Travel bookings have been an up-and-down event, lending unpredictability to hospitality industry forecasts. Now, with Delta variant infections pushing COVID-19 cases in some areas to record highs, experts are watching consumer confidence around travel decline just in time for the typical fall and winter slowdown in travel. Add to that an increase in flight cancellations, and it’s clear that the hospitality industry will have to take new action to demonstrate great hospitality if they want to sustain this summer’s recovery and drive bookings up during the off season.
Great hospitality is all about meeting guests’ needs in a warm, friendly way. It requires committed staff and authentic connections. Today, it requires hoteliers to rethink how they approach these basic ideals, and how the right hospitality technology investments can support the guest experience.
Let the following nine solutions help kick-off a new approach to great hospitality.
1. Make bookings easy to postpone
Trip stacking is the hot trend for the fall, and it’s understandable that this might make some hotels leery. Guests concerned about COVID are making the most of today’s flexible cancelation policies and booking dream trips and concurrent backup trips on the off chance that a COVID outbreak makes their preferred stay more difficult. The key here may be to help hotel guests get the biggest bang for their buck by making it easier to postpone a trip than outright cancel—or stack on promotions for guests that demonstrate loyalty.
2. Personalize the experience
Personalization has been an increasingly important strategy for providing great hospitality, but it’s more important than ever post-COVID. With remote services and contactless technology becoming the norm, hotels will need to make up for a lack of human touch with personalized services that create guest connections. This can begin with confirmation via email or the guest’s preferred app, with insight into preferred local experiences. It may mean providing preferred amenities, pillow types, and other minibar stock in the room. Hospitality technology solutions that remove silos between booking and guest services can serve as a differentiator here.
3. Become flexible for your brand’s representatives
The hospitality industry is facing a workforce crisis. As a July 2021 Joblist survey discovered, few jobseekers are interested in hospitality, with nearly 40% of workers with previous hospitality experience not even considering a hospitality job for their next position. It’s a major shift, as a large percentage of the old hospitality labor force is looking to transition out of the industry. The biggest challenge is that these employees aren’t looking for higher pay or better benefits. They’re looking for greater workplace flexibility. As a result, hotels will need to think about disrupting traditional ways of doing things to provide the flexibility and safety for top-performing employees.
This is an area where evolving hospitality technology can help. Remote check-in and check-out will become the new normal, but there may be many other opportunities for staff to create digital touchpoints along the guest journey. Apps, texts, and chatbots can provide new opportunities for quick and effective guest interaction, and offer more remote opportunities for hotel staff.
4. Automate cleaning
The foundation of great hospitality is providing a clean, comfortable place to stay. Even as more hotels cut housekeeping services to offset staffing issues, guests are prioritizing visible evidence of cleanliness. A Jan. 2021 American Hotel & Lodging Association report reported that guests believe enhanced cleaning and hygiene practices to be the second most important factor in choosing a hotel, just after price.
Striking the right balance here may be possible with an investment in automated cleaning solutions, as Sheraton has found with its deployment of Whiz, the commercial robot vacuum from SoftBank Robotics.
“It used to be overnight. Now you’ve got to be visible, cleaning in front of the guests, so they know it’s happening,” says Paul Evasick, general manager, Sheraton Kona Resort in Hawaii. “Whiz … is there for our guests, a visible reminder that we’re doing things differently.”
As Evasick points out, it’s a hospitality technology investment that not only enhances guest safety but will stand out in guests’ recollection of their stay. “Guests really get a charge of a robot going through the lobby or down the hallway where they’re walking.”
5. Rethink food and beverage
The Sept. 2021 J.D. Power North America Third-Party Hotel Management Guest Satisfaction Benchmark study recorded guest satisfaction declines, driven largely by a drop in guest satisfaction around food and beverage service. For many, good food and drink is a cornerstone of great hospitality, so it makes sense that the transition to bag lunches and cold breakfasts driven by COVID and lower staffing may irritate travelers.
Many hotels are providing more options and better quality for grab-and-go meals. Canned cocktails are revitalizing outside social hours. Meanwhile, Marriott has partnered with Uber Eats to ensure its loyalty customers connect its name with the food they want. Customers can earn Marriott points for Uber transactions on food and rides.
6. Celebrate your guests
Hotels are hosting in-person events that celebrate the hospitality industry. These gatherings have brought together loyalty members for a range of activities. It’s a way to shift traffic from the down business travel segment to the more popular drive-in leisure traffic, while demonstrating steps taken to improve safety. Examples include Salamander Hotels & Resorts’ Aug. 2021 Family Reunion event at its Middleburg, Va., property. The gathering celebrated the hospitality industry through cooking classes, wine tastings, and discussions with local chefs, while promoting on-property activities.
7. Stay connected to customers
Great hospitality is about connection, and that may be what is driving hotels to prioritize social media this year. Forty-nine percent of hoteliers surveyed by Hotelier PULSE Report in Jan. 2021 ranked social media as the year’s second most important sales and marketing priority. It’s important that this move be done by strategically identifying the right channels and messaging for your target guests. This is a great opportunity to get a little more personal; guests want authentic content that encourages conversations over likes.
8. Help guests capture the feeling of great hospitality
Social media can help hotel brands put reminders before their audience of why it feels so good to get away. Some hotels are going further and providing virtual property tours and even virtual reality travel experiences that help customers try out a travel experience before committing—or when travel restrictions get too prohibitive. Stand-outs in this area of hospitality technology can help encourage more consumers to travel the moment conditions are right.
9. Show your guests you care
At its heart, great hospitality is a way of showing guests you care. Taking steps to support staff in keeping guests healthy and safe is a critical cornerstone of this approach.
This is a key area where Whiz can help. By offloading the monotonous task of vacuuming, housekeeping can prioritize more value-added cleaning. What’s more, this AI-driven cleaning solution provides measurable proof of its superior cleaning performance.
If you’re ready for a data-driven approach to clean, contact SoftBank Robotics today.