By Larry Mogelonsky, MBA, P. Eng. (www.hotelmogel.com)
With no clear end to the COVID-19 craziness, many companies are considering permanent work-from-home policies. While this may be troubling news for commercial real estate owners, there is an opportunity for hotels to capitalize upon this post-pandemic trend.
While there are some very strong benefits to this new way of life – such as saving time on commuting, more flexible work schedules and fewer Starbucks runs draining the wallet – a few stark drawbacks are starting to make themselves known. Namely, people can get somewhat stir-crazy from being isolated. We are social animals, after all, and working from home for extended stretches without the usual office camaraderie is leading to a significant uptick in reported anxiety and depression.
Luckily, corporate executives aren’t blind to this repercussion, with many already in hot pursuit of a way to keep their teams happy and healthy, while still abiding by physical distancing rules. Hotels can help in this regard by pivoting to meet the demand for remote office spaces and small group meetings.
Before you even consider how to package and promote to this emerging segment, operational changes may be required. The remote workforce will want inspirational spaces to temporarily get away from their respective houses that are also equipped with all the appropriate devices and furnishings so that they can work just as efficiently from a hotel as they would from home. Think second monitor hookups, ergonomic chairs, desk lamps and uncluttered desks as a start. Hybrid meeting setups must be readily accessible, with a few employees together on-property while others are looped in via a large flatscreen TV with seamless videoconferencing. These adaptations may also require reorienting your suites inventory or even combining two connected rooms into a single sellable product.
For such ‘work from a hotel’ models to be attractive to companies, specific services must be developed to appeal to corporate guests, both to fulfill the need for viral safety and to motivate workers for improved performance. For the former, contactless on-demand room delivery must be made available, particularly for F&B. For the latter, if you are a resort proprietor then you might consider allocating certain indoor or outdoor spaces as office pods. Perhaps you can develop new wellness programs aimed entirely at executives who need to destress or come to terms with these new living conditions.
On the sales and marketing side, packaging this new type of product should come with a discount for autumn and winter midweek stays in order to boost occupancy during these traditionally low stretches. As there are several prominent hotel brands already pursuing this niche, do your research to see what they offer and what price point is right for your territory. You might also consider negotiating a subscription model with select businesses where recurrent stays are desired.
To cite an example of this adaptation, we reached out to John Knowles, Director of Marketing and Co-Owner at the Roger Smith Hotel. The 136-room property in Midtown Manhattan has recently undergone an executive office transformation to appeal mostly to businesses within the tristate area looking for a centrally located safe place to host small group meetings as well as give their teams comfortable guestrooms to be productive away from the house in the suburbs. As this requires an incremental process of learning about the different concerns and protocols in real-time while still providing a great New York hotel experience, the project began with a subset of 22 room conversions and pilot groups testing the new product in August before a grand unveiling and more inventory availability in this category for September.
To end, know that this is part of the ‘next’ normal rather than the ‘new’ normal, implying a moving target of trends and guest demands over a binary switch of behaviors. That is, while a package that appeals to the work-from-a-hotel crowd may resonate now, there’s no telling where we will be six months from now. We may be back in lockdown from a second wave of this pandemic, or we may all be back to our 2019 habits with the coronavirus well in the past.
For any case, you have to be nimble in how you respond to market conditions. As of now, it is looking like working remotely is here to stay, and thus you should examine your options in terms of giving corporate guests a good reason to choose your hotel for their next hybrid or bleisure trip.
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Editor’s note: To discuss business challenges or speaking engagements please contact Larry directly.