The global outbreak of COVID-19 has affected businesses, especially the travel and hospitality industry, and disrupted the continuity of operations. As we come to terms with the pandemic, industries are grappling the consequences of economic slowdown. The new realities are here to stay, may be to help the hospitality industry to mature into a truly digital and personalized guest experience; similar to how airlines and airports are headed as an after effect of this pandemic.
The post COVID-19 world will see a much-changed consumer behavior. The customer would expect lesser in-person interaction but best possible hospitality and greater hygiene standards.
The industry should emphasize on building guest and employee assurance. To digitally connect and engage with guests, appraise them on various actions, and guest care activities along with employee wellbeing initiatives will help build the necessary assurance along with brand loyalty and value.
Recent McKinsey and Company Survey on leisure travelers across the globe highlighted the below matrix, when it comes to building a safe and livable environment for guests.
Intense room cleaning is a top action that survey respondents would like to see from hotels to protect guests.
Actions hotel could take to help protect guests from coronavirus % of respondents
*Source: “McKinsey and Company - Hospitality and COVID-19: How long until ‘no vacancy’ for US hotels?”, June 10, 2020
Hospitality industry has various ways to engage and communicate with their guests. After all guest profile and purchase behavior data are readily available. Below are few recommendations, on how digital engagement can really help the industry to bounce back faster.
Hoteliers need to take a fresh look at one of the most popular aspects - loyalty programs. Some tangible ways to attract guests and elevate experience are:
- Power of personalization with 360-degree guest view: Personalization has always been a key service differentiator for hospitality brand. Now it is time to automate hospitality solutions via AI/ML algorithm. The guest profile and behavior trends into ‘unified profile’. These clusters of profiles act like an indicator that help hoteliers to understand what promotion needs to be shared with which guest on what digital platform.
- Touch-less conveniences: With the help of digitalization, individual’s identity, check-in via QR code and/or via NFC should reduce unnecessary need of physical check-in and check-out plus wait time. This can also help hotels to manage number of check-ins and avoid over crowding
Budget is always limited and needs to be spent wisely. With digital engagement becoming a new reality, now is the time to strategically spend marketing budgets. Marketing budget helps to bring back the focus on brand awareness and attract more travelers into the ‘direct booking’ funnel. A highly targeted strategy will enable boosting up of any existing demand and cement position before the market starts to recover. To revamp marketing action plan hoteliers must:
Respect guest’s sentiments and pro-act accordingly
- Build assurance through strategically informing guest on the action taken for guest and employee safety
- Improve booking ID communication, with easy and clear reminder on new guest guidelines
- Signage reminders for guests to keep social distancing and use masks at designated public areas
- In-room alerts and voice reminders on new F&B guidelines as well as restaurant availability
Focus on Guest Comfort and Safety
Today, well-being and health of guests are of utmost priority for the hotels, and they need to be voiced loud and clear upfront at the time of booking to drive customer assurance. Few steps in this regard are:
Assuring travelers of the adaptable booking policy and cancellation policies
- Strict house-keeping standards with flexible F&B services along with other in-room amenities to ensure the comfort of the guests
- Standard operating procedures (check-in/out etc.,) to be significantly transformed to promote enhanced hygiene standards and to adopt technology to support social distancing policies
Foundations for Recovery
It is only a matter of (good amount of) time, the COVID-19 pandemic would eventually be stabilized. What’s certain is that this new normal will be marked by structural shifts; especially around customer expectations for hygiene and flexibility. And for the hospitality industry, investing in technology becomes the only way in which it can resurrect itself from this and come out adapted and stronger.