Could 2021 prove the tipping point for compliance in serviced accommodation?

With awareness around health and safety at unprecedented levels, no longer will travel managers accept half measures on compliance. For the serviced accommodation industry that brings a huge challenge – but also huge opportunity.

2020 will be remembered for all sorts of reasons.

It’ll always be the year of COVID-19, of course. The year that ‘lockdown’ entered our vernacular. The year of the Zoom quiz, remote working and social ‘bubbles.’

For corporate travel, it’ll be the year that we all, well, stopped. The year that planes were grounded, conference calendars were wiped clean, and each trip suddenly carried a little extra weight.

But perhaps the longer-term legacy of last year on both our industry at large, and serviced accommodation in particular, will be a new rigour when it comes to credibility and compliance.

In the last decade, we’d already seen major steps forward in the serviced accommodation sector. From a highly fragmented market, of highly variable quality and transparency, to the creation of the first ASAP accreditation scheme in 2013 and a gradual professionalisation across operators, to the growing influence now of credible branded owners. In 2019, this differentiation stepped up a notch further, with accredited properties across no less than 27 countries.

But 2020 was a real gamechanger.

With the risk of every business trip having increased against the backdrop of a pandemic–be it securing the right insurance, navigating ever-changing border controls or complying with all the restrictions that keep travellers safe–never have corporate travel managers had a more heightened awareness when it comes to duty of care, and their responsibility toward employees.

That touches on every stage in the journey, of course. Be it ground transport, flights, meetings or accommodation. At each stage buyers are, quite rightly, interrogating health and safety protocols, demanding evidence and refusing to take at face value the sometimes dubious claims of a handful of operators. In serviced accommodation, as in every other part of the industry, it has cast an unflattering light on those that may previously have given due diligence less than its due or employed ‘safety’ more as a marketing term than a commitment. The lessons of the last 12 months will mean half measures will no longer be acceptable.

But 2021 also marks the launch of a brand new ISO standard−set to establish a benchmark for best practice across serviced accommodation–leaves little doubt that we’re entering a new era for quality and compliance in the sector.

For serviced accommodation operators, it is both a challenge and an opportunity. Despite significant progress in the last decade, there’s still a way to go when it comes to a universal standard for both safety and quality. But the demand from buying teams will mean any operator that has taken the time to differentiate themselves using a recognised standard of accreditation will soon reap the rewards.

For travel teams too, it brings both challenge but also major benefit. Yes, it may require new systems and safety checks around booking serviced accommodation and accommodation of all kinds. It may mean a greater need to deal with operators direct in order to ask the right questions and triple-check responses. But it will also mean far greater reliability, transparency and quality.

After all, making serviced accommodation a more meaningful part of a travel programme brings with it a number of different advantages, from cost savings to built-in social distancing. But with this step change in compliance, it’ll also come with peace of mind.

And, in among all the difficulties, that would be a hugely positive thing for 2020 to be remembered for.

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