How data will help London light the way to recovery

With a few exceptions, the hospitality industry is still shuttered in the UK capital. But this should give pause for thought on what smart local experiences could mean in a post-Covid world

When cities come out of lock down, as the UK capital has done partially this week, travel and hospitality companies will be looking for guidance. Sadly, however, aside from a few exceptions – takeaways, rooms for frontline workers, non-residents and the homeless - hotels, restaurants and pubs across the city remain shut. And, hospitality businesses will be among the last to open. At a national level, the UK government has announced ministerial-led taskforces to plan how sectors like hospitality can open. Responding in a statement UKHospitality Chief Executive Kate Nicholls said that there could “no one-size-fits-all approach”.

Among those that have opened their doors to key workers are iconic luxury hotels like Claridges and the Lanesborough, as well as chains like Premier Chain and Best Western, which is featuring in a UK Channel 4 documentary next week - A very British Hotel Chain: Inside Best Western. In a plan backed by the Mayor of London,Travelodges and other budget hotels have been among those to help 2,000 homeless people off the street and self-isolate where necessary.

Looking after local people has been at the heart of these initiatives and are a grounding take on the ‘local experiences’ have have been the talk of hospitality for many years.

Many of the core concepts of smart city infrastructure can benefit the travel and tourism industry – better transport, crowd analytics, crime prevention and sustainability

Though not specifically focused on the travel and hospitality industry, a recent Incite by Reuters Events webinar, featuring executives from The Mayor’s Office and the London Office of Technology and Innovation (LOTI), sheds some light on the role that data will play in a post-Covid London. After all, many of the core concepts of smart city infrastructure can benefit the travel and tourism industry such as better transport, crowd analytics, crime prevention and sustainability.

A collaborative approach

Even before Covid-19 struck the UK capital, it was taking a collaborative, purpose-driven, and evidence-based approach to improve services. Theo Blackwell MBE, Chief Digital Officer, The Mayor's Office, Greater London Authority (GLA) explained that in 2010 London was one of the first cities to move into the 2.0 era with data. One of the travel related apps to emerge from this was CityMapper, which grew out of Transport for London’s (TFL) data strategy. The app, which is ‘making cities usable’, allows travellers to choose the best transport option and is completely enabled through TFL’s own data. “When TFL opened its API in 2014, it really spurred the development of innovation,” Blackwell said. 

Covid-19 is spurring even more rapid innovation. An important part of GLA's strategy is to build partnerships with the private sector, Travel and hospitality organisations should have a vested in interest this because the services on offer could impact how comfortable tourists feel about visiting the city.

Local, physical, digital

Looking ahead, London is escalating its data strategy to directly tackle the impact of the pandemic on city life. One of the possible outcomes of this is even greater innovation, such as the use of real-time rather than static data, and developing consistent standards, said Eddie Copeland, director of the London Office of Technology and Innovation (LOTI), who also joined the webinar.

It will take time for London’s hospitality industry to recover but in news today, independent property consultancy Knight Frank believes a full market recovery may be possible in London by the fourth quarter of 2021. That is if, a big if, the market reopens by the end of Q2 2020.

This COVID-19 pandemic has changed everything, but hospitality organisations across the city will be focusing their minds on what that might look like a year from now. This should give pause for thought on what it means to balance the physical with the digital, and what the role of local hotels will be in cities like London. Those that get this right will be the winners.

Watch out for an upcoming interview with Rob Paterson, CEO, of Best Western Hotels. It won’t be boring!

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