By F.F. Miles and Frederick DeMicco Ph.D., Professor, the Franke College of Business, School of Hotel and Restaurant Management, Northern Arizona University
With our extraordinary downturn in hospitality and travel, I sought out a corporate business traveler, a frequent flyer, road warrior extraordinaire and someone in our global travel industry who occupies the C-Suite. With travel starting to spring back to life, especially for leisure travelers, I thought it would be a good idea to interview a frequent traveler to learn what life is all about today when flying, staying in hotels and renting cars, etc.
Below reflects my interview with F.F. Miles with a goal of providing insights for enhancing the overall guest experience during covid-19.
Collateral Damage: Customer Services/Customer Hospitality
Observations on current travels in September/October 2020.
As a “road warrior” and frequent global traveler, like many my travels were significantly curtailed during the height of COVID-19. The entire Hospitality Industry from transportation to restaurants, to hotels, to rental cars and to attractions basically locked their doors. From May 1st through August this Frequent Traveler and Frequent Flyer (FT & FF) joined the Zoom approach to doing business. But all business does not readily or ever will transfer to a “zoom” world. It was time to start seeing clients and customers in person in real time in the real world we are all trying to negotiate.
As an FT & FF last year, as typical was over 125,000 in seat air miles and about 20 car rentals, approximately 125 + nights in hotels and timeshares and too many restaurant meals to count. I thought I had seen it all until venturing out to see if the Hospitality Industry will and can rebound from the current situation. I was optimistic at the beginning! As I shared my experiences with a colleague, he asked some very direct questions.
These experiences are based on 6 trips originating from a major East Coast base to various locations. These were:
1= Fly to Orlando for an overnight meeting and using a rental car, lodging and two major airport experiences.
2= Drive over 225 miles each way to Cleveland area in Ohio with 5 nights lodging at a limited service name brand hotel.
3= Drive over 225 miles each direction for a meeting at a limited service name brand hotel in New Jersey.
4= Fly to Atlanta and spend two nights at a full-service name brand hotel.
5= Fly to Las Vegas and spend three nights at a full-service name brand time share, using cab service at the airport.
6= Fly to Orlando for one full week for vacation—currently writing this on this trip.
7= Multiple various restaurants both quick service, full service- but now limited service and takeout due to COVID restrictions
Here is my overall premise and message to the entire Industry. Based on the collective experiences with all of the key players in each market segment, the overall industry is COVID 19 compliant with minimum to little attention on customer services or hospitality. The customer has lost all perks and services to make travelling an integral positive experience. If this continues at current levels, this customer will be no more! Why travel and pay to be told we are COVID 19 compliant, but all common-sense services are cancelled or not available. Maybe Zoom is the answer and we can repurpose all the facilities to other uses.
Here are a few of the issues I encountered. At a limited service lodging property which I was at for 5 nights. Sorry no room cleaning or refreshing for multiple night stays, stated by the manager on duty. Response later that day back to the manger, your TV overview says services by request only. I am requesting daily bathroom cleaning and towels and supplies. Response: No, we will not do it daily, read the sign. My response: I will check out each day, go online (current occupancy was under 15%) and check in to a totally clean room! Response: you cannot do that!
Another example was picking up a rental car in Orlando. Those familiar with MCO airport know there are two sides/locations for rental cars. Upon landing I dutifully read my text from the rental car company telling me to go to 5 Star and select the car I wanted. I walked a long distance only to find they totally closed the B side rental car stations and was directed by a taped note at the rental pickup stating, “closed for COVID-19 go to A terminal.” No, they never posted that to their text message. By the way still true on this trip a month after the first trip. There are multiple additional missed service touch points on all fronts.
Question 1: As a Road Warrior and frequent global traveler, what are your impressions of the state of the industries during COVID-19?
Answer: They are in poor shape and those early adopters ready to come out of hiding will permanently retreat. The entire industry is in a compliant mode and is not offering any services to attract customers. After 6 months people will create new and different ways to avoid the treatments on the road that they are trying to escape from by staying home!
Question 2: As a former corporate executive of a global big brand Hospitality Company what are your observations of service levels and products offered given the pandemic?
Answer: In my opinion the Product is safe, and the facilities are clean. After that with services eliminated and no longer available it is a hardship to travel, not a joy even when you get to your destination. People are avoiding people or not allowed to interact. No reason to travel as the journey is so restricted you have to carry your own food and beverages or wait in long (unhealthy) lines at the airport with Club Rooms closed or extremely limited food/beverage options.
Question 3: What advice would you offer the different segments to enhance services, so customers do start to travel again?
Answer: For hotels all of your cost cutting saves money, but you need to find alternatives that are safe for COVID. Example a limited service big brand lodging facility asked me to “preorder” my breakfast at check-in so I could pick it up and bring it back to my room at a time in the morning. Worked great! For the rental car company, you have the text capability but are not using it to communicate with the customer. Reprogram the automated text highlighting that terminal B is closed. For restaurants have a photocopy of your menu especially for those who despise Q codes and are technically challenged. For the airlines, open the club rooms and train your entire staff to welcome customers instead of being COVID police.
Question 4: Final thoughts?
Answer: Hospitality and all related businesses have always in every major crisis and downturn have responded with Resilience and Enthusiasm. If this does not get woven into the equation quickly the industry will suffer major bankruptcies and permanent closures with the consumer changing their preference for business and personal travel. Wake up Industry leaders and talk to those customers who have used your services in the last 45 days. These early adapters are the barometer for the masses. You are not paying attention!
The future can be positive with new definitions of customer/guest experiences and services. The current leaders are best equipped to lead to new directions. This is meant as a call to ACTION!