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How Hospitality’s Social Experiment Ran Straight Into A Wall

Category: Tourism, Posted:05 Apr 2020 | 06:00 am

It’s no easy task unraveling the COVID-19 great wall of voodoo, let alone predict the future. I can only think back to the 1990’s and the heyday of singer Dionne Warwick’s Psychic Friends Network, where for $3.99 a minute, clairvoyance was only a short call away.

Today all we have are digital soothsayers, pseudo LinkedIn experts and webinars. I’m sorry, just one more webinar invite could thrust my presently fragile emotional state right over the edge. If Zoom, GoToMeeting and Skype are a true vision of the future, we might be in trouble. Yet, I do digress and remember that I only said maybe. 

One of the recurring key themes in hotel circles over the past decade has been the self-titled movement of hospitality into the social space.  Often, the mantra of revolution was touted In somewhat of a Che Guevara manner. Granted, not many followers took to wearing berets. Familiar names of the pioneering soul stirrers were Ian Schrager, Bill Kimpton and Philippe Starck. The socio design epidemic was set to roll.

As time wore on, the revolutionary torch was passed to creative types (again no Che berets) who created socially adapt hotel groups like Standard, Ace and citizenM. Staring deep into the eyes of the movement the key Jerry McGuire moment was that yes, you could sell an extraordinarily small room, sometimes a room with no windows in a tarted up retrofitted hotel for extortionately massive room rates by creating a social element. Amazing grace, the heavens parted, angels sang and yes, the buzz was religious-like.

Of course, no one really talked about the similarity of these social houses to pubs in the 17th-century. Big social bar downstairs, small rooms upstairs,  you got it.  Please remember the hotel space is not exactly the most innovative of idea incubators, but never mind. 

Fast forwarding into the absolute current bad moon rising, near total chaos of the coronavirus episode that has somehow become our daily lives, I can only muse on a quiet self-isolation, zombie out Sunday night, what comes next for hotels social experiment? (and no, zombies don’t wear berets). This is perhaps the longest sentence ever written.

Over the past few years we’ve been blasted in the face with buzzed out travel terms like experiential, authentic, local and yes, affordable luxury. Who wants to hang out in a twelve square-meter room, when dangerous liaisons lurk down in the socially-spiked living room and yes there might even be a communal long-table so that you never, ever have to be alone. Ever. It was exhausting even writing this and no I did not even mention the fabulous co-working space and tripped out too cool deejay.

Stepping into our Psychic Friends Network shoes, one has to wonder how our travel aspirations could, or perhaps already have changed? Is fear now our constant new travel companion and if so, can we at least get twin beds?  Could hotels now lapse back into a 1980’s plaid, stale and sterile Holiday Inn model where mind-numbing brand standards are adhered to in Biblical proportion?  Restless nights on sweat-soaked sheets, as your stare around a lime-orange interior and blankly wonder – am I in Tokyo, Toronto or Manchester?

Indeed, the joy division got off at the last stop. Being a cynic (yes, I am, but I don’t own a beret),  with crazy thoughts of a new age of travel that jumps to in room check in, hourly maid sanitation patrol, each and every meal from room service and forget that meeting room, who needs to be close to others when in-room Zoom digital  is at your fingertips.  

My rant grows into a deeper funk. Hotels devoid of social spaces, bars, restaurants and function space. Thoughts turn to the movie Apocalypse Now and that moment as they head up the dark river of no return echoing those all-knowing words “never get out of the boat.” Are hotels now caught up in the heart of darkness netherworld, where self-isolation and social distancing are the new creed?

Snap out of it Bill. Back into the moment I realize that all of these predictions of the new social order that will pivot the hotel social movement are pure guesswork. Bored, out of work LinkedIn verbiage is all it amounts, as the real answer is -nobody really knows where we are headed in the post COVID-19 hotel space. Except of course Dionne Warwick, who I just learned is actually still alive according to my quick Wikipedia check, so indeed hope does spring eternal for us all.

P.S. I do have to admit that while most of the futuristic visions of the new hotel world are deeply troubling, I do love room service and prefer that over a long table any day.

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