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Hotels get ahead with new tech and customer service standards

As hotels open up, how are operators putting customer needs first and leveraging corporate relationships within a socially distanced society?

The recent outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has redefined the lives of people across the world causing major disruptions for the global economy. The very idea of safety and hygiene, health and wellness, as well as a “normal” lifestyle has undergone a transformation across businesses and personal lives. As we witness nature healing itself with the lower emission levels of pollution and clear blue skies all over the world, the economic ecosystem braces itself to enter what is being termed as the “next normal”. The hospitality industry, which is an essential cog of the economic framework of Australia, is also developing a number of protocols and procedures which will be put in place to embrace the regime of the “next normal”.

The global pandemic has provided the majority of the hotels time to consider renovations, repairs, and retrofit operations that have been pending over the last few months if not years. This  also includes disruptive and noisy works as there is limited risk of guest complaints. Many of JLL’s hotel asset management clients are considering refurbishment works to make use of the current downturn in CBD hotel market performance.

Global hotel management companies have announced bespoke branded plans on cleaning protocols for the future. There is a concerted effort by hotel companies to make "cleaning more visible" for guests to assure them that the hotel is a safe place to stay. Guests can expect to see enhanced and more visible cleaning practices in effect. These may include a reduction of high-touch in-room furnishings, new laundry protocols and visual verification of sanitised items such as glassware and the television remote control.

The ongoing domestic and international travel restrictions have led to cancellation of major conferences and sporting and cultural events in the near future. Hotels with significant banqueting facilities will have to shift their focus and reposition their facilities for the coming 12-18 months to comply with the social distancing measures. Hotels will also need to consider flexible opportunities such as dividing the ballroom space to allow for smaller meetings and to create more breakout rooms, as well as reviewing the food and beverage offerings.

Technology will also play an increasing role with a focus on "limiting the touch points" without compromising on guest service. Examples include digital or mobile check-in to remove the need for traditional key cards. Hotels should be equipped with the right technology to process payments through mobile phones, digital wallets and QR codes. Technology in the area of cleaning includes use of thermal cameras and electrostatic sprayers.

With travel bans continuing to be in place, hotel owners and operators have already realised the degree to which their food and beverage business will be affected. Thanks to the strong measures put in place at the right time by the Federal and State governments, while the overall situation of the outbreak and community spread has been brought under control, the fear of travel and being in crowded spaces will continue to affect guest behaviours. The 1.5-metre social distancing rule will have multiple effects on the food and beverage offerings. A lower seat turnover in outlets needs to be managed with rigorous cost-control initiatives across payroll management, inventory control and menu re-engineering.

Buffets will most likely be a thing of the past in the near future at least. Limited service hotels will need to explore the "Grab n Go" concept for selling pre-packed food and drinks for guests. Again, technology could assist hotels with options being considered including the use of mobile apps to allow guests to pre-order their breakfast/meals or pay remotely. We also expect the demand for in-room dining to pick up considerably for guests who prefer the comfort of their own rooms. This would require hotels to re-consider the operational requirements for an in-room dining kitchen.

Sales and revenue teams need to utilise this time to design bespoke marketing campaigns targeting the domestic leisure and corporate markets and prepare to launch as soon as the restrictions ease further. Examples include “Staycation” packages, upselling opportunities to include F&B and spa credits and discounted parking for the weekend getaway market. The marketing and PR teams should also work on strategies to enhance the digital presence of their hotel by regularly updating the content and by continuing to engage with guests on social media. Hotels must also keep close to their key corporate accounts and travel agents to nurture those client relationships during these unprecedented times.

Vibhor Kalra, Vice President, Hotels & Hospitality

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