Skift Take

In 2020, the stakes for innovation and being customer-centric are higher than ever. Here are some gaps, opportunities, and much-needed prescriptions to improve travel and hospitality.

Series: On Experience

On Experience

Colin Nagy is a marketing strategist and writes on customer-centric experiences and innovation across the luxury sector, hotels, aviation, and beyond.

You can read all of his writing here.

This column normally focuses on the great innovations and people crafting hospitality and travel around the world. But on occasion, there are things missing from the market or items that just need a refit to find their best selves. I’ve outlined a wish list of improvements for the industry in 2020. Some are well on their way while others are still in their infancy. All are necessary.

More creativity around sustainability

There’s a lot of greenwashing and bluster. If brands saw just how many press releases were landing on the desks of journalists bragging about “plastic-free by 2025,” they’d surely stop doing it. Instead, there’s a true need for more creativity in sustainability. Case in point, The Beaumont in London is figuring out how to cut out the waste of toiletries: According to the brand announcement: “Partially used hotel soap and toiletries are recovered, repurposed, and redistributed to charities, including the Kori Women’s Development project in Sierra Leone.”  It’s a hygienic and innovative process spearheaded by an organization called Clean Conscience in the United Kingdom.

More sleeper trains

As more people become concerned with their climate impact, it’s nice to see the idea of traveling by sleeper train making a comeback throughout Europe. According to Bloomberg, “Siemens received a 200 million-euro ($221 million) order from Austria’s Oesterreichische Bundesbahnen-Holding AG. OeBB.” Plus, the new cabins feel modern, clean, and stylish and run on routes like Vienna to Zurich and Vienna to Brussels. More of this trend, please. An evening departure, dinner, and a nice rest before a morning arrival are a very welcome rejiggering of an old idea.

The evolution of Premium Economy

Premium economy looks like a good option when you are booking that trip from New York to Bangkok. But the actual experience of sitting in one of these chairs that haven’t evolved for a decade is quite underwhelming, particularly on the older British Airways and Air France seats. Fortunately, there is a new slate of designs that will hopefully improve passenger comfort and also provide an important option between economy and the often cost-prohibitive business class (for leisure travelers footing their own bill). These innovations cannot arrive fast enough.

More sensory elements

Hotels, trains, and restaurants need to rethink their intangibles. The power of the perfect scent and the exact right lighting (not cold, energy-efficient LEDs) add up to a really powerful sensory experience — and can actually be the thing you remember more than the bed or the lobby. As Monocle recently recounted in its weekend edition emails, the lighting on the Eurostar is exactly what not to do. It’s more of a surgical ward than a comfortable travel experience.

Wellness evolution in the airline lounge

Qantas has upped its game with wellness in its Perth International Transit Lounge, with areas for meditation, light therapy, and healthy eating. The airline has also partnered with Western Australia spa group Bodhi J to offer bespoke stretching classes. While lounges take a long time to redo and retrofit, it would be nice to see a bigger emphasis on wellness integration for people who are about to jam themselves into a pressurized tube. Also, the idea of outdoor fresh air is a brilliant one, most recently seen with Swiss’ new First lounge in Zurich.

Qantas, in partnership with Bodhi J, offers personalized stretching classes as an amenity at its Perth International Transit Lounge. Photo: Qantas

More evolution in the science of recovery with hotel rooms

Ellerman House in Cape Town, one of my favorite hotels in the world, recently launched a program (with wellness expert Harry Jameson’s advice) that seeks to take the idea of sleep and recovery a bit further than most offerings. Ellerman has created sleep rooms, removing all electronics from the room while creating a space to restore, recover, and regenerate. Guests will be “welcomed with a unique sleep pack, including everything from lemon verbena and argan oil bath salts and sleep-enhancing Stillness body butter, to lavender and neroli pillow and linen mist, comforting eye masks, and CBD chamomile tea.”

Notable here is the removal of electronics. How many times have you been with glowing consoles and controls that unnecessarily complicate things (and are hard to turn off)? As we learn more about the role of sleep in recovery and regeneration and how important it is for us to excel at anything, watch this space. We are still in the first inning of a meaningful and interesting shift in hospitality: away from the superficial elements of wellness with fancy, expensive creams and spa treatments into one that might improve us and our deeper well-being night by night.

Alaska to develop its “non-alliance”

Alaska has long been offering a very interesting “shadow” alliance consisting of great airlines like JAL, Emirates, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, and more. People can earn very valuable Alaska miles when they fly on this network. If Alaska could figure out how to boost some of the reciprocal benefits across the network (early boarding, lounge access) from the few it has now with British Airways, Icelandair, and Hainan into something more formidable, a lot of travelers might break the chains of their existing loyalty to Oneworld or Star Alliance. It doesn’t seem like a moonshot to achieve, and I am crossing my fingers.

An Emirates Dubai refit

Emirates has the best balance of warmth and wit in its onboard service in the sky, as this column has celebrated. The feeling of its lounges, however, when transiting in Dubai feels outdated, crowded, and the opposite of what the brand wants to convey. Outstations are even more lackluster, notably Johannesburg and Kennedy. It would be nice to see a smart, complete refresh here in the coming years at the level of Cathay Pacific’s refresh. Right now, in terms of direct competition hubs, Qatar’s Doha lounges blows Emirates out of the water.

Evolution of the all-inclusive space

Safaris have nailed the idea of the all-inclusive. You don’t need to worry about paying for an overpriced breakfast or signing for that afternoon snack. Everything is paid for in one go. There’s an opportunity for other areas of hospitality to reinvent the idea of and remove the stigma of budget beach resorts or lackluster experiences.

Examples include the Bluefields Bay in Jamaica, Singular in Patagonia, and Twin Farms in Barnard, Vermont. It seems like a no-brainer, and it removes part of the stress and anxiety from vacation.

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Tags: luxury, On Experience, qantas, wellness

Photo credit: Shown here is a sunset cruise at Bluefields Bay in Jamaica. The property elevates the concept of the all-inclusive resort. Bluefields Bay

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