Hotel room occupancy in Aberdeen was at an unprecedented low of 0.33% in April 2020, compared to 73% in April 2019, so it was obvious that a challenge awaited hoteliers post-lockdown.
By April 2021 occupancy in the city had risen to the dizzy heights of … 22%. It was clear hotels were in for a very long, potholed road back to recovery.
What hoteliers weren’t necessarily prepared for was that when guests were able to return they’d want to do so in style.
It’s important that we keep asking what customers want now and finding ways to meet those expectations.”
Stephen Gow, general manager, The Chester Hotel
In June 2020, global consultancy McKinsey and Company released research in the US which indicated that while occupancy in economy hotels was 40%, luxury hotels lagged behind at less than 15%.
Fast forward to late July 2021 and the same consultancy was reporting that if things went well, we could be at the threshold of a new age of travel as hotel reservations surged. This was partly down to the many earners who have kept their jobs throughout the Covid crisis and whose savings rate is 10 to 20% higher than pre-pandemic levels.
With corporate travel to Aberdeen at an all-time low, it’s leisure guests who are filling hotel bedrooms – and they want the best.
It is a trend welcomed by Stephen Gow, general manager at The Chester Hotel, in Aberdeen, which opened the doors on a multimillion-pound investment that created 22 new bedrooms, a luxury garden room and new cocktail bar just weeks before the pandemic struck.
Mr Gow said: “Some of our new rooms didn’t have a single head on a bed before we closed in March 2020. What has surprised us during the times in 2020 we were able to reopen our doors and since reopening in May 2021 is there’s been a marked rise in the demand for suites and the grandest, most expensive bedrooms in the house.
“We have five suites, with three in the newest part of the hotel. These are sold out every weekend and we could sell them many times over.
“Guests who have been cooped up at home, with little opportunity to spend money or treat themselves are out to splurge. And they are doing it close to home, with many of our guests living within an hour’s radius. There’s also a definite trend for people from Aberdeen having a night ‘away’ in their own city.
“We think this may be a trend which will be with us for several years and we’re considering converting some of our original rooms into suites in future to embrace it.
“Guests like the additional space and our new Marshall and Mackenzie suites, with patio doors leading to an outdoor garden area, have proved to be particularly popular this summer.”
The indulgence doesn’t stop with upgraded rooms. Add-ons such as in-room champagne are also seeing a surge, while the number of afternoon teas served by The Chester has rocketed this year.
“We can easily serve 200 over a weekend compared to perhaps 100 before the pandemic,” Mr Gow said.
He added: “More often than not, guests upgrade to champagne afternoon tea and many will also have cocktails to accompany this. We introduced individual afternoon tea boxes during the pandemic so that guests were not sharing tea stands as previously and we’ve had to place order after order for more of these boxes.”
Meanwhile, tickets costing up to £200 for the hotel’s Signature Food Festival in November – featuring leading chefs – sold out within hours.
Even the most experienced hoteliers are having to re-evaluate all of their hard-earned knowledge and valuable insights.
Mr Gow said: “It’s important that we keep asking what customers want now and finding ways to meet those expectations.
“Fine dining that was available seven days a week pre-pandemic is no longer what customers want. But our guests do still want a fine dining experience which they can book for treats and special occasions. We’ve found that our weekend fine dining experience events with paired fine wines are hugely popular. It’s important for us to be constantly differentiating our offering from our previous one.”
“As Aberdeen prepares for a future less dependent on oil and where there is less business travel across all industry sectors, we all need to focus on how we can introduce a quality rather than quantity approach to leisure hospitality. Higher spending guests generate more jobs and wealth, not just for hotels but for entire destinations.”