From the Buyer’s Guide: How the industry is changing what it means to be hospitable

From the Buyer’s Guide: How the industry is changing what it means to be hospitable https://wahospitality.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/HotelImage.png
By Alec Northrup

 

The pandemic needs no introduction. It is no secret that coronavirus has crippled the hospitality industry in the United States, and hotels in Washington are no exception. After the summer of 2020 where hoteliers like Chris Burdett told the American Hotel and Lodging Association that he saw a reduction in occupancy from 67% to 3% year-over-year in his Seattle Hampton, everyone is acutely aware of the situation as the summer of 2021 approaches.

However, the industry is resilient, and no stranger to unexpected change. Some businesses made headlines with the creative ways they adapted; hotels in Las Vegas famously started offering a “Work from Vegas” package, enticing remote workers to fill vacancies in hotels impacted by the pandemic. Lodging proprietors from Washington state to Washington D.C. have made changes to their businesses that helped them make it through 2020, and some have made innovations that will outlive the pandemic. Here are a few of the key strategies successful hotels have used for the last year and a half.

Being (extra) hospitable

While this is not a new concept, and it seems a little redundant to mention the importance of hospitality, anticipating customer’s needs is the easiest way to create a memorable experience. Hotels have loosened some restrictions, encouraging travel by allowing pets to stay in hotels, or offering to reschedule or refund events in the event of a cancellation, but the best way to leave a good impression is simple — communicate effectively. Allison Handy, a senior vice-president at Prism Hotels & Resorts, which manages the Hyatt House in downtown Seattle, says empathy and flexibility are crucial. Noting that Prism focused on maintaining relationships with individuals or groups that had to cancel bookings, she said showing empathy for a guest’s situation makes them more likely to show empathy for theirs.

Technology

Hospitality is not alone on the list of industries that have experienced accelerated progress on an ongoing trend. Like other areas of life and culture, the shift toward automation, smart tech and even artificial intelligence became especially useful to hoteliers. Some of the most effective innovations reducing human contact included the adoption of digital keys, mobile or remote check-in and streaming capabilities on TVs to eliminate the use of a remote. Some hotels even employed robot butlers that can drop off newspapers or deliver room service. While the robot-tech might be impractical at this point, digital keys and mobile check-in services present an opportunity for hotels to streamline basic interactions and cut costs. As long as people continue to use smartphones, the method doesn’t lose its value post-pandemic.

Efficiency

Much like the accelerated adoption of technology, efficient business practices were desirable long before the pandemic and will be long after its conclusion. However, some of the unique aspects of 2020 led hoteliers to adopt some uncommon practices. Chris Tudor, owner of Tudor Inns, LLC, has “learned to do more with less.” Management has taken on operational tasks like helping with the front desk, and housekeeping is cleaning rooms for stayover guests by request only. While these changes are inspired by current times, there is not much that prevents them from becoming permanent practices.

Expanding customer base

Another, possibly groundbreaking, change that hotels can make to adapt to the current environment lies with their customer base. Tourism drives occupancy for many hotels, so it only makes sense for those hotels to cater to a guest on vacation. With leisure travel taking a huge hit, and events like weddings and business conferences stymied, hotels have started to market to neighbors instead of newcomers. The steep increase in workers who can clock in wherever there is Wi-Fi has led to the rise of the staycation, leading some hotels to pursue guests they have never catered to before — single, working locals. The silver lining after a tough 2020 for hoteliers may be that the stars aligned just right to open the world’s mind to a weekday hotel stay. In 2020, possibly for the first time, young professionals had the incentive to stay in the hotel down the road for a few days to self-isolate from their roommate — and they could do so without taking time off work or leaving their cats behind. Will their experience be so enjoyable that they return for future staycations? That’s up to us — guests and operators, alike.

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