Hotels, by their very nature, gather people together. Whether it’s a 100-room boutique hotel or one of the 2,000-plus operations on the Vegas strip, people move throughout hotels and touch various surfaces. Reducing these touchpoints and limiting guests’ exposure to germs will be a primary focus area for hotel managers and guests alike.
Hotel operators will need to adapt quickly to meet consumer demands regarding COVID-19, especially if they want to benefit from the likely travel resurgence in later 2021 and beyond. Not only will this benefit operations during the current pandemic, but it will prepare hotels for the potential of other future outbreaks, whether it is something as common as the flu or a virus that is more serious.
Here are four ways hotels will shift their operations as they prepare for a post-COVID travel spike.
1. Removing and Changing Touchpoints
Hotels will need to transform the ways in which guests interact with their spaces. For example, new products such as touchless coolers in lobbies or gyms and touch-free check-in systems via guests’ mobile devices will provide access to amenities and better customer experiences without exposing guests or staff to pathogens.
Within hotel room spaces, touch-focused changes will include integrating a hotel operator’s app with multiple in-room functions such as heating, ventilation and air conditioning controls; moving the blinds; and using mobile devices as TV remotes. Novelty features such as duvet covers and decorative pillows also will be eliminated as hotels adopt minimalistic designs that are easier to clean. Hallways and elevators, also will experience advancements such as voice-activated elevator controls, robot roomservice delivery and other innovations that reduce touches while streamlining the user experience.
2. Redesigning Eating Spaces
The pandemic put a stake in the heart of the beloved traditional hotel buffet. Shared serving utensils, self-serve beverage stations, crowded lines for food and too many touchpoints are a bad combination when people are trying to social distance and keep illness at bay. Early in the pandemic, some viral videos surfaced showing how quickly buffet and cruise ship restaurant environments could pass along germs. Even as the pandemic fades and people regain comfortability in crowds, the impacts on these communal-style restaurants will persist. It also means the death of salad bars and any eating establishment that relies on a self-service model.
Replacing these areas are sit-down restaurants with spaced seating, QR code-based menus, antimicrobial surfaces and other attributes intended to reduce viral conditions. For some hotels, sit-down restaurants are not economically viable. Instead, they might offer grab-and-go food stations that are operated with or without an employee. There’s also a trend toward expanded amenities within hotel rooms, including small kitchens, which would allow guests to eat without leaving the property.
3. Adding App-Based Check-Ins and Controls
The pandemic served as an “accelerator” for already occurring trends. For example, it pushed people further into e-commerce purchasing via digital payments, away from cash and in-store purchases. For the hotel industry, COVID-19 accelerated the contactless check-in trend. This means electronic kiosks instead of human agents and massive growth in digital keys powered by mobile applications.
Early adopters such as Hilton, which launched its digital key in 2015, will continue to improve the app-based experience by linking multiple hotel-stay functions to their app. This will enable guests to control their entire hotel stay without in-person interactions. Smaller hotel chains will need to offer such functionality and ensure their applications offer considerable value because some guests might hesitate to download a hotel-specific application for just a few days.
4. Requiring Clean Certifications
Hotel operators will need to formalize their “clean initiatives” to regain the public’s trust. A core part of this effort will be establishing formal cleaning certifications with third-party regulators/entities. This will mean hiring a cleanliness manager who develops plans and trains employees on proper Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-approved cleaning procedures to ensure the property stays in compliance with government and health department orders. Managers also will work more closely with marketing departments to ensure consistent messaging to guests so they’re comfortable about their stay and the hotel brand’s commitment to safety. Additional steps will include enhanced cleaning frequency and potency, revising floor plans to keep guests separated, installing physical barriers where feasible and using ultraviolet light and other technologies to increase the scope of cleaning initiatives.
Even after COVID-19 fades, these concerns will persist, and hotel brands will want to avoid becoming a hotspot for the flu or a norovirus. The length of the pandemic means some of the distancing and cleanliness standards are now embedded in the public’s thinking. Hotel brands must accept this reality and proactively shift their thinking when it comes to cleanliness, social distancing and the ways guests will expect to travel in the future.
Michael Goldman is president of Aquaverve.