By Jan Smits, Deputy Chairman, Pro-invest Group
The hotel industry is no stranger to crisis, and I’ve experienced my fair share in the 35 years of being in this business—from economic downturns to natural disasters and political uprisings. None had the direct and far-reaching impact of COVID-19, which has devastated so many lives and disrupted countless sectors—including hospitality.
This pandemic will change the way we travel forever, but our industry is notoriously slow to adapt: when iPods were already the norm, we were still installing CD players. As hotels start to re-open with the easing up of travel restrictions, it’s easy to think we can simply revert to the world we knew before the pandemic. But it would be worthwhile for us to take a step back and think about what hospitality will look like as we come to terms with a world indefinitely changed by COVID-19.
Hygiene is the new hygiene factor.
Cleanliness will no longer be taken for granted. COVID-19 has made public health and personal safety a focal point, and new cleaning and sanitisation processes will be expected by guests and potentially even enforced by regulations. Medical-grade cleaning materials and science-backed protocols will be the new normal in hotels of all segments and price-points. This will impact operations, training, and even marketing as brands start to leverage the ‘clean promise’ as a selling point.
Current COVID-19 protocols—safety distancing, reduced human contact, ventilation requirements—should become the blueprint for future hotel designs. Traffic flow and seating areas in common spaces like lobbies, lounges and restaurants will need a total re-think, so they are fit for purpose for all scenarios. Fabrics, furnishing, fixtures etc. may also require alternatives, to ensure maximum hygiene and ease of maintenance.
Digitalisation will accelerate.
Digital and contactless services are becoming the norm. Changing guest behaviours will see more demand for check-in/check-out, room access and even simple guest services to be automated and mobile-accessible. The hotel industry is not known for being ahead of the technological curve. This is a real test for operators and owners, as the investment in time, money and effort to overhaul core operational processes and speed up the process of digitalisation will be significant.
Brands will prevail.
I have always believed that a strong brand creates competitive advantage. It is likely that the pandemic will force even more consolidation, and a recent report by Brand Finance indicated that the top 50 hotel brands could lose up to 20 percent of cumulative brand value, amounting to US$14 billion. In my view, brands that will survive and thrive after this crisis are those prepared to continue investing in the brand experience and in finding new, creative and digital ways to reach and engage their target guests.
Underpinning these new developments is what I’ve always believed to be a fundamental truth about this business: take care of your people and they will take care of your guests. This is a time of great uncertainty and we need to do what we can to lead with empathy, compassion and with the long-term in mind. When travel returns, you want to be sure that you are ready—with the people you have stood by and cared for over the course of this pandemic.