There is no doubt that COVID-19 has had an enormous impact on hotels and the hospitality industry. Essentially a 'people' industry, the hospitality industry stands to lose if people continue to fear travelling and meeting other people. One of the most significant obstacles hotels will have to overcome is regaining guest confidence in the safety, health and hygiene standards maintained by hotels.
Many hotel groups have acted with great integrity and social conscience during the epidemic, providing beds for key workers, ensuring that the homeless and vulnerable had shelter and providing meals and support where it was needed. COVID-19 has however left the hotel sector in a difficult state as travel business, leisure, and in particular long-haul business travel to large hub cities, is curtailed for the foreseeable future.
Hotels are preoccupied with the near-term experience as they change processes and protocols to restore confidence and increase occupancy.
Increasingly hotels are turning to innovation as a way of attracting guests while keeping them safe. Some hotels are using robots as butlers to minimize guest interaction while still delivering important services. Voice assistants are becoming widespread enabling guests to engage with the hotel amenities and services without having to touch the guestroom phone or stop by the front desk for a face to face with an associate. They also facilitate controls of the in-room television, lights, thermostats without the guest needing to touch a switch or a remote control.7
Check-in and door-key apps have been implemented in a somewhat piecemeal fashion over the past several years, but the pace has accelerated quickly so guests can more easily open doors in public spaces and complete check-in and checkout procedures digitally.
Undoubtedly hotels and hospitality companies need to reassess their business models. If the worst- case scenarios materialize and the world will have to learn to live with COVID-19 for some time, what does that mean for our business? Several strategic questions emerge:
How do we stimulate demand by bringing back consumer confidence?
What do we need to do to show we overtly care about the wellbeing of our customers and staff?
How do we create a touchless experience, that delivers the warmth and passion that typifies our unique experience?
How do we transfer that offline experience online in a way that continues to promote our brand and differentiators?
What change initiatives are required to secure our business model and economic drivers?
How do we introduce new levels of flexibility that reflect the sudden changes guests may need to make to their travel arrangements?
What further digital transformation is required in order to meet the level of personalization that guests will demand?
Out of necessity hotels have had to focus on reducing costs as much as possible, but in the coming weeks and months, this situation is the new "normal" and hotels will have to begin implementing measures that not only increase reservations but also assume that COVID-19 is with us for some time to come. It is a unique situation where hotels must react quickly and in a socially responsible way, while always being on the lookout for the safety of guests and employees.
Global Head of Leisure & Hospitality
Van der Valk Hotels
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