2020 was a transformative year for the hotel industry. COVID-19 decimated the sector, and left hotels scratching their heads as to how they can adapt to a world where personal contact has become so frowned upon. Hotel rooms, swimming pools, spas and more became ghost towns in a matter of weeks, as people stayed home to social distance.
As a result of this sudden market shock, hotels had to adapt or go bankrupt. On the tech side of things, we see that companies like Airbnb opted to market staycations in remote and rural areas, allowing tourists to go on vacation in new areas within their own country or state.
Hotels too started to adapt, adopt concepts like staycations and even workations. Workation is an interesting concept derived from “bleisure” where employees mix business with leisure, working away from the office while incorporating elements of a vacation and leisure into the workday. It’s an interesting concept that has been popularized by the advent of COVID-19.
Now, hotels in the Middle East region have taken notice, apparently preparing to capitalize on the pent-up global demand for this new trend.
According to research conducted as well as commissioned by Reed Travel Exhibitions, the organiser of Arabian Travel Market (ATM), many travel experts are expecting a surge in workations in 2021 and beyond, a trend that was apparent in 2019, but one which now has such pent-up demand due to the coronavirus travel restrictions.
“The hotel industry in the Middle East has gradually started to recover, especially in places such as Dubai. Staycations created the initial demand after lockdown, the next step has been the continued growth of workations, which are also referred to as bleisure stays, which tend to bring in more visitors from overseas,” Danielle Curtis, Exhibition Director ME of Arabian Travel Market, said.
Fueling this growth are companies like Facebook, Twitter and Spotify which have announced that employees can work from home indefinitely, leading many experts to predict that these digital professionals are likely to work remotely.
“Longer term, the ‘on the go’ executive will be a far more common sight in hotels, whether it’s Gen Z singletons, millennial professionals, or freelancers who can earn a living from a laptop,” added Curtis.
With over 50% of the world’s working population doing so from home and the rise of entrepreneurial digital nomads who prefer to work remotely, the popularity of workations will only increase.
This will alleviate the boredom of living and working from home, and will provide much needed revenue to not only hotels but the travel trade in general, not to mention government coffers.
To accommodate the needs of the ‘new normal’ smart working traveler even further, an increasing number of hotels in the MENA region are offering pop-up co-working spaces with the aim of rethinking and making the most of the hotel space, which is no longer considered just as a place to stay, but instead becomes a potential work environment.
“COVID-19 has completely disrupted the traditional office culture and the hospitality sector has been quick to offer alternative solutions for those looking to combine working from home with leisure time. The introduction of the workation concept is not just a novel idea, it’s about making adjustments to meet the new market demands, allowing those who are not currently working from their office to enjoy a luxury hospitality experience whilst continuing their work commitments,” said Mark Kirby, COO of Emaar Hospitality.
ATM notes that further afield in the Maldives, for example, hotels are offering the ultimate ‘workation packages’ where guests can work from a secluded beach house, with personal desks and high-speed WiFi. Some hotels in India have created indoor and outdoor common areas that function as work-friendly spaces, many others have opted for dedicated spaces poolside where remote workers get a table, chair and parasol, WiFi and power socket, as well as the ubiquitous sun lounger.
“Depending on the effectiveness of the vaccines being rolled out, as well as travel and other social restrictions, this demand could broaden to include families. If children are being home-schooled it would make little difference if they were at home or on a workation with their parents. Indeed, time away from long cold winter nights in northern Europe, would undoubtedly improve a family’s state of mind,” added Curtis.