The hotel group is operationally ready to do away with Covid modifications like QR codes and housekeeping upon request, according to Amber Asher, because guests crave full-service hospitality once again.
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There are many words most people would like to forget, or at least assign to history. Covid-19 will be among them, and the new CEO of hotel group Standard International is all for it.
Ahead of making her debut at Skift’s Future of Lodging Forum next week, Amber Asher also thinks lifestyle may be another word that’s ready to be banned from the dictionary, because it’s already part of the hotel’s DNA.
Asher will be speaking during Skift’s next in-person event, taking place May 11-12 in New York City, in a session entitled “Lifestyle’s Evolution Across Hospitality.”
Skift: It’s been six months since you took the CEO role. What have been the highlights, and the biggest challenges, during this time?
Asher: The highlight of the past six months has been feeling the world’s renewed desire to travel, and then seeing it reflected in our numbers. The industry is back with a vengeance, and our guests are making up for two years of lost time. That fresh sense of adventure speaks directly to our openings in Ibiza, this week, and Bangkok Mahanakhon, this summer. One or two years ago, these might have seemed like impossible destinations, and now they’re top-of-mind for travelers in the U.S., Europe and beyond.
The biggest challenge has been combatting the burnout felt by hospitality professionals who battled through the toughest months of the pandemic. It took a serious toll. We’ve had to get creative finding more ways to support and look after our team, and we’ve learned so much.
Skift: With more countries relaxing their restrictions, how optimistic are you feeling? And as we exit the pandemic, is any optimism influencing your strategy for the hotel group?
Asher: I’m extremely optimistic. And the proof is in the numbers: rate, occupancy, record-breaking food and beverage covers. Our hotels, restaurants and bars are full, and we’re thrilled to be exceeding our 2019 performance. That creates space for our teams to think even bigger. It’s a huge relief, but more importantly, it’s energizing. Momentum is powerful.
This boom atmosphere has brought the most interesting development opportunities into our orbit, for The Standard and Bunkhouse. The Standard is strongly associated with primary markets, but the mass exodus from big cities has shifted our perspective to include secondary cities and less “expected” markets in general, like Hua Hin, Thailand, where we just opened a Standard a few months ago. There are all kinds of great places around the globe and here in the U.S. that would be perfect for a Standard, and we’re exploring them.
Operationally, we’re ready to do away with some of the Covid modifications guests came to expect in hotels, like QR codes and housekeeping upon request. Guests are ready to experience full-service hospitality again, and we’re returning to what we do best. All of it.
Skift: How does Standard International plan to continue to stay nimble and creative, at a time when the major hotel groups are actively pursuing the lifestyle and luxury concepts?
Asher: Lifestyle has been part of our DNA for over 20 years. It’s not something we need to actively pursue — it’s who we are, and what our guests have come to expect from us. We wouldn’t approach hospitality any other way.
Skift: The theme of the event is the “great merging” — how do you position a hotel front of mind, against the rising popularity of short term rentals, especially in the luxury space.
Asher: Personally, I think people crave the energy, experiences and interactions that come effortlessly in lifestyle hotels, restaurants and nightlife. We have all been in our homes for years, cooking and cleaning for ourselves. In many travelers’ minds, short-term rentals were crucial for health and safety during the pandemic, but people are ready for more. Much more.
Skift: What opportunities do you see when it comes to attracting remote workers or digital nomads? Are they an important component of the guest mix?
Asher: Digital nomadism was on the rise before the pandemic, but Covid ensured that it’s here to stay. The last two years made that lifestyle available to more of us. In a way, our Stowaway program anticipated that disruption years ahead of the curve. Stowaway offers reduced rates and special perks for longer stays so guests can travel more affordably and stay longer, and we gain this dynamic component of the guest mix.
Now we’re seeing remote workers taking longer trips beginning to replace traditional midweek corporate travelers. These guests aren’t traveling for a meeting or a conference, but for a change of scenery, an opportunity to explore a new city …. for themselves.
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Photo credit: Standard International CEO Amber Asher. Standard International