, PPE for staff members, quality control and documented inspections are the new standard.
Alongside property cleanliness, the service experience includes masks, hand sanitizers, anti-bacterial wipes and cleaning products made available to all guests on check in (in countries when this is possible and affordable), keyless entry, virtual meet and greets for staff and guest safety as a potential new model. The result may be a cost-savings in staffing due to virtual servicing, offset by investments in technology and high-grade hygiene.
From a corporate client/employer perspective, cleanliness protocols will become on par with data privacy and other expectations as a compliance requirement. At Dwellworks, we have already seen a number of these efforts being implemented and asked for. APAC, where the pandemic first hit and where there have been more countries at ‘recovery’ levels, is once again in the forefront of response. In China, all our staff are wearing masks, temperature checks are conducted at both entry to the property and at the check-in desk, cleaning efforts have further increased and several local vendors are already providing contactless food delivery to the apartments to avoid interaction.
Other Broad Trends Include
- Flight to Quality and Security - business travelers will be more interested in safe and predictable levels of care and cleanliness. This is good news for well-branded properties as wary travelers may associate a well-known brand name with a reduced risk level. For more remote, lesser-trafficked locations guests and employers may potentially opt for brand names they recognize vs. hyper-local, unbranded providers.
- Corporate Housing Will be Safer Than Hotels - in general, corporate housing has less traffic and more controlled access than a hotel and typically at a lower cost per night – which makes this solution a logical choice for extended stay needs. A renewed focus on proximity and convenient on-location travel/parking will make sense where people want to minimize prolonged external exposure and return to the safety and comfort of their housing.
- Post Covid-19 Fallout and Consolidation - the risk exposure associated with holding inventory during a period of cancellations and early departures may create challenges for those suppliers with large inventory positions. The better resourced companies will be able to ride out the downside economics and invest in the commitments to HSSE upgrades that not all providers will be able to sustain at customer-expectation levels.
- Continued Migration to the Consumer Mindset - though travelers will not necessarily always sacrifice ‘safe’ for ‘intriguing’, they will continue to have consumer-level quality expectations regardless of where they stay. Health and hygiene upgrades will be de rigeur along with the continuing move towards a true ‘home away from home’ experience. More in-suite conveniences and safer connectivity to the local service ecosystem for deliveries, groceries, in-unit cooking conveniences, appointments, health, and safety alerts will be sought after expectations.
- Traveling Less for Longer Stays - especially in early recovery phases where travel is allowed to newly re-opened locations, some corporate housing companies are hearing that clients will be relocating fewer employees but sending more people on short term assignment/extended travel instead. For US domestic travel, as an alternative to traveling every week, people will be posted for 30 days and then come home before going out again. Corporate housing is the ideal solution for this travel cohort.
- Extended Relocation-Related Temp Living Benefits - employers with relocation activity should be aware, in some markets of the US, there will continue to be lack of inventory for home purchase in the immediate term. If the employee has accepted a transfer, there could be extended stays in some markets pending the purchase of a new home; the upside for corporate benefits cost management is that until the demand/supply balance in corporate housing is fully restored to equilibrium, there will be more supply than demand in some markets and potentially the opportunity to secure better pricing.
- Interns, Group Trainings, etc. - these programs were largely postponed or moved to virtual delivery due to Covid-19. While Work from Home and Distance Learning trends will continue at some level, multiple clients have shared that their ongoing business culture requires the reinforcement provided in group trainings, intern programs, etc. and they intend to resume these at some level in 2021.
- Seamless Solutions - Corporate housing and destination services are complementary services. Providers who can coordinate short- and long-term rental search and provide the local-expertise services, virtually and in-person, as required for settling in will have an advantage as clients search for optimized service and controlled costs during the challenging second half of the year and beyond.
Travel and relocation will be back, leisure travel sooner than business travel, and all at lower levels for the immediate future. Less will be ‘taken for granted’ in travel, but with a potential vaccine/broader immunity on the horizon and with confidence in the facilities and transportation system, business travel will resume. Travelers and employers will have high expectations for their health and safety in addition to other requirements. A critical question will be who will carry the additional costs for guest/employee safety and hygiene measures. The corporate housing industry along with all industries deeply impacted by Covid-19, will come back changed to address the opportunities and expectations of new ways of working and delivering on the expected customer experience.
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