Dubai: Covid is almost out of the way, and hotels around the world can – fingers crossed – expect a busy summer. Of course, business travel is not yet close to the pre-Covid era, but it was something hoteliers were waiting for anyway.

For now, hotels around the world want to win back vacationers, and that’s why this summer is of particular importance. If occupancy levels around the world can reach the high range of 60-70%, that would be a win. Anything higher than that would be the garnish.

So which of the hotels is best placed to win them back? The big incumbents or those independent/boutique names? Chris Hartley is CEO of the Global Hotel Alliance, a grouping of small and medium-sized hotel brands, and he provides some compelling reasons why standalone hotels can ride the wave just as easily as the big ones.

Global hotel chains are said to have had the fastest turnaround – because they had the networks. How was the post-Covid rebound for independent operators with only a few hotels?

Rather than the size of the hotel chain, it is the type of hotel that has accelerated the recovery. With leisure travel returning almost to pre-pandemic levels, resort hotels have been in greatest demand. With our mix of small independent brands – and resorts such as Anantara, Outrigger, Nikki Beach, Viceroy etc. – we have arguably experienced faster turnover than business hotels or mega-chains.

We saw a strong resurgence in room revenue in the first quarter of 2022, showing increased momentum for the travel recovery. The United Arab Emirates and the Maldives led revenue in the first three months of the year, with GHA brands in these markets achieving an average revenue per room (ARR) per stay of $1,270 and $8,530 respectively, versus a global average of 670 USD.

Ten hotels out of more than 500 worldwide participating in GHA Discovery, our loyalty program, accounted for a third of total room revenue in the first quarter of 2022. Six of those 10 were located in Dubai and the Maldives.

After two years of travel restrictions and uncertainty, pent-up demand for leisure travel in particular has been unleashed and GHA hotel brands – with properties located in some of the world’s most popular and travel-friendly leisure destinations business in the world – benefit from the rebound.

Global travel had seen a significant recovery in the first quarter and that should set up a strong summer for hotels around the world.

Do these niche operators represent the majority of GHA memberships? Did they have to cut prices and increase marketing costs to get noticed?

GHA provides services that suit both independent brands with less than 10 hotels – Doyle Collection, Nikki Beach, Capella – but also many large brands, such as Kempinski (80 hotels) or Minor (with large brand footprints like Anantara, Oaks or NH, which joins in June).

In terms of rate cuts, the short answer is no. With some destinations taking longer to reopen and lift travel restrictions, huge demand has been funneled into limited supply, and so fares have actually risen dramatically, in many cases significantly higher than pre-Covid.

Although there were many covid-related safeguards at the height of the pandemic, guests are no longer looking for a hotel experience that feels like a hospital. So Covid warranties are sensible, but low-key, and certainly don’t incur higher costs.

While during the pandemic many brands have reduced their marketing costs, GHA has doubled with an investment in a completely revamped and redesigned GHA DISCOVERY program, which launched in December 2021.

Accelerating demand for luxury leisure travel, after two years of pandemic-related restrictions, has generated phenomenal increases in spending.

Do you think there is room for niche operators? After two exhausting years, wouldn’t many of them be thinking of selling to a larger group?

Since most of our hotels/brands are owner-operated, we work with UHNW (ultra-high networth) owners who are fundamentally opposed to being part of a large chain, and the pandemic has not changed their perspective on this subject.

The great thing about joining GHA is that we provide a solution for independent brands that helps them compete with mega-loyalty platforms, such as Marriott Bonvoy or Hilton Honors, without losing operational control. Or their individual brand identity.

There are no annual fees or fixed costs to participate, so hotels only pay a small variable performance fee, making our business model very attractive compared to large chains and generating a return on investment. high for our member brands.

Is this feedback you hear from GHA partners?

We are majority owned by our own member brands (Minor, Kempinski, Corinthia and Pan Pacific). So our primary focus is on generating additional revenue for their hotels, rather than maximizing alliance profits, and again this makes our business model very attractive to independent brands.

They know we are owned by hoteliers who have an asset owner mentality in how they run the alliance, and our business model reflects that.

We relaunched GHA Discovery last December and launched Discovery Dollars (D$), the industry’s first digital rewards currency, through which members earn and spend D$ at any property in the GHA DISCOVERY portfolio. This “currency” is more flexible for customers than the point systems of large chains, and it is already proving popular with our customers after only five months since its launch.

First, D$ drives what we call “inter-brand revenue” – representing stays for members who sign up with one GHA brand and stay with another – and in Q1 2022 it was almost 2.5 times higher than the same period in 2021.

Some 61% of D$ redemptions in the first quarter of this year were on multi-brand stays, proving that the new currency is encouraging members to try new brands. At the same time, with members increasing their spending and hotel brands reporting higher than normal ADRs, the number of D$ issued has skyrocketed.

Will the next two to three years see limited additions of new hotel capacity around the world?

We certainly don’t see that with our brands, in fact, quite the contrary. In the first three months, we have seen other properties from our brands join the alliance – such as Anantara World Islands Dubai Resort and Avani Muscat – but also brands like Outrigger, Tivoli, Capella and Kempinski are extending their reach with many new openings later. this year and in 2023-24. NH Hotels will join GHA in June and will open new hotels around the world. Indeed, the first NH Hotel in Dubai will open at the end of this year.