By Larry and Adam Mogelonsky
A keyword to keep in mind in this post-coronavirus era of travel is ‘friction’. While vaccine statuses will soon become ubiquitously digitized via uploads to a mobile wallet or shared amongst governmental databases referenced at each passport swipe, it’s the COVID-19 tests that present far greater an obstacle, in turn broadly impeding the hotel industry from reattaining 2019 occupancy figures.
Until such time as antigen or rapid PCR tests are no longer required, getting across international borders is a steep burden in both the time taken to arrange the test prior to departure and the cost of the test itself. For many, regardless of political views or fear over the possible risk of viral spread, this point of friction is a dealbreaker.
Compare this to, for instance, the increased security measures after 9/11, which resulted in longer lineups and more excessive disrobing at security checkpoints but still no additive costs to the end consumer beyond those paid forward via a loftier airport tax and buried into the ticket price. The situation is different two decades later because now travelers must make separate arrangements for a coronavirus test and absorb the external cost – the latter increasing the perceived total cost because it isn’t concealed within the airfare.
But getting across international borders is far beyond any single hotel or hotelier’s control. Nevertheless, the context of this newfangled friction is important because, besides the time and money, there’s also the emotional toll. Guests who make it to the hotel lobby have to go through so many more hoops that it can all become draining and predispose some to have a mediocre, if not negative, perception of their chosen property.
What we can control is the ‘sense of arrival’ – those first instances where the guest makes digital then physical contact with the brand – and it would serve a hotel well to consider these first impressions in terms of how they will influence loyalty and word of mouth going forward.
This can be a more elaborate gesture such as an interior makeover to make the lobby a more inviting space or the presence of welcome refreshments. Specific to COVID-19 sanitization concerns, you can add something that will also exude a sense of calm and empathy like a state-of-the-art UV-C mobile phone cleaner near the check-in desk.
Small but meaningful in-room arrival gifts and handwritten notes delivered in a ‘surprise and delight’ manner are also viable options to achieve this goal. You can even go the route of arranging for transportation from the airport. But oftentimes something as simple as a bellhop opening the front door or greeting a guest by name can make all the difference.
Resorts have long excelled at this sense of arrival but given the context nowadays all hotels should give some thoughts about devoting some budget for 2022 to upgrading the guest experience in this manner. Each property is different and thus each property needs a different, but still creative, solution as well as one that can be done cheaply and effectively amidst tight staffing concerns.
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