From AI and weather patterns to experience-led packages and extended weddings – Custard’s top hospitality trends for 2024 explores some of the challenges and opportunities for the new year.
Blame it on the Weatherman
With El Nino weather patterns back with a vengeance and the ongoing climate crisis reaching ‘global boiling’ point, unpredictable weather patterns are set to disrupt the travel industry for months or even years to come – providing opportunities for UK hotels and venues to really push for holidaymakers, corporate bookers and meeting organisers to remain on the isle.
Last-minute booking is a trend likely to continue into 2024 as leisure travellers and those travelling on business and for events not only seek the best deals, but also convenience and opportunities to avoid the hassle of travel.
Custard top tips for 2024: UK hospitality need to remain agile and make offerings unique and desirable to entice UK bookers to continue to choose the UK. Stay ahead of the curve and adapt offers based on seasonality and unexpected weather conditions, with up to date website information and timely offers sent out to press at least one week in advance.
The Power of Experience
Despite the UK economy fluctuations and inflation challenges, travel is still on the agenda, and meetings and events continue to flourish. One thing is clear, however – bookers are looking for experiences, not just accommodation or meeting spaces.
With 72 percent of millennials stating they would rather open their wallets based on experiences rather than on material items, content seeking activities that instigate feelings of ‘FOMO’ amongst friends, colleagues and social media followers are high on the agenda for this age group.
Exclusive experiences are more popular than ever in the luxe market too, with an emphasis on natural surroundings, getting back to nature to escape daily life, and the incorporation of wellness into hotel stays, conferences and meetings. Location is a key selling point, so make sure this is showcased when marketing your hotel or venue.
Custard top tips for 2024: If an image speaks a thousand words – just imagine how chatty video content is! Create a video content strategy that showcases the USPs and experiences on your doorstep and invite content creators and journalists with relevant interests in to champion it online. Target different customer segments who can travel or book outside key periods.
Savvy business travellers and meeting delegates continue to extend their stays into mini breaks to incorporate leisure, tourism or wellness into their trips. Driven by a desire for a more maintainable work-life balance and the ability to ‘work from anywhere’ this is a trend set to continue and thrive into 2024 supported by businesses who are adopting more flexible travel policies to retain staff who are required to travel regularly for work.
Purpose built conference centres, hotels and event venues are going to have to work harder and innovate to compete with disruptive competitors in unique new spaces such as converted boats, historical buildings, and museums. The uniqueness, quirks, or talk-ability of these spaces deliver a ‘wow’ factor and therefore an immediate perception of ‘experience’ which have risen in demand through 2023.
Custard top tips for 2024: Hotels and venues should review mid-week packages typically booked by business travellers to enable or encourage longer stays highlighting facilities and local attractions – tapping into anything quirky and unique. Host a well themed showcase or event that really shows off the spaces available, and make sure experiences are posted on social media channels.
Whilst travel spending is showing no signs slowing down, there are signs that travellers are managing their spend differently, and being more budget-cautious during their stays which is likely to have a longer-lasting impact on uplift sale opportunities such as leisure, spa, and F&B.
All-inclusive stays have always been synonymous with foreign destination holidays for sun-seekers seeking hassle-free, luxe experiences, however, as we move into a more budget-conscious economy could this start to be more prevalent in hotels and resorts across the UK? ABTA research found that 29% of people were planning to take an all-inclusive holiday in 2023 to help them manage their finances, so with the UK economy remaining tumultuous consumers are likely to increasingly seek packages to eliminate hidden surprises and manage costs.
Custard top tips for 2024: UK hospitality – whether focused on leisure or corporate events, would benefit from building packages to incorporate F&B, spa, leisure, or any other activities to appeal to bookers seeking a simpler, more rounded experience. Ensure websites include key phrases such as all-inclusive for SEO purposes, and that your promotion strategy includes website, social media and PR.
Technology is emerging as a crucial ally for hospitality events teams, with planners prioritising end-to-end digital booking services from initial registration through to reporting, incorporating enhanced budgeting and engagement technologies.
Additionally, instant book options will continue to rise in demand into 2024 and beyond, where delegates book smaller meeting rooms at short notice (up to 20 delegates) through online booking systems with basic catering and AV requirements. This turns the transaction into a direct purchase as opposed to an enquiry route reducing the interaction between the delegates and venue.
AI plays an important role in the management of the guest experience too, providing tools for personalisation and streamlining efficiencies. Embrace it or not – it is here to stay and will only become more important for the hospitality industry.
Custard top tips for 2024: Inspirational marketing to drive direct bookings will continue to be key for hotels and venues going into 2024. Working with content creators and partners will generate authentic, creative content through social media and online channels to drive awareness amongst consumers. Exploring options for personalisation using AI is a must to improve guest and delegate experience.
Martyn’s Law, now likely to come into effect in 2024, will see venues and hotels with conference spaces having to adjust their operations as their responsibilities significantly increase around contingency planning, safety measures and crisis preparation. There are calls from across the industry for further clarity and guidance, however, no one can afford to be complacent and wait for this to come. Associations and trade bodies will be focussing on this messaging throughout the year to support on how to implement the necessary measures effectively and efficiently in terms of costs.
Custard top tips: Be prepared! Analyse the current guidance in place and make a start on how to implement the changes. Adopting a pandemic mindset – agile and fast moving – will ensure the quick-thinking and action that may be required. Communication is key – update websites, terms and conditions and contracts to ensure compliance is included.
International travellers to return with force
The post-COVID decline in Chinese tourists visiting the UK has been further affected by the removal of tax breaks for shoppers. The tax break removal has diminished the appeal of the UK as a shopping destination for Chinese tourists, who are now opting for more conservative spending habits and exploring alternative options across Europe.
When will Chinese tourists return in mass? Some sources such as STR say they are expecting it to return to pre covid numbers by 2025, with WHG Corporate stating that flights to Europe will increase next year.
Custard top tips for 2024: Whatever the answer, you must be ready. If – or when – changes are made to the taxation of goods, and new routes are opened by Chinese airlines, this market will be prime and ready to spend once again. Equally, the hospitality industry needs to maintain their focus on domestic travel and alternative international markets, given the uncertain timescales.
The forgotten “I” – Incentives?
Incentive travel is a way for companies to reward their top-performing employees with a holiday or trip, paid for by the company. Many companies worldwide use incentives to recognise their top employees or to drive sales – it is also a great way to create strong teams and combine meetings and conferences with an added ‘jolly’ for the team. The UK is increasingly a popular destination for incentive trips from Europe and beyond, with groups visiting for a two-three day trip with excursions, meals and sometimes team meetings too. And the big cities are no longer the only draw – countryside locations offering fun and ‘quirky’ experiences – as well as accommodation and dining for the group – can really benefit from this high spending market.
Custard top tips for 2024: Showcase what you can offer incentive groups on your website and on social media, especially in terms of team building packages and local attractions that are suitable for bigger groups. Research the market and host incentive bookers to ensure you get included in the itinerary when trips are planned. Special rates and packages with local attractions help, too.
According to Hitched.com searches for ‘weekend wedding venue’ have risen by 50% in the past year, demonstrating that couples are looking to make even more of a celebration out of their wedding. These extended stays could include pre-wedding celebrations, brunches, indoor or outdoor activities, and wellness experiences – something which is key for the millennial market in particular. In addition, the term ‘pre-moon’ is appearing in search terms, for couples looking for a pre-wedding holiday or mini break to escape the planning madness.
Custard top tips: It’s all about the experience! Think beyond the big day and look at how the venue or hotel can offer other services to this captive audience. Promote ‘add on’ experiences such as brunches, hen parties or pre-moon breaks on social media, with video content and ensure the packages are searchable online for couples looking at venues.