From surviving to thriving: How hotels can adapt to the new normal

For an industry obsessed with customer experiences, the new age of limited contact and physical distance is posing a big question for hotels. The pandemic has kick-started a new normal for hospitality, and hotel managers are quickly finding themselves thrown into it headfirst. Arguably, the pandemic has just fast-forwarded the inevitable, but it can still be very confusing. Customers are quickly developing newfound expectations for topics like sanitation and technology, and navigating these issues requires an adapted outlook from management. Luckily, as a hotelier, there are steps you can take to transition more seamlessly into this new normal. 

Building Trust

It is no secret that people are shaken up after this mess of a year. The majority of customers view staying at a hotel as a risk to their safety. They need extra reassurance that the hotel is practicing intense cleaning procedures, hearing their concerns, and creating an overall safe environment for their stay. David Fox, Quore COO said to Hospitality Technology that “[Customers] anticipate visual cues that hotels have responded and adapted to health and safety mandates.” 

It is also likely that these changes are here to stay. McKinsey surveyed almost 900 C-level executives globally in July and responses showed that respondents across sectors and geographies are likely to report significant changing customer needs (a switch to offerings that reflect new health and hygiene sensitivities). Out of all of the noted shifts happening, the highest number (62%) believe that changing customer needs will stick through the recovery. These new customer expectations are forecasted to persevere past the pandemic, so it is best to find solutions sooner rather than later. However, hotel managers need to remember the important fact that more distance does not mean less customer service.

On the other hand, employees need similar encouragement that they will be met with health safeguards and understanding. When working in the service industry during these times, hotel employees are constantly exposing themselves to heightened health risks. These employees should be assured that management has not only the best interest of the customer at heart, but also the best interest of their employees. This will ultimately create a more productive and safer work environment, which will raise not only employee morale, but morale of the hotel as a whole.

Building Customer Trust:

  • Post a COVID response page to the hotel’s website, specifically addressing actions being taken for sanitization
  • Post signs for cleaning procedures, business rules in response to COVID, and outlining how to make requests to management  
  • Communicate check-in, check-out, and cancellation logistics upfront, either through call and/or email
  • Add additional options to not have hotel staff enter the room during the stay 
  • Contactless delivery for room service and needed room supplies
  • Increased customer service and customer satisfaction checks 

Building Employee Trust:

  • Provide appropriate masks and PPE for employees (meaning equipment with increased protection for housekeeping)
    • Ensure that you have a good amount of equipment for precaution
    • Consider producing branded masks
  • Monitor the current pandemic and regulations, and regularly communicating it to employees
  • Be available to employees for all concerns relating to COVID and employee safety
  • Establish a distinct person to contact in the case of emergency 
  • Create a plan of action for what to do if there is an issue with customer cooperation
  • Regularly collect employee feedback and gauging satisfaction, giving employees a space to voice concerns

Digital Transformation

One of the largest pieces of the evolving customer expectations is the push for digital transformation. This is even true across all industries, not only hospitality. When McKinsey surveyed almost 900 C-level executives globally in July, responses showed that “funding for digital initiatives has increased more than anything else—more than increases in costs, the number of people in technology roles, and the number of customers.” Regardless of whether hotel management chooses to digitally transform because of pressure from customers or to keep up with competitors, executive mindsets on technology’s strategic importance have changed radically during the crisis. 

McKinsey. Executive mindsets on technology's strategic importance—adapting to the new normal

There are so many emerging technologies that are propelling the digital transformation within hotels, from cleaning to communication to payments. A huge part of the payments piece is tipping. Customers are afraid to provide cash tips due to COVID, and hoteliers are embracing digital tipping. eTip solves the issue surrounding tipping, by allowing customers to tip people like valets, housekeepers, and concierges, in a contactless, cashless, and app-less way. This is key since many consumers want to limit the risks associated with physical interaction. In a study of over 1,000 U.S.-based consumers, 77% of individuals said that in the future the amount of in-person physical interaction required at a business will factor into their decision of whether or not they visit it. Overall, prioritizing digital improvements in your hotel will lessen the transmission of disease, improve customer experience, and benefit employees. 

Open Mindedness

When navigating through this ever-changing environment, there are bound to be mishaps and confusing situations among staff and customers. Knowing this, there is an even more heightened need for understanding and accommodation across the board. Listed below are some situations that will likely happen, and how to respond. 

Situation 1:

An employee does not show up for a shift.

The home life and financial situation of many service workers nowadays are extremely difficult and changing on a day-to-day basis. If a mishap occurs where an employee is late or doesn’t show, managers need to be accommodating and show leniency, especially if this is a new occurrence.

Appropriate action:

Encourage their supervisor to have a conversation with the employee about why they missed their shift, and take note of what could be done to improve their situation. There should not be too harsh of penalties during these difficult times, unless instances like these become recurrent. As a preemptive measure, all employees should have quarterly discussions with supervisors about their concerns and their current situations. This will help resolve potential issues before they happen.

Situation 2:

A customer cancels their booking last minute, because they [or someone close to them] began showing symptoms of COVID-19.

In this new normal, circumstances can change very quickly. Even after a trip has been planned for weeks or months, responsible travellers should not hesitate to cancel plans if they are questioning their health. 

Appropriate action:

Hotels need to first check in incrementally with customers–for example–a week leading up to their booking to inform them of logistics and policies. It should be clearly communicated that if a customer or someone close to them shows signs of COVID, they should not travel or stay in the hotel. The customer should be well-versed on the cancellation policy and their options with regard to rescheduling. With this highly communicative structure in place, customers will not feel obligated to travel and put hotel staff in danger. Obviously, the rescheduling and cancellation policy should be more lenient in current times, but will differ per hotel. This leeway should also apply to varying circumstances, like business trips or events getting cancelled or changing sentiments towards travel safety. 

Overall, hotel management needs to approach arising issues with open mindedness, increased communication, and substantially more flexibility. 

Organizations for hospitality

If you are anxious about the future of the hospitality industry, remember that you are not alone in this challenge. Connect with peers and stay on top of trends through the following organizations. 

Final thoughts

Max McKeown once said, “Adaptability is about the powerful difference between adapting to cope and adapting to win.” Facing the new normal for the hotel industry will be a continuous process of learning and growing. It may seem overwhelming at times, but know that facing challenges outright and staying ahead will be the key to thriving. 

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Ariana

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