How COVID-19 Changes the Hotel Industry
Coronavirus has completely altered the world’s landscape and along with it, every industry. However, travel and hospitality were among the first industries to be hit hard by the virus as travel rates plummeted and the first steps towards lock-down began. Non-essential travel plans were immediately suspended as people hunkered down in their homes to wait out the pandemic.
As the pandemic has continued but hopefully seems to be waning, people are ready to start taking trips again and hotel staff is eager to greet them. But the idea that the pandemic will allow us to return to business as it was before the pandemic is naive. There are a few ways that the hospitality industry will need to adjust based on the new expectations people have of their hotel accommodations.
How Hotels Were Seen Before the Pandemic
Before the pandemic, there were few concerns about hotels not being as clean as they should be. Travelers and homeowners displaced from their homes felt generally comfortable staying in a hotel. Higher-end hotels combated hygiene concerns by assuring guests that all their bedding was washed between occupants or leaving notes saying that remotes had been sanitized. However, it is unlikely that this will be enough in a post-COVID-19 world.
Short Term Housing Solutions During the Pandemic
During the pandemic, hotels are losing millions in business, and in some places, such as Chicago, they have been asked by their local government to convert their rooms into places where first responders and healthcare professionals can rest and catch up on sleep between their shifts. They aren’t being forced to accommodate this request at this time, but it has allowed some hotels to keep their lights on, break-even, and save some of their employees’ jobs. Overall, it seems to have had a positive effect on communities.
What’s Next for Hospitality?
Hotels in the United States have been crippled by the COVID-19 pandemic, but eventually, they will be able to reopen their doors. The expected repercussions have been discussed and as of right now, Smith Travel Research and Tourism Economics have a few projections about the future of tourism.
Based on the standstill of travel, it is expected that it will take around 6-10 months for the demand for US hotel rooms to return to what it was. So while hoteliers are struggling to keep their doors open today, they are also looking for ways to prepare for the return of their guests. This includes keeping in contact with them, focusing on marketing initiatives, and encouraging new bookings. However, these new bookings come with caveats such as flexible cancellations and sensitive messaging in the face of an ever-evolving situation.
While awaiting the rise in demand, hotels are doing what they can to anticipate the rebound in guests. In order to prepare for the influx in demand, hotels are currently working diligently to take measures to keep their guests safe. At the moment, it is unclear whether these measures will be implemented permanently or if they are more likely to be taken for as long as the CDC and government require or recommend them.
As of late April, Hilton, Marriot, and Hyatt all announced that they are consulting with experts to design an approach that will keep their guests safe when they return.
First and foremost, hotels are ramping up their cleaning protocols dramatically. They have begun using hospital-grade cleaners and disinfecting high touch areas much more frequently, as well as training their staff and prioritizing cleanliness, even more than it was before. There has been a clear emphasis placed on guest safety but these measures also help to protect the employees of these businesses.
In fact, the Hyatt has put together a Global Care & Cleanliness Commitment that introduces a cleaning and disinfection prevention accreditation program that will be overseen by internal staff and third-parties. Additionally, in the fall, Hyatts will also have at least one person trained to act as a hygiene manager. The hygiene manager will be overseeing the more frequent cleaning process and ensure that there are ample amounts of hand sanitizer for both employees and guests.
However, beyond the overall policy, there are some things that will give guests reassurance that their rooms are clean and sanitized. There will also be more visual cleaning and more sanitizing products available for guests. That way guests don’t have to take it on faith that their doorknobs and remotes have been cleaned effectively. They’ll be able to do it themselves. Check-in and room access are now available through smartphones which not only minimizes contact but it also maximizes convenience for guests. This is likely a policy that will be available for the long haul since it has long term benefits for the guests. These technological advances will represent a major step in creating an easier and more efficient experience for guests moving forward.
COVID-19 has changed everything about the way we conducted business and understood the world. As we move forward into a new era as the crisis passes, there will certainly be differences in the way that we conduct business and basic changes in policy that withstand the test of time even after the quarantine is lifted. Hospitality and travel businesses have been forced to completely shift their policies to accommodate cancellations and enhanced cleanliness expectations for months.
Homeowners needing short term housing solutions because their home has become unliveable may be hesitant to move into a hotel, even if temporarily. The facts are that some common spaces in hotels (the lobby, hallways, elevators, etc.) are going to be shared. Communicating hotel cleanliness policies is important to help guests feel comfortable. It is critical that temporary housing companies remain flexible in finding housing that fits the insured's needs and makes them feel safe.
Even as the quarantine has begun to lift in some areas, it will take months for hotels to see demand rise to where it was before the pandemic. And when it does, guests are going to expect different concessions based on their experience with living through a pandemic. Hoteliers should be preparing not only to reopen their doors but to reopen their doors in a new reality. Those that do will likely see the fastest bounce back in business.