Arguably, though, no sector has been quicker to feel the economic effects COVID-19 than the travel industry. Indeed, from the earliest stages of the pandemic, tourism and all the sectors that support it (i.e. hotels, airlines, etc.) were the first to feel the effects of the subsequent travel advisories and their economic impacts.
This, of course, means that the hotel (and hospitality) industry has been at the economic front lines of this pandemic. After all, while travelers abroad are still booking airline (and other forms of) travel in an attempt to repatriate and return home, they’re not booking accommodations. Indeed, even airbnb is feeling the effects.
This, however, in no sense means that hotel operators or managers should despair. While the industry, no doubt, is facing some significant challenges in the coming months, there are still some (also significant) opportunities for hotel properties to not only reinvent their operations, but ensure that they’re ahead of the curve when circumstances return to business as usual. And the hotel operators that embrace these opportunities will not only be in a better position to weather the storm, but blossom and bloom after it has passed.
Improving Sanitation Efforts
It’s more than self-evident that sanitation and hygiene efforts for any business will be paramount to remain operational during these times. Given how hotels are accommodation-based business, however, where travelers have to live in relatively close-quarters over the duration of their stay, this reality is even more pertinent.
Consequently, there is much that hotels should be doing in the interim (and likely beyond) to improve their cleaning and sanitization efforts. Indeed, from private rooms to communal areas, hotel managers must step-up their game to ensure that guests enjoy a safe and healthy experience.
Toward this end, the Hong Kong Centre for Health has published a really comprehensive set of Guidelines on Infection Control & Prevention for in the Hotel Industry that covers everything on what cleaning products to use, to how frequently to clean certain space (e.g. rooms vs communal areas), to how to adapt other guest services to mitigate the risk of infection.
Beyond prevention, of course, hotels will also have to deal with guests who test positive for COVID-19 and, subsequently, are unable to travel (or vacate their rooms). For such cases, the Hotel Association of Canada has released a set of Best Practices, Operating Procedures & Considerations for Hotel Guests in Self-Isolation that outline how hotel operators can protect both their cleaning staff and other guests. These range, moreover, from thorough cleaning practices to minimizing guest interaction with staff and other guests, to ensuring that these guests can access all the amenities/products they need without leaving their room.
Finally, insofar as sanitization is paramount in these times, hotel operators should adopt technology to help them manage (and deliver on) their cleaning commitments. Specifically, Beekeeper and Whispr have launch a COVID-19 cleaning app that:
gives housekeepers step-by-step cleaning instructions in line with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for COVID-19. Hotels can activate the “Cleaning Task Lists” by Whispr app for free if they are already Beekeeper users.
So in addition to maintaining rigid sanitation processes (as outlined by Hong Kong Centre for Health, for example), hotel operators should proactively leverage technologies to help them manage (and mitigate) health risks for both their guests and staff.
Adapting Guest Services
Beyond providing guests with a cleaner and safer environment, hotels also have to rethink their guest experience as a whole. Specifically, there are two areas in which hotel operators must reinvent guest experience to not only meet the exigencies of the current pandemic, but cater to guest expectation during (and beyond) the current situation.
For starters, hotel staff should practice social distancing with each other and with guests by maintaining a 6 foot (or 2 meter) distance from. More importantly, however, hotels should remind guests about the importance of such policies.
In addition to posting signs that remind guests of the importance (and required parameters) of social distancing, hotel staff should also ensure to verbally remind guests at check-in. Finally, hotel staff should place markings (with tape) on the floor to clearly indicate to guests the distance they should maintain between each other and staff whenever interacting at critical points of contact — e.g. the front desk, restaurant waiting areas, etc.
Self-isolation has been the ethos of managing this crisis. Beyond the social distancing of guests and staff, however, hotels must still address the issue of group bookings and/or events. While most events have been cancelled during the interim of this pandemic, hotels must consider how they’ll manage future group bookings/events. For instance:
[..] the Public Health Agency of Canada recommends that event organizers and planners cancel or postpone in-person gatherings of more than 50 attendees, where proper social distancing measures would be difficult to implement and maintain
What this means is that hotels have to deal with the reality of not hosting large group events (at least for the interim). This, of course, will have an impact on group booking revenues. However, providing solo/individual guests with a safer and healthier guest experience will be more important for hotels’ short- to medium-term business and profitability.
Reshaping Guest Experience
The realities of the COVID-19 crisis means that both businesses and customers adapt their practices and expectations to the public health realities of this pandemic. Unsurprisingly, hotel operators will have to rethink the guest experience they provide to meet the real-world exigencies of this virus. Consequently, the Hotel Association of Canada has offered the following recommendations:
- Consider discontinuing door or bell service
- Limit access to common areas
- Discontinue buffet stations
- Properly clean guest key cards
- General Managers should be ready to coordinate with local health authorities if a guest has contracted COVID-19
- Avoid making assumptions about guest health
- But remind guests under self-quarantine to inform staff or local health authorities immediately if they exhibit symptoms
These measures, no doubt, significantly impact guest experience, but they also prioritize guest health and safety. And that will be paramount for both establishing a sense of trust with guests when they book and/or check-in, as well as protecting the hotel’s reputation as a safe destination for guests.
As travel bans are put in place and enforced, occupancy will continue to fall. Indeed, US hotels alone have already lost $2.4 billion in room revenue since mid-February. So cost-saving will be paramount for weathering the current industry climate. Cost-cutting measures, however, don’t stop at labor staffing decisions. There are also a number of technologies that hotel operators can leverage to proactively reduce costs as they continue to operate.
Smart Energy Management
Energy consumption is a hotel’s most significant operational cost, comprising as much as 60% of utility expenditures. Hotel operators, however, can implement smart energy management technology to not only not just reduce energy costs, but improve overall guest experiences well.
Smart Thermostats & HVAC Systems
Insofar as climate control is an essential overhead for any hotel property, it’s an unavoidable cost. As long as the hotel remains open, guests expect a certain level of comfort; and in the case of temporary closure, the internal climate needs to be regulated to prevent damage, such as freezing pipes or humidity build-up that can lead to mould or mildew issues.
As much as HVAC energy costs are an essential overhead cost, however, they are not a fixed cost. Indeed, smart energy management systems can reduce hotel energy costs by up to 20%.
For starters, smart thermostats and occupancy sensors can monitor and respond to fluctuations in occupancy (both in rooms and communal areas). But not all smart thermostats are created equal, and consumer options such as Nest and Ecobee can’t manage the load of a commercial property such as a hotel.
Instead, hotel managers should be implementing smart energy management systems (like Verdant EI), which use machine learning to continuously analyze the data collected from sensors, historical thermodynamics, and local weather patterns to optimize energy consumption in real-time, all year round. The ROI generated from Verdant’s own smart energy technology, for instance, is so significant that it features some of the fastest payback periods in the industry (between 12-24 months), and can even increase the resale value of a hotel. With such cost-saving potential, smart HVAC technology simply cannot be overlooked by hotel operators as they continue to operate during the downturn created by the COVID-19 global pandemic.
Smart Lighting Systems
Smart HVAC systems are not the only energy management technologies available to help hotel managers cut energy costs. Smart lighting is also able to reduce energy consumption.
Similar to how smart HVAC systems operate using sensors and the data they collect, smart lighting systems also help hotel operators (1) monitor energy consumption, (2) better understand energy requirements, (3) optimize energy consumption, and (4) adjust to fluctuations in room occupancy in real-time. For example, smart lighting systems will adjust lighting intensity according to the time of day, providing a seamless and more comfortable experience for guests and hotel staff, all while and reducing energy consumption costs.
It’s worth noting, moreover, that some smart lighting systems can be integrated with some smart HVAC energy management systems, allowing hotel managers to monitor both lighting and HVAC energy consumption patterns through a single interface. Verdant’s line of occupancy sensors, for instance, can integrate with third party smart lighting systems to ensure that lights automatically turn off or on based on occupancy, all the while collecting real-time data that can be used to optimize energy consumption moving forward.
Preventive & Predictive Maintenance
Just as smart energy management technology can significantly reduce hotel operating costs, IoT-enabled smart tech can also prevent unnecessary costs. Essentially, Predictive Maintenance leverages sensor data to identify hazardous trends and predicts maintenance issues before they escalate into more costly ones. In other words, smart technology allows maintenance to be proactive rather than reactive, nipping maintenance and upkeep costs in the bud.
For example, Verdant’s online management platform continuously collects performance data for HVAC units in each room and assigns each unit an efficiency rating. This rating indicates how quickly a room can be heated or cooled, and provides engineering teams with critical alerts when HVAC equipment isn’t performing within expected parameters and is in need of attention.
Furthermore, consider how a single leaky toilet can cost as much as $840/year. Add to that any additional water damage before the leak is detected, and maintenance costs can quickly escalate. By monitoring water lines with smart, low-cost water meters, however, hotels can identify leaks before they worsen, and prevent additional collateral damage to their property.
Marketing Moving Forward
Cost-cutting and maintenance aren’t the only areas where hotel operators need to be more proactive in meeting the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic. They also need to be proactive about their marketing strategies.
In all likelihood, things will eventually return to normal. How long that will take, however, remains uncertain. What is certain, however, is that any return to normalcy will be gradual one. Travel bans are likely to be lifted in phases, first regionally and then later nationally, and consumer demand will follow.
So hotel operators should plan to adapt their marketing efforts accordingly, targeting regional travellers and regional tourists with the services and experience they are looking for. In conjunction with strategically cutting costs, regional travel revenue will be the lifeline that sustains the industry through to the other side of this pandemic.