Standard International’s new CEO on the new sense of adventure

Skift grip

The hotel group is operationally ready to remove Covid changes like QR codes and on-demand housekeeping, according to Amber Asher, as guests again seek full-service hospitality.

Matthew Parson

There are a lot of words that most people would like to forget, or at least attribute to history. The Covid-19 will be part of it, and the new CEO of the hotel group International standard that’s all for.

Ahead of her Skift’s Future of Lodging Forum debut next week, Amber Asher also thinks lifestyle could be another word ready to be banned from the dictionary, as it’s already part of the hotel’s DNA.

Asher will speak at Skift’s next in-person event, May 11-12 in New York City, during a session titled “Lifestyle Evolution in Hospitality.”

Skift: It’s been six months since you took on the role of CEO. What were the highlights and biggest challenges during this time?

Asher: The highlight of the past six months has been feeling the world’s renewed desire to travel, and then seeing it reflected in our numbers. The industry is back in full force and our customers are catching up two years behind. This new sense of adventure speaks directly to our openings in Ibiza this week and Bangkok Mahanakhon this summer. A year or two ago, these destinations might have seemed impossible, and now they’re a priority for travelers in the US, Europe and beyond.

The biggest challenge has been tackling the burnout felt by hospitality professionals who have weathered the toughest months of the pandemic. It took a heavy toll. We had to get creative to find other ways to support and care for our team, and we learned a lot.

Skift: As more countries ease their restrictions, how optimistic do you feel? And as we emerge from the pandemic, is there any optimism influencing your strategy for the hotel group?

Asher: I am extremely optimistic. And the proof is in the numbers: rates, occupancy rates, record food and drink covers. Our hotels, restaurants and bars are full and we are delighted to surpass our 2019 performance. This creates space for our teams to think even bigger. It’s a huge relief, but more importantly, it’s energizing. The momentum is strong.

This boom atmosphere has brought the most exciting development opportunities into our orbit, for The Standard and Bunkhouse. Standard is strongly associated with primary markets, but the mass exodus from major cities has changed our perspective to include secondary cities and less “expected” markets in general, such as Hua Hin, Thailand, where we have just opened a Standard a few months ago. There are all kinds of great places around the world and here in the United States that would be perfect for a Standard, and we’re exploring them.

Operationally, we are ready to remove some of the Covid changes that guests have come to expect in hotels, such as QR codes and housekeeping on demand. Guests are ready to experience full-service hospitality again, and we’re getting back to what we do best. All.

Skift: How does Standard International intend to continue to remain agile and creative, at a time when major hotel groups are actively pursuing lifestyle and luxury concepts?

Asher: Lifestyle has been part of our DNA for over 20 years. It’s not something we have to actively pursue – it’s who we are and what our customers expect from us. We wouldn’t approach hospitality any other way.

Skift: The theme of the event is the “big merger” – how to position a hotel in the face of the growing popularity of short-term rentals, especially in the luxury space.

Asher: Personally, I think people crave the energy, experiences, and interactions that come effortlessly from hotels, restaurants, and nightlife. We’ve all been in our homes for years, cooking and cleaning for ourselves. In the minds of many travelers, short-term rentals were crucial for health and safety during the pandemic, but people are ready for more. Much more.

Skift: What opportunities do you see when it comes to attracting remote workers or digital nomads? Are they an important part of the guest mix?

Asher: Digital nomadism was on the rise before the pandemic, but Covid made sure it was here to stay. The past two years have made this way of life accessible to more of us. In a way, our Stowaway program anticipated this disruption years before the curve. Stowaway offers discounted fares and special long-stay benefits so customers can travel more cheaply and stay longer, and we benefit from this dynamic component of the customer base.

We are now seeing remote workers taking longer trips that are beginning to replace traditional mid-week business travelers. These guests are not traveling for a meeting or a conference, but for a change of scenery, an opportunity to discover a new city…. for themselves.

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