The Boutique Vibe Barometer – March 2021 

The only survey that measures the sentiment of Small & Independent Hotels Across The Med Sea 

Improvement in booking velocity – but not there, yet

Looking back at the peak of the crisis, in September 2020, a staggering 95% of the hoteliers responded that their level of bookings was worse or much worse than the year before, and the trend remained very similar in December 2020 with 92% reporting the same. While the sentiment has not completely reversed, we have seen a 20pp drop with 72% of the hoteliers reporting booking performance below the previous year and the remaining 28% saying it’s about the same or even better. 

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Drilling down to a country level, Tunisia seems to be recovering faster than the average, with 60% of the hoteliers reporting booking levels close to, or above the previous year. In contrast, France seems to be deep into the red with 90% of the hoteliers reporting booking below last year, and Cyprus following them closely with 83% stating the same. 

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Looking ahead, a taste of Mediterranean Summer in 2021 

While the end of last year found most hoteliers completely demoralized, with 71% stating that they forecast a negative or very negative future, the small rise in bookings in combination with government action and the adoption of strong vaccination policies has somehow reversed the picture. Merely 43% of the hoteliers are pessimistic about the coming 6 months (-28pp change) and, for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic, 28% of the responders are seeing a positive or very positive future.

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Once again, drilling down to a country level we can see the impact of strong action by governments. Greek hoteliers are ahead of all others, with more than half (51%) forecasting positive or very positive 6 months ahead with Tunisia hoteliers coming second in optimism (30%). Once again French hoteliers after reporting lower booking they also report a more pessimistic view of the future with 90% forecasting negative or very negative performance followed closely by Italian with 71% on the same. 

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What keeps hoteliers awake at night? 

We have been reporting on the main concerns of hoteliers, outside COVID-19, for a full year now. As expected, the potential softening of the global economy remains the top concern for hoteliers across the region (consistently for 9 months now) but this time merely 34% reported it as their top worry (compare to 46% last quarter).  The rise of various costs and the limited power that smaller hotel owners have when negotiating with suppliers jumped to 17% – indicating a further need for hotels to join communities of likeminded businesses and compete through collaboration. For the first time since the beginning of the pandemic, the threat of new trends in accommodation (i.e. Airbnb) seems to be concerning the hoteliers (15%) are they are turning their attention back to how they can better compete. 

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Operations are consistently the second biggest pain point for hoteliers, with 26% of them reporting that they require even more focus than before. We took a deep dive into this and look at how hoteliers described operations in the last 3 months, compared to the same period last year. While 66% of them reported that operations are worse or much worse than last year, this is an improvement compared to last quarter (-14pp). On the positive side, almost 1 out of 10 responders reported that operations are better or much better than last year – potentially indicating a stepchange in this area. 

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Sustainability deeply embedded in the DNA of Small Boutique Hotels 

In complete contrast with expectation, sustainability remains at the center of small, independent boutique hotels in the Med sea, with 70% of the responders reporting the same. What remains an issue is communication and awareness for potential travellers who seem to be unaware of this. The Boutique Vibe remains committed to helping hoteliers on this front, by launching our sustainability ranking and doing a detailed and thorough report on every hotel’s sustainability initiatives we actively step in to support our members. 

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Drilling down to country level, Greek (90%), Croatia (78%), France (80%) and Tunisia (80%) are outranking the average hotel – being at the forefront of sustainability. 

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Investment – optimism translates into action

While the COVID-19 crisis has pulled the brakes on investments, with almost half (45%) of the hoteliers being unable to commit to any type of investment, this quarter we are reporting a spike in plans for major investments 

14% of the responders (almost 3x the percentage since the beginning of the pandemic a year ago) reported that they are planning some kind of major investment (worth $ 50,000 or more) – very much aligned with the stepchange in the booking and forecasted business performance.  

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Responding to the crisis with different tools

At The Boutique Vibe, we have been monitoring hotelier’s response to what is considered to be the worst crisis the travel industry has ever seen, since day one.  

While most hotels have to deploy a set of tough but necessary measures, including staff reductions (53% of the responders), additional costcutting (42%), reduction in operating period (32%) we also see bold and brave movers, focusing on the day after and changing their customer focus (36%), hotel renovation (36%) and the increasing marketing spend (19%). 

For the first time since the beginning of the pandemic, we see hoteliers focusing on upgrading their website (30%) and investing in new back-office IT systems (15%) – indicating a change in marketing and distribution strategies for small independent hotels. Hoteliers are using the opportunity presented by the pandemic to cut off the shackles that kept them dependent on large 3rd party re-sellers and focus more on facilitating direct bookings.   

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Once again, The Boutique Vibe is stepping in to facilitate this – starting April 2021 we will be redirecting all bookings for our exclusive hotel partners directly to their websites, aiming at supporting them better market their product and reduce the total cost of sales. 


About this report 

The Boutique Vibe Barometer is an ongoing assessment of hoteliers sentiment across the Mediterranean. 

The survey was answered by 125 small boutique hotels from Albania, Croatia, Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Morocco, Slovenia, Spain, Tunisia, and Turkey. 

Hoteliers were prompted about their business performance and concerns in regards to the COVID-19 pandemic .