Moderated by: Henri Roelings, Hospitality Net
The second gathering for the new HFTP Hangout virtual get-togethers was a vendor-focused group who contemplated what the hospitality-industry will look like post-pandemic. Nowhere near the same was the overwhelming conclusion.
Led by moderator Henri Roelings, founder of Hospitality Net, the group covered the transition to virtual offices, the state of industry events, and what the check-in process and guest rooms will look like once the world’s population is traveling again. Predictions for the hotel experience leaned toward a contact-less stay, using facial recognition and AI to navigate through the property and use its services.
Working Through Stay in Place Requirements
The group of 50 participants were glad to connect with familiar faces and catch up after weeks of stay in place requirements in countries across the globe. After the initial personal stories and greetings, the group was asked how their offices had transitioned to virtual offices. The overall consensus was that it had not been an issue, with many already from companies that had a primarily remote office. The resounding recommendation was to keep up communication through numerous tools such as: Skype, Microsoft Teams and more. Plus, virtual happy hours – a casual way for team members to meet up.
Roelings described to the group that his team has completely shifted focus from their primary strategy. They have changed from content marketing, to instead working diligently for the past four weeks to provide current curated articles and resources on the pandemic and its direct impact on hospitality. Hospitality Net has gathered these on one page and is continually updating the site.
Richard Siegel, publisher of Hospitality Upgrade, mentioned that his team has been seeking out and developing articles that told personal stories from the industry. In addition to covering the latest news, they also have been gathering first-hand stories of experiences from industry professionals.
The rolling cancellation of Spring and Summer industry events has had an impact on the participants, as they depended on networking with clients at face-to-face meetings. As a direct result, many webinars and virtual meetings have been scheduled in their stead. Of note was this week’s Hospitality Tomorrow virtual event, powered by bench meetings. The online meeting had over 5,300 participants who were able to move from session to session and visit virtual exhibits and roundtables. Several participants in the Hangout had joined in and were impressed — while this might have been a first for the industry, certainly it would not be the last.
Still missing from the online format is the important one-on-one, in person connections. It is likely that conferences going forward, once social distancing measures have relaxed, would be a combination of these components.
Post-Pandemic Hospitality Experience
The conversation naturally shifted to where the industry would stand once quarantine requirements are relaxed and operations would start-up once-again. Several factors influenced by the pandemic will prevent hotels and guest expectations from going back to the status-quo. First economically, many independent hotels and restaurants will not have the resources to recover and reopen. In the U.S. alone, the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) is projecting the loss of 4 million hospitality jobs and a year-long occupancy rate of roughly 30 percent for 2020, which will equate to approximately US$180 billion in lost wages. This dramatic hardship will result in a lot less hotel rooms coming back into inventory.
Second, the ever-elusive guest expectations will take on a new concern – cleanliness of the hotel and guest room. It is expected that the Covid-19 virus will continue to be a sporadic health threat in the years to come. And, if it is not this specific virus, there is potential for others to come about. Because of this world-wide shared experience, travelers across the globe will be more cautious of their exposure to contagious diseases.
In response to this, the participants mentioned several scenarios for hotels. Ian Millar, senior lecturer – IT at Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne, thinks that use of facial recognition will have an expanded role in hotels. The use of such technology would allow a guest to check in and navigate through the hotel with minimal exchanges with staff. This includes automatic check-in and guest-room entrance. Along this same line of thought, Sam Acheampong, director of international sales with Sertifi, said that AI will support this type of service. He also mentioned that contact-less payment such as through an RFID payment card or through smartphones is growing in popularity and would support this model.
In addition to minimal contact, Diane Estner, president of DANNI enterprises, emphasized that room cleanliness standards will be higher. She mentioned guests will be seeking out Stay Well rooms — rooms that have health-enhancing features such as air purification filters, mood-enhancing lighting and aromatherapy. She also mentioned that she is working with an entrepreneur with one-time use bed linens that are recyclable.
Other technologies to support this new wave would be use of UV light by housekeepers to disinfect rooms and use of hands-free, wearable devices by hotel staff. As a result, housekeeping staff numbers will probably also increase.
While the hospitality industry has been impacted dramatically during this current crisis, the knowledgeable group in attendance is already looking toward the next chapter.
HFTP is hosting these live, interactive Zoom meetings three times a week — Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday — in April at 2:00 p.m. CT. Sign up to attend.
Eliza Selig is the HFTP director of communications. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.