Keeping guests in touch near and far

This pandemic has pushed forward the practice of working from home, and once things start returning to business as usual, many are expected to continue to telecommute. Photo credit: chee gin tan/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images (Video conference / virtual meeting)

Here we are, months into the COVID-19 pandemic, and still unable to anticipate when we can expect better days for our businesses. While we do not know the when, we can start to prep by identifying the defining trends that will shift our hotels’ operations and guest practices. True, our news feeds are well-populated with varied trend-watch articles, but I would like to pinpoint one realm that no doubt will carry on beyond the pandemic: virtual interaction. Collectively we all swiftly learned how to conduct our business and personal communications online and are likely to continue going forward.

This reality has been a 180 for me. As the CEO for HFTP, I oversee the production of in-person events, which are central to our operations. As each month passed from the start of the year, our leadership had to cancel our 2020 events one after the other. But as we X’d out these events from our calendar, we pivoted to delivering networking and education virtually. Through this experience, I have been able to see how our industry can take advantage of online interactions and how we can support our virtual-reliant guests.

The work-from-home crowd will become the work-from-travel crowd. This pandemic has pushed forward the practice of working from home, and once things start returning to business as usual, many are expected to continue to telecommute. With the rise of the mobile employee, expect more of your guests to be mixing business with pleasure. Many of our hotel rooms have long been set up with comfortable workstations within the guestroom, including good Wi-Fi and plenty of outlets. Where support can be enhanced is offering quiet areas, inside and out, away from the room where a guest can work. This helps one work away from co-traveling family members, meet with a co-worker, enjoy the locale while working or sit in front of an eye-catching background for a Zoom meeting. Other additional areas of support would be to place importance on a high-functioning business center to service business needs.

HFTP will go this whole year without hosting an in-person event. For our biggest event, HITEC, we will be producing a completely digital event—CYBER HITEC. This will involve virtual vendor booths, classrooms and meet-ups. I am very much looking forward to realizing our 47-year event in this new format, but I will sorely miss the usual camaraderie of our annual meet-up and do not see this all-digital presentation as permanent. When we can once again gather, meetings and conventions more likely will be hybrid events. For hotels, this would be an opportunity to support the virtual meeting component alongside usual convention support. Here your AV department can step in with video, audio and streaming support, or offer a virtual meeting app.

Also, do not keep the virtual meeting package exclusive to conventions and business clients; rather, extend it to big occasions such as weddings and anniversary parties. Now that young and old are accustomed to meeting online, there will be an increase in demand for virtual party guests. Why not help your guests bring the whole family to the party?

And last, I circle back to health, another hot topic of prominent concern amongst today’s guests. Here you can ease your guests’ worry of being away from personal doctors with a telemedicine service such as RingMD. The use of telemedicine visits has seen quick growth during the past few months and is less and less of a novelty. With an easy set-up option available, using teams of local doctors who are familiar with your area, guests can address any symptoms or ailments that crop up while they are on property.

The expansion into virtual communications has been years in the making, but recent circumstances have taken us there quicker than expected, with all generations on board. Let’s take advantage by keeping our guests in touch near and far.

Frank Wolfe is the CEO of Hospitality Financial and Technology Professionals (HFTP). He can be reached at [email protected]