An Outlook of the Hotel Industry in a COVID-19 world

August 17, 2021 Mihaela Lica Butler

The coronavirus pandemic changed the world, affecting the global economy and how people interact with each other. Customer behavior changed too, leading to significant changes in most sectors - travel and hospitality being the most impacted.

The COVID-19 pandemic hit the global travel and hospitality industry hard, and as a result, the market experienced a loss of 100.8 million jobs worldwide in 2020, per Statista research. In addition, hotels, forced to close their doors, laid off their staff and experienced significant financial loss. Hilton Worldwide, for instance, reported a revenue drop of 77% in 2020 and had $10.3 billion in long-term debt. However, the chain is not the only one with such setbacks.

As the coronavirus epidemy went rampant, claiming millions of lives, governments imposed a series of rules and regulations to protect their citizens. These rules apply to all public areas and confined or enclosed spaces, and businesses - including hotels - must comply. Moreover, they are likely to remain in place. So, here is how the hotel industry will change when hotels reopen their doors to guests.

Responding to New Guest Needs and Expectations

Hotels must reimagine the customer experience and respond to new demands to reassure guests that their health and safety matter. People all over the world are concerned about their well-being and are reticent about traveling. As a result, hotels must take active measures to re-engage consumers and build trust: sanitize rooms and public areas correctly, ensure proper ventilation for all confined spaces, reimagine common spaces - like restaurants and bars - respecting physical distancing rules, and more to prevent sparking a new wave of viral infections.

Building or re-building trust may be an essential aspect of business for hotels looking forward. Hoteliers should communicate and demonstrate the measures in place to keep guests and staff safe from the coronavirus. Among these:

  • Disinfect frequently touched surfaces with products designed specifically against SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19)
  • Provide disposable disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer in key areas (restaurant tables, reception, outside of elevator doors, pool areas, bar, etc.)
  • Use devices that do not require the employee to handle guests’ credit and debit cards.
  • Provide no-touch trash bins at the reception desk, in restrooms, and in other public areas.
  • Reduce occupancy to limit the number of people in the hotel at one time - per local government guidance.
  • Ensure contactless delivery for room service as much as possible.
  • Use technology to reduce face-to-face interaction: online booking, fast check-in, mobile room key, mobile access to menus, and contactless payment options.

These are only some of the elements that will become commonplace in hotels.

Reimagine the Guest Experience

Although hoteliers must adhere to specific governmental rules and regulations to ensure guest well-being, they should do it without taking too much away from the guest experience.

Hotels that adopt mobile keys and a keyless entry system may enhance the guest experience. COVID-19 will force many hotels into implementing such solutions, but there was an apparent customer demand for keyless entry even before the coronavirus pandemic. This technology is convenient for guests, as they can use their smartphones to access their room without needing to stop at the reception or keep track of physical keys. A keyless solution is a time saver for guests as it eliminates the need to wait in line at the front desk.  Moreover, mobile keys reduce the workload for hotel reception staff, who will be free to focus on other services that enhance the guest experience.

Sealing a room after cleaning reassures the guests that no one stayed in since it was disinfected. Replacing hard-to-clean furnishings - like carpets - with ones easier to clean is another step that could reassure guests that the hotel cares about their well-being and experience at the same time.

It is now more important than ever to connect and engage with customers where they are: social media will play a pivotal role in this matter. Hoteliers should communicate clearly to current and potential guests how they ensure everyone’s safety during their stay at the hotel. Live streaming, hype-free posts on Facebook and Twitter, Instagram and Facebook Stories, and other social media tools will serve the purpose while also boosting reach and eventually branding. Additionally, these tools could promote specific incentives like loyalty programs, discounts, and special offers to attract new customers and persuade regulars to return to the hotel.

Embrace Technology to Alleviate Costs and Maximize Ancillary Revenue

While keyless technology, for example, is highly beneficial for guests, it is also a cost-effective solution for hoteliers. Usually an app-driven solution, keyless entry offers hoteliers the opportunity to promote - in-app - other paid-for services, like spa packages, room service, table reservation for the on-site restaurant, room upgrades, premium packages for honeymooners, etc.

Keyless entry technology is not the only option to consider looking forward. Apps that enable hoteliers to communicate with guests about various services available at the hotel will come in handy, too, reducing person-to-person interaction, saving time for hotel staff, and enhancing the guest experience. For example, use an app to tell guests that their rooms are ready/clean/disinfected.

Another good use of technology is to monitor guest and staff health. Non-invasive thermal scanning technology is already in use in airports, and many hotels have adopted it too. However, the technology’s utility is subject to debate in countries where consumers frown upon such measures seen as an invasion of privacy. Nevertheless, technology can help hotels meet the health regulations imposed by local bodies, enabling them to provide safe accommodation for their guests. As to how to use technology without stepping out of bounds, it is still a matter of debate. Hotels should constantly monitor local legislation to maintain compliance and stay ahead of the curve.

Perhaps the greatest - and costliest - challenge for smaller hotels is investing in touchless technology. So besides keyless entry, they should also offer in-room touchless solutions, like voice-activated TV and light controls, as well as sensors for toilets, sinks, and soap dispensers.

Business Recovery in the New Normal

Hotel operations is expected to be different: there will be less human interaction, lower occupancy rates, and many services and hotel facilities must be reimagined to respect the new health rules and regulations recommended by local bodies.

In this scenario, hotels that don’t pay attention to cleanliness and international health standards will fall behind, gaining negative reviews on TripAdvisor and other online forums, leading to guest and business loss.

However, most of these changes do not apply to all hotels and resorts, but they will be observed on a case-by-case basis. To implement the necessary changes, hotels need to understand customer demands and expectations and consider labor costs, utilities, maintenance, and other property expenses. Therefore, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for all hotels and resorts. Maybe hoteliers will need to hire consultants to help with the transition - a solution that will most likely lead to the creation of new job titles like “COVID-19 recovery consultant.” Time will tell.