With two months left of 2018, there’s no time like the present to start evaluating what challenges the South African hotel industry has been through, is facing now, and what new challenges may arise.

In case you missed it, the PwC South Africa Hotel Outlook 2018-2022 is out with some updated figures and reliable insight. But don’t wait on reports to get ahead of the curve on potential trends and disruptors. As industry players, we need to stay on top of our game, taking advantage of potential business opportunities and driving future trends, rather than reacting as late adopters.

Sustainability without greenwashing

The United Nations declared 2017 the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, which gave rise to ongoing global sustainability campaigns, such as #StrawsSuck and #BantheBag. As we’ve witnessed over the years, sustainability and sustainable travel have become less of a niche and more mainstream.

Many brands have kicked their plastic-bans into high gear this year, such as Marriott and Hilton, which took the pledge to discontinue plastic straws. As industry players participating in this eco-arena, we still need to be careful of “greenwashing” and the wrongful promotion of environmental credentials.

Green credentials are excellent for marketing to conscientious consumers, but if you are going public with this message, you have to make sure it is valid, or face the wrath of the market. Presently, Dream Hotels and Resorts is embarking on a sound, sensible environmental risk management programme through Energy Resource Optimisers (ERO), a company which assists South African business owners and industry leaders with effective energy, water and waste management.

The homeshare economy

Survey results from Allianz Global Assistance and MMGY Global in August showed waning demand for Airbnb and other sharing economy services, even among Millennial travellers. The Allianz study noted 53% of respondents were “unlikely” to use Airbnb or its rivals when booking travel this year. However, despite studies showing the change in attitude, the homesharing industry should not go unmonitored.

Earlier this year, Airbnb named Cape Town among the 13 cities globally that would pioneer Airbnb Plus, a hotel-like tier of homes verified for quality and comfort, inspired by some of Airbnb’s best hosts and homes. South Africa has many of these. Part of Airbnb’s success has been its offering of relevant and personalised experiences that make travellers feel like a local. And since personalisation has been a significant ongoing trend in our industry, there is something to learn from this moving forward.

The appeal of Africa as a threat and opportunity

While the International Congress and Convention Association recently ranked Cape Town as the best business tourism city in Africa, Euromonitor International adding Johannesburg to its list of top 100 city destinations in the world, according to the African Development Bank (AfDB) 2018 Economic Outlook, further growth is expected for African countries in 2019. By the end of 2018, Ghana’s economy is expected to have grown by 8.5%, along with Botswana’s GDP growth projected to rise to nearly 5%. Why is this important? As industry players, we need to keep a closer eye on our own continent, not only as competitors to South Africa as a leisure and business destination but also as potential development areas in which to cast a wider net. 

Just this year, Marriott International has opened a 200-room property in the Malian capital Bamako, with a Marriott-branded hotel in Accra, Ghana. Hyatt has announced plans to double its presence in Africa by 2020, while Radisson has signed a new hotel in Zambia's capital, Lusaka. Melia Hotels is also set to open in Maputo, Mozambique.

Beefing up on cybersecurity

2018 has been a big year for cybersecurity, as threats have continued to develop and evolve, increasing the risk for organisations across the board and adding more pressure to be proactive and prepared. Just recently, financial data was stolen from potentially hundreds of thousands of British Airways customers who had made online bookings. The hotel industry is not exempt from similar attacks.

As many new technologies make their way to our shores, industry players and those responsible for cybersecurity and privacy in hotels need to take full advantage to protect current and potential clients. It is an ongoing process and requires a more holistic view, from how guests place bookings, check-in, interact with facilities, and check-out, as well as everything that happens in-between (records management, technology, and surveillance). It is critical to identify potential cybersecurity and privacy exposures and to implement a strategy that addresses these ideas before the start of a new year.

With current market woes locally and abroad, we cannot afford to dip into stagnation. As proven in the past, despite the challenges, our industry remains dynamic and ever-changing, and the needs of the consumer are continually evolving. As competitors in a growing tourism and hospitality market, we can’t wait until 2019 to examine what's relevant.