By ITB Community and Rainer Stampfer, President, Hotel Operations – APAC at Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts
As the world tries to anchor itself amidst the COVID-19 crisis, we will need to apply a new perspective on customer engagement, product development and the whole spectrum of travel. ITB Community had a catch up with Rainer Stampfer, President, Hotel Operations – APAC at Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, to hear his thoughts and insights on what has changed in the hotel business landscape and how ultimately the industry players across Asia Pacific can work together to bring travel back.
How do you view the travel recovery? Are you seeing any changes in traveller’s behaviours?
Clearly, the little certainty we have at this point is that the recovery in travel is very uneven across the globe.
For the obvious reasons, markets that don’t depend as much on foreign respectively cross border travel such as the US, China and the EU are in the lead. Millennials are more quickly to return to travel and to satisfy their wanderlust. Urban staycations, of course, are the only option in a number of markets.
Besides, we have seen families looking to get away to resorts, villas and residences, which aligns with estimates from third-party researchers that short-term vacation home rentals are expected to grow.
Trends clearly point to travelers craving more privacy, exclusivity and outdoor space which was already a focus for us prior to the pandemic.
In short, we believe in a strong rebound, sooner in locations and regions where vaccination rates are high, and we see that travelers are yearning for service and attention.
What can hotels do to bounce back more effectively?
Broadly speaking, we bank on technology paired with EQ, or in other words, our people!
Let me tell you a brief story. In July, I was travelling across three countries in Europe and the airports were between reasonably busy to straight out packed—despite the fact that upon my arrival in Madrid, Spain had just been categorized again as ‘high risk’. Needless to state, a couple of weeks later, my arrival upon returning to Singapore felt quite differently and, if one bases pandemic measures on scientific knowledge, it was hard to understand that all these countries were faced with the same virus.
In all four countries, I had to go through apps respectively online registration, upload proof of vaccination, etc. and the experience differed from really quite efficient to frustratingly complicated and lengthy a process. In one instance, I also received two phone calls with authorities asking specific questions, and upon arrival in another country, I was welcomed with a number of questions about my travel history, etc. At times, I felt very much cared for; at other times, frankly, not so much.
When discussing my travel experience with my industry fellows, we recognized time and again that it’s all about technology to enable and make things happen, powered by people with care, EQ and an understanding of what matters to you right then and there.
I believe the same is true in hospitality and most service sectors. The trend of ‘Remote Everything’ has been accelerated and today extends to remote working arrangements, hybrid meetings, live streaming as much as food delivery and really across all facilities and services in a hotel. We embrace digitization and build technological enhancements in a way that fits with our brand DNA and service promise.
Where else do you see opportunities for technology to serve travellers?
Another key area of investment in technology is in the meetings space. Hotel meeting rooms and function spaces need to be equipped to handle hybrid meetings as we know that global travel will not recover evenly across geographic areas and business travel will be slower to return.
The definition of remote working has changed since the pandemic and hotels need to be ready to respond to travellers who are thinking about extended trips that combine remote working with vacation time, fuelled by the emotion to make up for lost time and answering the call of duty.
Having the ability to accommodate a full working office space supported by proper equipment such as an office chair, a monitor in a hotel room while preserving space for personal time and leisure in the room is key on the road ahead.
Though, again, it’s not just tech that needs investment. Hotel team members who support guests with their respective needs, be it hybrid meetings or workcations, need to be skilled in both technological devices and interpersonal connections to support simple set ups and trouble shooting.
In pre-pandemic times, we were more typically accustomed to guests leaving their hotel rooms for meetings, but when they occupy their hotel rooms for work, housekeeping processes need to be reimagined.
Where else do you see technology as mission and success critical?
Clever and effective use of technology determines to a good extent progress on the Sustainability front and in Wellness.
The ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) discussions in recent years are rightfully putting more and more of a spotlight on environmental and sustainability efforts.
Just through this summer in the Northern hemisphere, we witnessed extreme weather conditions: flooding, fires, hurricanes, etc. I see that the hotel industry is committed to making a difference, consumers are rightfully demanding and consider ESG responsibilities when making buying decisions—granted it may still be early days but we must move forward more rapidly.
Of course, then there is the clear move toward tech driven self-screening of personal fitness and one’s health, chat and app enabled communication with our yogis and nutritionists, just to give a few examples.
Yet again, the use of technology needs to be powered by caring and thoughtful team members and, let’s not forget, there are ever increasing communication needs. People need to be able to trust when they travel the world and transparent communication builds trust.
Clear communications with our guests is vital to building trust. The early days of the pandemic showed us that guests appreciate clear communications from hotels especially when circumstances change in the blink of an eye. Amid fast changing COVID-19 safety measures, quarantine policies, mask policies—guests appreciated being clearly advised about how changes may impact them.
Anticipating that, we will all continue to live in a COVID-19 environment although much better protected with vaccines. Hotels need to continue to devise communication strategies that enable them to reach guests more quickly and effectively as things change.
Ultimately, we remain confident about the future of travel. A pandemic has not waned consumers’ love for travel, and travelers are seeking to reconnect with the world and with their loved ones through travel. In fact, we ourselves in the industry crave for travel when our wings are clipped, and the industry is well prepared with enhanced health and safety measures for employees.