Dealing with the new normal
“Begin with the end in mind”
- Stephen Covey
The ‘new normal’ engendered by the COVID pandemic has shifted the goals of the hotel industry from profit maximization to revival.
Designing the right framework to effectively manage the new normal is the fundamental challenge when attempting to attract customers and reverse the hotel industry’s declining trend. It is critical for hoteliers to make smart use of technology to imbibe trust and security among customers to gain their confidence back in hospitality. There are ways to rebuild the credence—staging a comeback will require a well-thought-out plan and the use of technology seems to be the best possible way to succeed in this plan.
Conventional methods are no longer effective
The hotel industry has been among the hardest hit sectors due to the pandemic.
Even as the economy gradually reopened in the United States, travel restrictions, income constraints, and safety concerns held people back from staying in hotels and eating at restaurants. Now, there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel for North American hotels as the economy claws its way back to normality and people move around more freely.
Hotel operations are improving. In January 2022, the average revenue per room available was 87.2% of that in January 2019. This is the highest rate since the pandemic hit the US and can be considered a milestone. But, in the ‘new normal’, conventional methods of hotel operations will not suffice.
Hospitality dealing with many changes
Many aspects of hospitality have changed in the wake of COVID, and the hotel industry has to take cognizance of this reality to remain competitive.
An apparent consequence of the pandemic is the shift in consumer behavior. Consumers are redirecting their discretionary spending. They are re-evaluating their spending patterns—what for them was a pre-pandemic must-have may be nice-to-have post pandemic.
Consumers are now placing greater importance on going digital. Digital technologies not only imbibe a sense of comfort but also increase consumers’ appetite for availing services digitally and with safety.
Since social interactions were minimal due to prolonged lockdowns during the pandemic, a rapid re-engagement should not be expected when normalcy returns. The recovery process will require building trust among consumers—this will be pivotal for the revival of the hotel industry. The only way hotels can build this trust is by ensuring the physical, digital, financial, and emotional well-being of customers availing services. Hotels that adapt to the changing consumer preferences will bounce back strongly.
Initiatives for better guest experience
Guests have a plethora of options while choosing a hotel.
The marketing team of hotels need to put their best foot forward and showcase how their hotel is unique and enriching as compared to competitors.
Adopting suitable measures will facilitate a better customer experience, in turn resulting in better revenues.
Promoting local cuisines and organic meals can become a game changer. This can be achieved by hiring chefs who are local or have appropriate knowledge of local cuisines and by amending the menus to include local dishes. However, it should be kept in mind that not all customers might enjoy new food, a condition known as food neophobia. The right restaurant must match the right guest.
Choosing eco-friendly alternatives in day-to-day activities such as cleaning equipment, recycling facilities, and toiletries without packaging will help hotels travel the extra mile towards sustainability.
While a good marketing team will promote these activities on social media, a sustainability or corporate social responsibility page on the website will communicate eco-friendly practices to customers, building a positive brand image. Advertising the availability of local dishes at restaurants will make customers choose your hotel, thereby saving guests the trouble of having to travel to places to taste local cuisine. A large portion of potential customers might be influenced by such practices.
Besides these measures, reimagining guest experience is quintessential for hospitality’s revival in the post-pandemic world. Hotels need to demonstrate through their actions that customer health is their foremost priority. This is where smart solutions that use digital technologies can be highly effective.
Self-check-ins and check-outs, proper sanitization, and ensuring wearing of masks and social distancing are some practices hotels are currently following. But these are not enough. Hotels should incorporate technology in their daily functions to achieve more safety. All these can be achieved by curating the requirements into a single application and thereby presenting an easily accessible platform for guests.
Digital food ordering: Restaurant menus can be made available through a QR code that can be scanned by guests with mobile phones. Food can be selected from the phone menu for the orders to be served at the table. Payments can also take place digitally through the app. This will provide a contact-free experience to the guests. This digital journey will also help restaurants recording data about each guest’s food preferences.
Facial recognition for rooms: Guests may not prefer touching keys handled by other guests. To enable no-contact check-in, the front desk should provide facial recognition for guests to enter rooms. This data can later be erased when guests check out. This practice will promote security besides safe and fast in-room access.
Building smart rooms: The hotel could provide guests access to devices and service in the rooms—air conditioning, television, room service, laundry pickup—through an app. This will eliminate the use of permanent things in rooms, such as remotes and menus, by guests.
Removing telephones from rooms: Telephone is another permanent item in a room used by all guests. Instead of telephones, guests can use AI chatbots for queries. The chatbot could offer solutions to simple queries and connect the guests with a staff member for complex issues. This will decrease the number of staff required for attending to guests’ issues and will help build an improved framework for responsiveness.
Online reservations for other amenities: Guests should be able to use the public areas of hotels such as the poolside or the spa without any concern. For ensuring safety, guests should reserve a pool-side chair from a distance. After the reservation, the staff member should sanitize the chair in front of guests before they use it. This practice can be followed in the other public areas of the hotel as well.