By David Millili
They say that smooth seas do not make for skillful sailors, and indeed, over the past several months, that belief has been put to the test. As global communities continue to work tirelessly to combat the spread of the coronavirus, the hospitality industry has been placed in an incredibly vulnerable position. But, within that sobering reality, it’s important to remember that the hospitality sector is no stranger to crisis. Our industry has survived countless challenges and periods of economic downturn, and COVID-19 is no exception.
Now, as our economy braces for revival, hospitality leaders have their focus trained on the future. What does the future hold? Better yet, what does the path to recovery look like for hotels? Our comeback may be imminent, but it will undoubtedly require more than just changes in safety and sanitation protocols; hoteliers will need to reimagine the way they serve guests and meet their new expectations.
When Will it be Safe to Travel Again?
Currently, we have no concrete timeline for a return to the new normalcy, especially as it relates to the travel sector. Experts predict that the industry might begin seeing a rebound in typical demand within 18 to 24 months. In the meantime, most airports are maintaining new security standards, which include traveler screening and reduced aircraft capacity to allow for more distance between passengers. Just a few months ago, EasyJet was one of the first airlines to consider the possibility of keeping middle seats open, while Chinese airline Air Changa was offering passengers the option to buy up to eight seats at a reduced cost to maintain social distancing. However, as of July 1st, American Airlines once again began filling their flights to capacity, including middle seats. If a passenger is on a crowded flight, the airline notes that they can change their flight for free if an alternative flight is available. In-flight service is limited, depending on the duration of the flight, with flights until 2,200 miles receiving no snack or drink service. Delta Airlines, on the other hand, will continue blocking middle seats and certain aisle seats on its flights until September 30th. Once again, passengers who do not wish to travel on a crowded flight can rebook an alternative flight for free.
Duetto Research has released a Pulse Report which highlighted the most up-to-date demand signals for the global hotel inventory, including key metrics for all regions. The report indicates that hotel web traffic shows early signs of positive trends, as prospective guests eager to return to travel tentatively book stays for the latter part of the year. With lockdowns easing across Europe and both airlines and hotels offering free cancellation policies, we hope to see a slow but steady increase in future travel reservations. In the meantime, hotels should look to capitalize on the anticipated demand of ‘staycation’ options for guests craving an experience that keeps them close to home.
Hotel Industry Guidelines for a Cleaner Future
Understandably, hotels will be expected to adopt heightened cleaning standards moving forward, as cleanliness will be a critical factor in a guests’ decision to book a hotel room. To this effect, The American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) recently introduced ‘Safe Stay’, an industry-wide, enhanced standard of health and safety protocols. This initiative was created to better prepare US hotels for the return of guests and employees as global lockdown measures are lifted in the coming months.
The AHLA’s announcement follows the World Health Organization’s guidance on the “Operational considerations for COVID-19 management in the accommodation sector”, as well as The Malaysian Association of Hotels’ (MAH) new “Clean and Safe” campaign. The campaign provides a best practice protocol that hotels can utilize to become certified as “clean and safe,”; a policy framework that various hotels around the world are now adopting, including Marriott International, which recently launched its Global Cleanliness Council. Much like MAH’s Clean and Safe campaign, Marriott’s council aims to elevate cleanliness standards to meet the new health and safety challenges we face in the current climate.
These guidelines mark an essential step to future-proofing the hospitality industry, as leaders will be able to clearly communicate and enforce new standards of cleanliness to staff and prospective guests alike. Paired with public health recommendations relating to COVID-19, hotels will be expected to exercise a heightened level of transparency and care when communicating their property standards.
Improving an Already Rigorous Protocol
Of course, hotels have always adopted high standards of care relating to cleanliness. Long before this pandemic, guests often viewed hotels under a rather critical microscope with perceived cleanliness as a primary factor in their decision to book a property. In many ways, the presentation of a hotel property was held in equal importance to the provision of exemplary guest service. As such, hotel staff have always been expected to uphold rigorous cleaning and disinfection procedures. Hotels might be wondering, what will these new best practices look like?
Hotels will need to quickly identify touchpoints where they will make changes to meet the new health and safety challenges. While specific procedures may differ across properties, many properties will look to adopt the following changes:
- Appoint a ‘Cleanliness Manager’
- Promote ‘cleaning protocols’ to guests
- Upgrade cleaning products and increase the frequency of disinfection and upkeep
- Enhance food and restaurant safety and sanitary processes
- Screen guests and employees for COVID-19 symptoms
- Maintain physical distance/barriers between guests and employees
- Require masks or protective equipment for staff and where applicable, guests
- Prohibit employees and guests who have recently traveled or visited high-risk areas
- Leverage self-service and contact-free technology and services where applicable
- Digitize in-room and on-property items like menus, information, brochures, etc.
- Reconsider or revise some amenities and offering to avoid contact
- Hold frequent meetings to clarify employee responsibilities and have ongoing training
- Prepare action plan for event response procedures when alerted of a COVID-19 case
While we do not yet have all the answers, there is one sentiment that remains undeniable — the travel and hospitality industry will once again thrive. Historically, global events such as the coronavirus pandemic are a catalyst to industry transformation and innovation, and the coming year will provide hotels with the opportunity to reinvent their offering to serve a post-pandemic world. Change is imminent, but so is our industry’s revival, and hotels will undoubtedly rise to the occasion.
Stay tuned for part two of our four-part series, in which we will delve into reimagining hotel touchpoints, addressing heightened cleaning standards and innovative self-service technology as part of the ‘new normal’ across our industry.