How to prioritize development projects in the face of the unknown

Pent-up demand is likely to lead to a shortage of available construction labor. Photo credit: Getty / ewg3D (Construction)

As owners assess their portfolios, many are rediscovering opportunities to breathe new life into distressed assets. However, owners should remain aware that pent-up demand is likely to lead to a shortage of available construction labor in such unpredictable economic conditions. Therefore, hotels must prioritize the projects that would provide the most impact to their bottom line.

Owners’ initial focus should be on the segments they see recovering first. Industry experts are anticipating the leisure market to come back first followed by corporate travel. With travel anxieties still waning, the industry is seeing a light at the end of the tunnel as the vaccine gradually rolls out and many hotels are already seeing business pick up.

As the pandemic subsides, travelers appear to be more interested in the amenities available to them. With guests expected to spend more time in their room, attention should be given to creating a more thoughtful layout with crisp design that provides reassurance their room has been thoroughly cleaned. Owners should take this opportunity to consider the materials used and the ease to address sanitation.

Hotels cannot thrive on their guestrooms alone and public spaces will need to be modified to be successful in the post-COVID-19 travel landscape. Many hotels had already piloted the concept of enclosed, private areas for guest use before the emergence of COVID-19, and owners should continue working with design partners on how to effectively keep their guests feeling comfortable in public spaces.

As the rollout of the vaccine progresses, larger hotel will gradually begin to reopen to capture bookings from business travel and events. These assets also will have to decide between competing with an outdated product or investing short term on cosmetic updates to assure survival against other types of lodging products. This decision is made with the understanding that a full refresh process most likely will need to commence again in two to three years when business resumes back to the pre-COVID periods; a task similar to what occurred with previous economic recessions.

Hospitality has been weathering a tumultuous storm through the COVID-19 pandemic and while the times have been turbulent, we can now at least make sense of where it is leading. Travel may be changing, but it is not going away because demand remains pent up beyond expectations. Now it's up to the hospitality industry to make travel easier, attractive and more accommodating because there is no benefit to delaying the inevitable.

Stephen Siegel is principal of H-CPM, a construction project manager and owner representation firm.