There’s no easy way to say it. The COVID-19 pandemic gave the hospitality industry a pretty massive punch in the guts. Occupancy is down by almost 95 percent in some markets, the number of employee layoffs is staggering, and scores of projects remain unfulfilled.
Yet when the pandemic ebbs, and things start to improve, what can travelers and guests expect from hotels? And what new practices and protocols will hotel owners and managers implement to prevent infection?
Based on reports, and conversations of industry leaders with customers and colleagues, there are recovery paths hotel businesses can take to overcome the COVID-19 crisis.
Drop the Rate
According to GlobalData travel and tourism analyst Ralph Hollister, hotels need to “act in a proactive manner by effectively managing room rates and marketing offers to maximize revenues” as the pandemic wanes and demand for the hotel industry increases.
He also said hotels that drop their room rates the fastest, and offer the heaviest discounts will most likely be the last ones to recover when demand for travel returns. However, in the opinion of Becky Lukovic of Bella Travel Planning, it depends on the discounts, and the number of properties that offer them.
She said the public expects discounts, so it will gravitate towards properties that provide them, given that these properties have an acceptable level of comfort and service. A good number of travelers may also be suffering financially, so they may look for discounts to even consider going back to travelling.
Claire Schoeder of Elevations Travel sees the hotel industry to be one of the first travel sectors to bounce back. According to her, hotels will offer “very attractive promotions” that will get travelers booking again.
Hotel employees need to be oriented on the guidelines implemented by the WHO or the local health office on preventing the spread of infection, including social distancing, frequent handwashing, and surface cleaning. Their superiors will have to regularly remind them the importance of following those safety measures. Staff also should be encouraged to wear personal protective equipment.
Hotel employees wearing proper protective gear will likely give guests a sense of safety, and the impression that the hotel is being responsible. To appear stylish than clinical, staff can consider wearing washable fabric masks that could be designed to match their uniform.
Hotels are looking for ways to reduce the number of high-touch areas that can spread infection. Many have already switched to mobile check-in technology to eliminate, or at least limit, the need for clients to interact with the front desk, enabling smartphones to serve as a key card to rooms and elevators.
Hotels may consider removing furniture or reconfiguring many of their areas to facilitate the prescribed six-foot social distancing space. They could even install plexiglass barriers at the front desk to separate guests from hotel staff. Hotel operators have to inform guests about the hotel’s risk mitigation measures.
Changes need to be made to in-house food and beverage offerings to lower the number of touchpoints in dining spaces and bars. Guests are likely to find more grab-and-go food options in the near future, with buffets replaced by staff-attended stations.
Inspired by Healthcare
Medical facilities have taken ideas from the hospitality industry over the past years as hospitals and clinics have redesigned patient rooms to be more comfortable and welcoming. The hospitality industry will now look to healthcare for solutions to make hotels safer. Healthcare practices that hotels can adapt include adding more hand-sanitizers, particularly in heavy-traffic areas like lobbies and public spaces, and ensuring soft goods such as towels and beddings use antimicrobial fabrics.
Hotels that have been converted into makeshift hospitals to accommodate COVID-19 patients could consider installing more powerful HVAC systems in the future. They could even consider installing operable windows to provide guests some level of control over their environment.
More Room to Exercise
With the COVID-19 pandemic changing the way people exercise and get fit, with many discovering that they can workout in their homes instead of hitting the gym, hotel guests may soon desire ample space within their room to workout in addition to the hotel’s fitness room. Hotel gyms will need to be redesigned to open more space between equipment, and enforce more intensive cleaning practices. The pandemic also encouraged more people to exercise outdoors, so guests may seek open-air workout options. Hotels could consider opening rooftop spaces, gardens, and terraces for exercise and group classes, or provide guests with maps of running and walking routes.
Greater than before
The resiliency of the hospitality industry will help it bounce back amidst the Coronavirus pandemic. Hotels across the world should remember how they have dealt with challenging global events and survived. The SARS outbreak in early 2010 contributed to the sharp decline in bookings in Asia and Canada. The September 11 attack severely reduced international travel in the US for more than a year.
Travel returns to a greater level after each setback. China is already seeing a rise on its bookings.
Every major hotel has implemented new safety and cleaning procedures, with some being used by medical workers, necessity travelers, and people who need a safe place to quarantine or to work remotely. Apart from demonstrating safety and cleanliness to guests, hotel operators need to maintain social distancing during the initial phase of reopening. That means limiting the number of people in lobbies, bars and other common areas, as well as keeping gyms and pools closed until the pandemic is abated.
Perhaps the silver lining that comes from the pause of business brought by the COVID-19 is that hotels got a chance to re-think and improve their brand. They can consider focusing on becoming better known for health and wellness programs. A new rating system might replace the usual subjective methods to objectively rate hotels based on cleanliness and safety. Who knows?
Leaving quarantine, people will want to book vacations, and hotels will be eager to welcome them back with new safety protocols and practices in place.
Get ready to bounce back! Complete a hospitality management program at Eton College, and join an industry that continues to survive and grow.