The COVID-19 pandemic is causing sudden, seismic consequences for many commercial markets, especially hospitality and education. For Aspecta, the big question was, how will the pandemic affect commercial flooring manufacturers in these sectors? How many hotel and school projects will be cancelled or postponed, including renovations? After five months into the “new normal”, we’re finding that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Hospitality Pivots to Safety, Hygiene
For the hospitality industry, in the early stages of the pandemic, developers opted to delay or postpone new building projects and existing properties were forced to shut down operations. Alternatively, many property owners have made the best of the situation by implementing renovation projects. One important learning curve we discovered through all of these scenarios is how the typical sales process for these orders has assumed a different dynamic: safety and hygiene now lead the dialog. Hoteliers understand that first and foremost, their customers need to feel secure in their guest rooms and public areas. Cleanability and functionality now meet design and performance as equally important criteria for choosing flooring.
As the scope of the pandemic grew, chain hoteliers increased their due diligence on providing the cleanest possible environment in order to manage their own protocols with the most efficiency. Hoteliers and maintenance teams became increasingly aware of the role that hard surface/resilient flooring can play in this scenario. Its cleanability ranks higher than other surfaces, especially carpet, as does its performance. As standardized practices for cleanability and social distancing have evolved, so have purchase decisions.
For example, one global hotel chain has chosen our new Elemental by Aspecta with Isocore multilayer flooring for its European-inspired global brand for multiple reasons: cleanability, performance/durability and acoustic properties, followed by style and design. Elemental contributes greatly to these properties’ functional beauty in their clutter-free guestrooms and modern, open layouts. As more hotels embrace the unique benefits of hard surface flooring, we are standing by our focus on the Hospitality sector as an ultimate growth sector for Aspecta.
More and more independent properties are following a similar strategy with even boutique hoteliers pivoting and understanding that it’s crucial to present the safest possible environment to guests by establishing their own cleanliness and safety standards.
While value-conscious properties may still gravitate to carpet based on price, other hotels are increasingly accepting hard surface with open arms. We are seeing an influx of renovation projects, as construction and workplace restrictions are eased. Ironically, new hotel development continues to be strong, with more projects delayed than canceled.
Education: Up In The Air
For education, restrictions are ruling the marketplace. It’s hard to predict what back to school will mean come September. The need for social distancing will direct many decisions, as school systems anticipate the need to scale down how many students can safely be accommodated at one time. Construction schedules and when students can physically return to classrooms are not yet defined and may restrict decisions about the remodeling process. New education construction as well as school renovations have been negatively impacted by this pandemic and as a result, Aspecta did not see a normal ramp-up of activity over the summer. The impact of the general economic downturn indicates that school renovation budgets will come under close scrutiny. It’s hard to justify renovations or even new structures given an anticipated loss of tax revenue.
Having said that, we predict that flooring design will become the new indicator for wayfinding, social distancing and even traffic flow, such as one-way corridors for navigating spaces. This is where flooring can contribute greatly to the safety of schools – along with hotels, retail, and workplaces. With school calendars in flux, future decisions about renovations and new building may have to wait until 2021.
Overall, while early days of the pandemic caused a halt in flooring purchasing decisions, my gut feeling after speaking with distributors and customers is that it is time to get back to business – not business as usual, but a move forward toward the long-haul process of building a new normal.