They’re the glue that connects our global society – the places people stay when they’re any place other than home. Of course, we’re talking about the world’s hotels and resorts. And while talk of reopening the economy and easing travel restrictions starts, industry watchers are discussing what has to change when guests walk back into their lobbies on the heels of a global coronavirus pandemic. What will reopening look like? What will be different? We decided to find out.
The team at T-Y Group & Harbor Linen convened a panel of contributors from across the industry for this article. Here, we detail what reopening looks like for the hospitality industry – and what you can expect from your first hotel stay in our new, more coronavirus-conscious society.
For more on this topic, check out Part Two of the series, where we dive into changes in room aesthetics, housekeeping, staff training and sanitation.
The questions business and leisure travelers are asking the hotel industry
We spoke to Elizabeth Blount, owner and president of UNIGLOBE travel designers, about questions she’s getting from clients as business and leisure travel start to resume. “I’m fielding a lot of inquiries from my clients about what hotels are doing for cleaning and sanitation. They want to know how seriously coronavirus prevention measures are being taken before they venture back out,” says Blount. “What are the hotels doing with regard to sanitation? If they’re not talking about it, they should be. It’s the number one thing my clients are asking about.”
“What are the hotels doing with regard to sanitation? If they’re not talking about it, they should be. It’s the number one thing my clients are asking about.”
Other questions Elizabeth has received are about hold times between room occupancies. “People are hoping for 24 to 72 hours between guests. They’re also asking about sanitization of hotel linens - completely new sets for each guest,” she says. “My clients want to know staff in specialized protective equipment are going in and sanitizing the room using an established process before housekeeping is ever allowed to go in and make it up for the next guest. Anything a hotel can do to show that it’s doing this is going to address those concerns.”
This should give hotels a sense of the stakes – and of the importance of transparency. In the past, housekeeping procedures barely merited mention. Now they’re at the top of potential guests’ minds, and there’s a real benefit to communicating – and demonstrating – what has changed.
How the hospitality business is changing check-in and check-out procedures
Imagine this: it’s 2:00 p.m., as you exit a Lyft from the airport to my hotel. When you step out onto the sidewalk, your phone buzzes with a text alert. It’s the desk letting you know your room’s ready – just in time for your arrival.
You walk into the lobby where you see one masked associate cleaning railings. Another associate waves at you from behind the desk. She asks if you’re checking in, and you tell her you just received an alert that your room is ready. Without asking you to approach the desk, she waves you on from a polite social distance, and you take a solo elevator to my room. The door opens when you enable the hotel’s app and wave it in front of the key sensor.
Welcome to the new check-in process. Let’s break down exactly what’s set to change.
No more luggage handoffs in the lobby
It will no longer be the standard to drop your luggage off with an associate. Minimizing points of contact will be the new standard. There’s simply no need, and handling multiple pieces of baggage that have been through an airport poses an unnecessary risk for staff – and future guests.
Remote check-in and keyless entry
Every phone is capable of the same proximity features as a hotel key. With just a little software and hardware, an app on the customer’s phone can eliminate the need for keys and key handoffs. And forget about the key sleeve, the room number and wifi passwords are already there for the guest – right in the app.
There’s also no need to check in at the desk. Using an app, the guest can get an alert when the room is ready and head there directly. The occupancy team will get an alert when the room is entered for the first time.
“Tracking things like vacancy time between guests will now require more rigor and software monitoring if we’re trying to provide 24 to 72 hours between occupancies.”
We spoke to Nikhil Nath, Founder and CEO of Knowcross Software, a provider of operations and guest service software for the hospitality industry. Mr. Nath says, “Software will play an even bigger role in the guest experience, and that overlaps with operations. There’s just far more to track now, and software is a better, more failsafe solution than manual reporting by staff.” He went on to say, “Tracking things like vacancy time between guests will now require more rigor and software monitoring if we’re trying to provide 24 to 72 hours between occupancies.”
Less lobby traffic
No more 3:00 p.m. rush. Staggered check-in times will become a normal part of hotel stays for the foreseeable future. The goal is to keep lobby crowding to a minimum, while avoiding back-ups at the elevators.
And those elevators may now be staffed with an associate who calls the elevator and sends it directly to your floor. Cutting down on the number of hands touching elevator buttons can cut down on how often elevators need to be shut down for full sanitizing.
Changes in hospitality industry dining norms
Cooking temperatures kill viruses like COVID-19, but viruses can survive on room-temperature surfaces for at least several hours. That means hospitality industry mainstays like buffets and sit-down dining may be due for a time-out during recovery from the viral pandemic. For all of these reasons, we’re predicting that the new hottest dining venue in most hotels will be...your own room.
Grab-and-go replaces sit and stay
Many hotels are replacing their buffet services with curated selections of individually packaged items. The goal is to encourage patrons to select what they wish and retire to their rooms to eat away from others.
Expect careful service instead of serving yourself
Even in grab and go situations, many properties may opt to have a staff member serve you to avoid having multiple people touch any surfaces, even if only to grab individually wrapped items. The containers may even be protected by barriers to prevent touch and transmission.
The comfortable service distance may also increase along with the distance between tables at institutions where dining-in becomes an option again.
On-property restaurants will begin offering pre-boxed meals for room service. You can still enjoy your haute cuisine, but it’ll now come in a disposable waxed paper container rather than on white china.
Room service choices will be different
Nikhil Nath of Knowcross Software had this to say, “How food is handled and packaged will now be more important than ever to guests. It needs to be absolutely clear to them that food has not been handled after cooking and that it is packaged in a way that avoids additional human contact.”
To ensure a safe dining experience, room service will no longer enter rooms. You’ll instead receive your food from the staff member at your room door or it will be left with a knock, ensuring a completely contactless experience.
Verifications and comfort measures
We spoke with Kim Gorton of Slade Gorton Seafood about additional measures that can increase consumer comfort. She had this to say, “Guests are looking for reassurance, and trusted brands are an opportunity to provide extra confidence. We are investigating ways to create food safety reassurance labels and industry-wide standards that improve guest confidence in the foods they enjoy.”
Expect extra packaging, new labels and other measures designed to demonstrate that food is safe and untampered-with after it was cooked. Second layers of packaging sealed with adhesive are just one form this will take.
"We are investigating ways to create food safety reassurance labels and industry-wide standards that improve guest confidence in the foods they enjoy.”
Some hotels may also start instituting source verification and ramp up labeling of food as sustainably and responsibly sourced.
Kim Gorton added this, “Though it’s separate from food preparation and handling, source verification and supply chain tracking are an additional measures that can shore up consumer confidence. It’s important to know that food has been responsibly sourced and properly maintained at every point in the supply chain.”
Communicating hotel dining changes to guests
Remember that paper-based guest services notebook that used to be in every room? Well, it’s a sanitation nightmare that’s going away for at least the short term. Nevertheless, it’s important to communicate dining procedure changes to guests so that they are not caught off-guard. Instead of a notebook, touchless measures such as messages on the in-room TV channel may become preferred ways to share new dining procedures and confidence-inspiring information about food safety with guests.
Hotel suppliers take note: clean is the new green for hotel rooms
Many of the flourishes and amenities we’ve come to expect in hotel rooms will now be absent from the new guest experience. In their place will be reassuring feelings of cleanliness, sanitation and a controlled environment. The ultimate luxury for rooms of every price will be a sense of clean sanctum – a reassuring escape from the outside world.
Minimalism minimizes uncertainty
So, what does reassuring cleanliness look like? Well, you can expect more minimalism overall. And more design cues and color choices that feel more like a hospital and less like a guest room in someone’s home. That means eliminating most things that are purely ornamental – like vases, foliage and books – from the room’s surfaces.
Mini-bars are due for a stay in cold storage during COVID-19 recovery. And you can also kiss that reusable coffee maker goodbye for a while. These appliances are simply too hard to clean between guests – and they undermine the guest’s feeling of being in a controlled environment – because the last person who stayed in the room definitely touched them.
“Overall, we expect a more minimalistic look, although for our brand that minimalism will be presented in an elegant way.”
We spoke to David E. Cohen of the InterContinental, Tel Aviv, who says, “Carpets are a big issue. We’ll likely do away with them in renovations and new construction. Overall, there’s a new preference for hard surfaces for flooring and headboards because they are things that can be wiped down and sanitized more easily.” He went on to say, “Overall, we expect a more minimalistic look, although for our brand that minimalism will be presented in an elegant way.”
These changes include moves away from fabric headboards and leather-wrapped furniture. Though these types of surfaces can be sanitized, the process is more labor intensive than lacquered wood, veneer or plastic.
To stand in for mini-bars and coffee makers, in-room alcohol and caffeine needs can be met with some extra legwork from room service staff – delivered as individually sealed single servings.
Changes in guest activities in hotel common areas, like pools, gyms and spas
Similar to how check-in times will now be staggered, access to shared resources, like pools, gyms and spas, should also be staggered to promote appropriate social distancing and allow time for sanitizing.
Nikhil Nath of Knowcross suggests that software integrated with a guest app is an excellent way to achieve a gym or spa reservation system with a good guest experience. The more time and labor-intensive alternative is to filter all scheduling requests through the front desk as a single point of contact. Just like other procedure changes discussed in this article, this information needs to be communicated clearly to guests through a medium like the in-room TV channel.
Some guest amenities may not be as appealing for a while, such as large pools and communal steam saunas. While these amenities are not inherently more dangerous, they have a tendency to create congregations of people – which may be troubling to more health-conscious guests.
Chris Nelson of T-Y Group & Harbor Linen recommends considering ways you can bring some of that poolside experience to the guest room, such as overhauling balcony furniture to make a social-distance-friendly alternative to poolside lounging. Says Nelson, “In addition to sanitizing outdoor furniture, consider offering chair covers that guests can request from the desk as an additional way to inspire confidence.”
Don’t miss part two of our series on hospitality industry adaptations
There’s way more to the topic of hotel reopening. For a deep-dive into how room experiences, housekeeping and laundry will change, check out Part 2 in this series.
Ready to start planning for your hotel business reopening?
The hotel supplies experts at T-Y Group & Harbor Linen are ready to help. We can help you replace your hotel linens with new offerings that’s designed to stand up to more rigorous sanitation procedures. We’re also preparing new hotel room amenities sets that are more suited to full sanitation between stays and disposability after each guest checks out.
As a team of guest experience fans, we’re ready for safe reopenings. Our team is prepared to assist our partners – as your one-stop shop for every guest need.