By Pierre Boettner
Skift has coined a new term: permanxiety. "The near constant state of anxiety that exists now around the world." I don't love the term, but I get where they are coming from. People are anxious, not just about travel, but about natural disasters and political upheaval and terror attacks. Let's be real, though, most people are anxious about paying the bills and meeting deadlines and just generally managing their lives even when there isn't an onslaught of unpredictable event in unpredictable locations around the world.
Nevertheless, "Travel in an Age of Permanxiety" offers valuable and necessary suggestions for being as hospitable as possible with travelers who are generally out of sorts these days. Suggestions include training staff to have greater awareness and offer empathy, especially in handling issues related to cultural differences or accessibility issues.
Here's the thing about travelers and anxiety. What creates (and has always created) anxiety for travelers is the prospect that things aren't going to go according to plan. This was the problem long ago when we used paper maps to drive cars the size of small tanks across the country just to check into a motor lodge. Travelers worried that their reservations would be screwed up, because hotels have always screwed up reservations. Of course they have. Every business screws up.
BUT… most businesses get better at one problem and then move on to another. Hotels, on the other hand, are still giving travelers the wrong room. Only 5% of guests regularly report receiving the room they requested. I could understand this when we were taking reservations over the phone, making manual mistakes, back in those paper map days. Here we are in 2017 with online reservations, email reservation confirmations, and mobile check-in, and the front desk is still manually handling room assignments.
Perhaps in addition to empathy training we should consider that a fundamentally solid strategy for helping travelers with their anxiety is to actually alleviate a problem that is 100% known to cause anxiety. We are able to give travelers the room they want. We're actually able to do better than that and give them more choices about their room—and still give them the room they want. We are also able to automate this process making the front-of-house more efficient, which then allows them to use their energy to better serve guests with the real unavoidable problems.
Last year HomeAway launched an ad campaign meant to chip away a little at the hotel and home-sharing experiences. Among other unsavory things, the "HomeAway From It All" ads feature a "pool apocalypse" and noisy honeymooning guests in the room above. In the first quarter of 2017, Homeway saw a 48% increase in bookings compared to the same period the prior year (Wall Street Journal). Seems like they're on to something with this suggestion that a hotel guest doesn't have any control over their experience. If hotels can do anything at this point to hold onto their market share, it's to start by building confidence among travelers that hotels will actually handle the things that can be controlled—the rooms, cleanliness, food, Wi-Fi, and so forth—and handle them well.
Then go further than the simple promise of a clean room with a bed and bathroom, which is where most hotels have stopped for a lack of decent technology. Needless to say, offering the same thing everyone else can offer doesn't get you very far in a fiercely competitive market. So many have responded to the pressure by focusing outside the property (i.e., fighting third-parties, even going so far as to look to regulators to rein in new competition), but hotels that recognize and capitalize on the unique services and amenities only they can offer will get much further.