Alastair Shepherd

The age of the slow traveller is upon us

We’re travelling less frequently, so savouring the experience and absorbing our surroundings have replaced the need for speed.

Welcome to the age of the Slow Traveller.

If you think that’s a fanciful notion let me reassure you that it’s real.  Research by our clients at The Other House, for whom we are developing Residents Clubs in South Kensington and Covent Garden a new concept where ‘hotel meets members club’, points very firmly in the direction of this altered state of travel.

The pandemic made the potential of working from anywhere a necessity, allowing millions of people to throw off the shackles of location-specific work and instead exploit the freedom afforded by digital connectivity.  And it’s changed how people view travel, with its potential to bring both balance and enrichment.

There is growing evidence that people making business trips are now taking a little longer, finding time to absorb and explore their new surroundings, maintaining productivity whilst bringing added depth to their trip.  Stay an extra night, an extra week, unwind, be inquisitive... there is choice.

Travellers want accommodation that blends their need to interact, explore and be social once more with the requirement to be productive.  Wi-fi enabled hybrid lobbies – part business café, part meeting place – are becoming more commonplace.  And so will the desire for basic cooking spaces within rooms for those extending their trips by a night or two.  It is about choice: whether you mingle with fellow residents or take time out, you’ll need the facilities to allow either.

All of this points to a more blended hospitality product going forward, a sort of overlap between long-stay residential and hotels.  People still want service, but technology means they can access it more on their terms.

Just as you book a core product, with a choice of add-ons via an airline app, similar technology affords the potential to personalise every other aspect of your trip to suit your individual needs and budget.  Numbered seats, pre-paid refreshments, speedy boarding and more are now all accepted as commonplace.  It’s not too hard to imagine such personalisation transferring to hotels.  You’ve booked and paid for your room, but everything else – from changing the sheets, replacing towels and ordering breakfast – can be dispensed with or bought, as required.

If you’re staying three nights, for example, why pay to have your sheets replaced every day?  Likewise your towels.  You don’t change them daily at home, after all.  As we all become more conscious of our carbon footprint, think of the savings on water and energy.  A simple app can put you in charge of every aspect of your interaction with the hotel, from room selection to check-in, allowing you to specify where you want additional service and the hotel to direct resources accordingly.

We saw with low-cost airlines how lower price points made air travel more possible for ordinary people.  Now technology has the potential to drive down core costs for hotel stays, whilst also making travellers’ stays more sustainable without losing a sense of luxury.

It’s a new era of technology-enabled travel with big implications for hotel design, specification, customer interaction, resource allocation and resource usage.  And it’s happening right now.  As one of the prominent designers of hotels in the UK we see these changes coming earlier than most and there are more headed our way.  And if that makes us all slow down whilst technology speeds up, that’s not a bad thing at all in my book.

Alastair Shepherd, Director, Falconer Chester Hall