As we started the year, no one could have fathomed how drastically we would need to pivot to meet the expectations of a changed world. But, in the face of adversity, the travel industry is incredibly resilient, and has given hoteliers the opportunity to re-imagine interactions with guests in line with changing behaviours and perceptions.

The F&B sector within the hotel environment has been particularly challenged with many hoteliers facing the reality that not all their restaurants are viable to open under the current social distancing regulations and occupancy limitations. But adversity presents opportunity.

More than ever before, we need to think about creative use of space and give guests something fresh to be excited about. New concepts with guest health and wellbeing at the centre. The much-loved buffet may, for now, be a distant memory but the need to maintain the highest levels of service will drive innovation and help power the recovery of our industry.

Double down on dining

Dining experiences are an increasingly important factor when choosing a hotel, and I firmly believe getting this right will support room revenue for the long-term. Crafting exceptional dining experiences is not something that can be easily replicated by our competitors, which ultimately positions us with a strong USP and an entry barrier for the competition.

The restaurant scene has evolved tremendously, with guests looking for casual and fun experiences, more memorable food and smarter pricing. It’s no longer simply about the quality of the food and the name of the chef, but the entire concept from design to ambience and everything in between. The latest trend we see is community-led dining, where consumers coalesce around a desirable community with shared interests and behaviours – I call this “social dining”.

Bring the talent out

At Jumeirah, culinary excellence is a core pillar of our strategy and signature F&B experiences are now a cornerstone of our brand. We’ve approached this slightly differently to many other luxury brands and hiring culinary talent in-house to give guests the opportunity to connect with the chef in person, speak to the artist and try his or her food.

This gives us our own identity you can’t find elsewhere. A good example of this is at Rockfish in Jumeirah Al Naseem where we’ve brought in Executive Chef Marco Garfagnini, a brilliant talent who I’ve known for more than 20 years. His new Mediterranean Italian menu is the perfect complement to the amazing beachfront location and the eclectic space by famed designer Bill Bensely.

Check out the pop-ups

The pandemic has reset the stage for an interesting future, where a shift in expectations will open the door to a new horizon of dining experiences. One trend I envision is a surge of ‘pop-up’ restaurants that will take a cue from fast-fashion. They’ll be more affordable and the “collections”, meaning the menus and even the locations, shall be limited in duration.

These will give hoteliers the opportunity to reinvent themselves with exclusive spaces with great energy, but less density to give guests peace of mind. This is an area we’ve been exploring for a while and in fact our two latest dining concepts – French Riviera and SAL – were conceptualised early into the pandemic as we focused on an offensive strategy to come back stronger than before.

SAL opened on The Terrace at Burj Al Arab, a contemporary mirrored pop-up offering a menu of sea-inspired dishes from the Iberian Peninsula, also launched under the helm of Chef Garfagnini. With its uninterrupted views across the clear azure waters of the Arabian Gulf and unbeatable sunsets, we created SAL to be a social culinary hotspot of late summer.

People often ask me if I’m confident about the post-pandemic future. The answer is a resounding ‘Yes’. The impact of this crisis on lives will continue, at least for a period of time. And in the future no doubt some of the things we have learnt and measures we have implemented will remain.

But it has also presented us with the opportunity to reset, to do things differently, to craft new and even more memorable experiences, those that guests will want to share and that’s a future I’m excited about.

– Jose Silva is CEO of Jumeirah Group. He is speaking at the 16th edition of the Arabian Hotel Investment Conference (AHIC) in Dubai.

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