Predictions for Hotel Operations Post COVID-19
By Alexander Shashou Co-Founder and President, ALICE | July 12, 2020
No one could have predicted that a global pandemic would be the black swan event that would send our industry to a screeching halt and set the world into a tailspin.
Throughout the spring, we watched as so many of our partners and friends in hospitality temporarily closed their doors or dramatically altered their operations to protect their staff and guests from COVID-19. For now, it seems as if we're finally turning a corner. In the first week of June 2020, more than 100 ALICE customers reopened their hotels, and an additional 250 hotels opened their doors by the first week of July. At this point, we have also spoken to 95% of our customer base about their hopes to reopen over the coming months.
With this data, here at ALICE, we strongly believe that the hotel industry will come back. But coming back is not the end game. We live in a different landscape for the time being, and it's the hotels that can adapt and change that will have the most success.
At the beginning of every year we see companies making predictions, and this year, we even saw predictions for the decade. Who will be the innovators? What shifts will we see in hotel guest behavior? What technology will become essential for hotels and what companies will find themselves irrelevant?
Any predictions that were published before March of this year are no longer applicable to this decade, let alone 2020. We are now focusing on rebuilding. The recipe for rebuilding our industry is easy to understand and yet infinitely difficult to implement: what should hotels double down on and what should they discard?
Here at ALICE, we've made a few predictions for what post COVID-19 hotel operations will look like (we've even written a guide to them!) and what it will take for hotels to adapt. A lean hotel isn't about empty echoing hallways and the end of fun -- it is about the identification and eradication of waste, valuing your team's time and energy. The key to long term success in a tough market is not fighting to survive the storm, but it is learning how to play in the rain.
More With Less Isn't a Paradox, It's the Future
As it did in 2008, we believe demand will ramp up over time. Hotels will initially reopen in a partial manner, keeping certain floors shut down and running at reduced staff counts in order to control costs. Every expenditure will have to be assessed against these new constraints and will need to be able to demonstrate value.
Early indications are that the expectation of reduced staff counts and an increased focus on efficiency, safety, and heightened cleanliness standards will require hotels to have better tools to solve their problems. Hotels will need to "do more with less", which is where technology provides the most leverage. Hotel staff will also need to wear multiple hats. Throughout the hotel, roles could become more fluid, as staff will be asked to cover more ground, adhere to new procedures and work with smaller teams.
High Tech, Not High Touch
The demand for contactless technology has skyrocketed, and that won't change anytime soon. Throughout the recovery, hoteliers will be asking themselves how they can continue to deliver the expected hospitality experience, while managing the health and safety of both their staff and their guests. Each hotel will answer this question uniquely, for their specific needs, but the answers will be guided by shared principles.
From mobile check-in to keyless entry, the amount of physical assets that change hands will decrease. Minimizing face to face guest and staff interactions will also be a common trend. Technology will help hoteliers adapt to a future with contactless communication and contactless hospitality.
Luxury Will be Redefined
Luxury has been confused with excess, but it is best understood as a protective layer, a fence around a fence, an ornate system of pre-determined interlocking systemic failsafes. Hotels would do well to understand that the high-ADR guest still wants luxury, but they may redefine it as personalized safety, in-room whimsies ("If I can't go out to it, bring it here"), or heavily guided and guarded expeditions.
Luxury is now being redefined in terms of safety and cleanliness. What was once a request for champagne in the room may now be a request for the mini bar, and other physical assets, to be removed. What was once a request for a dinner reservation at the most exclusive restaurant is now a reservation at a restaurant with expansive outdoor seating areas.
The best way for hotels to speed up their recovery is to understand how guest expectations will change in a post COVID-19 environment. In order for consumers to feel confident that it is safe to begin staying in hotels again, the hotel will have to feel as close to a safe haven as their own home. This means they will be expecting heightened cleaning standards, clear and rigorous policies around social distancing and contact-free interactions, and transparency into what the hotels are doing to accomplish these things.
Staff Expectations Will Mirror Guest Expectations When it Comes to Safety
Staff will also need to be taken into consideration when it comes to reopening hotels. Hotels cannot operate without employees and while COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on the hospitality workforce, we are hearing from hotels that it is not so easy bringing everyone back. With the current increased unemployment benefits offered in the US, and the ongoing risk of catching COVID-19, not all hotel staff are rushing back to work. As employees do return, it's never been more important to value and protect the health of everybody on the property - guests and staff alike.
Much like guests, staff members will need to be confident in the safety of the hotel prior to returning to the workplace. It will be critical for hotels to create clear SOPs for their staff members when it comes to how they interact with each other as well as with guests. Measures will be required to limit human contact in both the front and back of house, and personal protective equipment (PPE) will be a requirement for certain roles. Hotels will also need to put policies in place around monitoring staff's health to ensure that a sick staff member does not infect their colleagues.
Team Alignment is Still a Hotel's Best Tool
Coordination of opportunities and failures are the precondition for every plan we have. Many of the biggest systemic issues in hotels are actually coordination failures. They are only solvable if everyone can agree to do the same thing at the same time. At ALICE, we've found that it is only possible to change things on a department level if we are able to communicate hotel wide. When every team member in the hotel knows that everyone knows, changing what we do is much easier.
According to Michael Suk-Young Chwe (Rational Ritual: Culture, Coordination, and Common Knowledge), for people to coordinate on the basis of certain information it must be "common knowledge." The more public and visible the change is, the better. "Common knowledge depends not only on me knowing that you receive a message but also on the existence of a shared symbolic system which allows me to know how you understand it."
Hotel Concierges May Be the Difference
Hotels are about experience and it would be easy to think that during this pandemic, guests will want a limited experience and have less need for the Concierge. Early recovery data is indicating this to be untrue. In the first phase of reopening, domestic travel is returning much faster than business travel and we are seeing firsthand that this first surge of guests are looking to escape from their COVID confinement. They want experiences, and Concierges are busier than ever mapping out local areas, understanding what is open, and what precautions are being taken at every restaurant, bar, museum and tourist attraction.
We have seen Concierge be the first point of contact for your loyal guests who are looking for assurances from trusted sources about your new sanitization standards, and your city's public health status. Concierges, trained Guest Communications Experts, may be tasked with fielding questions about cleaning procedures, products used, disease control and prevention, and how the hotel is tracking it all.
As properties reopen, those with a Concierge will be well positioned to cater to guests' new requests. As always, they will be the confident, comforting voice providing information and stability within a hotel. The core purpose of the Concierge has not, and will not, change. They are the ultimate providers of hospitality - but the definition of what great hospitality is in these times is shifting.
So, what do we double down on as we move forward? What we always have: hospitality. And right now, that means providing a safe, clean space for guests and employees, and embracing the new SOPs that make this possible.
HotelExecutive retains the copyright to the articles published in the Hotel Business Review. Articles cannot be republished without prior written consent by HotelExecutive.