For starters, most of us at some stage have complained about ‘The Tourists’. Now, getting people back to the capital is the centrepiece of post-Covid economic planning.
Technology will be the backbone of a safe return to what we might call a ‘functional normal’. Covid-19 will never entirely disappear, nor will the habits it has forced onto us.
It took a great deal of work to digitise and socially distance bars and restaurants over the last 12 months. Rules and guidance will likely be tightened when ‘normal’ is on the horizon. There will be ongoing expenses to remodel B&Bs and hotels for the new trading environment.
Parallel to the pandemic has been the Scottish government’s promise to crack down on short-term lets in the capital. Regulations were approved last week at Holyrood which have tightened planning and licencing requirements for STLs.
However, ‘Airbnbs’ has become an umbrella term incorrectly lumping in aparthotels, which are self-serviced apartments. Most models seek to combine the best amenities of both luxury apartments and hotels. They already emphasise distance by design which makes them a ready-made post-Covid solution.
There’s a virtual concierge and you self-check-in online. Contactless service makes people feel more secure. The rooms usually have the likes of fully equipped kitchens, in-unit laundry, comprehensive amenities and plenty of room for work or relaxation. Stays can be for short stays or months at a time. There’s minimum need for in-person contact and an emphasis on privacy.
These short-term lets may hold an unexpected key for the city. There is an animosity that surrounds Airbnbs (of which the capital has around 10,000). The regulations were meant to tackle noise and anti-social behaviour in tenement-style Airbnbs, not dedicated STL buildings.
Aparthotels on the other hand are a technologically robust solution that will appeal to tourists wanting accommodation in a distanced way. If there is to be a bounce back to normal with tourists returning to the city, then ‘classic’ hospitality will have to be revamped. The adoption of innovative technology will become a requirement.
Aparthotels, like Sonder’s Royal Garden Apartments on Queen Street, are already ahead of the curve. Contactless is already the new norm. If this sound strange, consider the process has been 12-months in the making for the hospitality sector. Pubs and restaurants already use QR-codes for table service. Contactless payments for shops and transport were already the norm before Covid-19.
As we a look ahead, we need to think laterally about how to return to normal. Not only that, but we need to encourage technologies, services, sectors and businesses already offering easy digital and virtual solutions.
Alastair Stewart is a freelance writer and public affairs consultant