How COVID-19 has reshaped hospitality projects of the future

Industry expert David Singleton reflects on how the virus has changed our priorities


I think we’re at a time where we can reflect on how 2020 is impacting the shape of our industry and how we might continue to change as we move forward.

After months of webinars and discussions over what might become of us all, hotels are still under planning and construction in the region.

At the same time as brave owners are looking to expand and open up, other, equally brave owners are shutting up shop across the hotel, hospitality and retail sectors. No-one is immune (other than, it would appear, tech wizards, entrepreneurs with deep curious vision and the food delivery aggregators). Entrepreneurs are close to the front line, they know what is going on, and I wonder how many senior executives are constrained so much to the boardroom, concentrating on transformational demands, they are missing what’s happening outside.

I once worked for a visionary company where we partnered with a small entrepreneur to learn from them. We built a huge company very quickly by being in touch with the front line, we pivoted quickly and were allowed to make decisions fast. We combined corporate power with an agile fleet-of-foot approach that was a critical success factor to our business then and now.

It’s not just about what’s on the menu, it’s sometimes about who is coming back first. The younger generation are more mentally and physically immune to what is pandemically going on, and it might make sense to manoeuvre towards them, not with transformational bulldozing but menu tweaks, music profiling, lighting, messaging, social content and more.

Entrepreneurs think deeply, have a curious mind, are brave and not too afraid to go forward without the need for boardroom pontificating and screen gazing. However, one person’s pontificating is another’s strategy, and strategise we may, but never before have we been more challenged to think outside the box when it comes to using our properties and transforming projects already on the go.

What will become of the cavernous spaces owned by landlords who were determined not to give in to tenants but are now offering deals on locations people could only dream of previously?

Hotel rooms are now offered for longs stays, malls could flip to become co-working and living spaces that include sleeping pods, tropical roof top allotments, offices by the hour, concierge shopping for the free and easy (and not just the wealthy), and tech.

Personality will never replace tech fully, but it can, and is, learning about your personality and, as a result, is customising your lifestyle without you knowing it.

Over the border in Saudi Arabia, they can learn from all these factors and the ability to combine visionary designers with Arabian entrepreneurship and a ‘flex-on-the-go’ spirit is coming at a brilliant time. Giga-projects will become the envy of the world, highways to and from airports to the shores of the Red Sea will become routes of wonder, and city centres will evolve to become vibrant financial, retail and culinary spaces. Cloud kitchens will emerge to become villages where driverless electric cars and drones deliver from one side and, on the other, global expats mingle with today’s once normal expectations.

David Singleton has worked in the hospitality and retail industry around the world as a brand builder, creator, operator, franchisee, and franchisor for some of the world’s best known and respected brands. He moderates, speaks, writes, advises and mentors across the hospitality and service sectors globally. Find out more at, and @singletoncity

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