Building the New Guest Experience in a Post-Pandemic World
Nancy Snyder Senior Manager of Hospitality Sales, Legrand North America
With state-mandated shelter-in-place and lockdown restrictions, reduced travel options, and corporate work-from-home policies, the hospitality industry has been deeply impacted by COVID-19. However, when the threat of the pandemic passes, we will not be going back to "business as usual."
Even as states lift lockdown restrictions, many companies are remaining "work from home," and reducing business travel with tech leading the way. For example, as of April 16, Facebook Inc. banned gatherings of more than 50 people for its staff of 45,000 through June 2021, including conferences; Microsoft has transitioned its Ignite conference, planned for September, to be online-only. For folks who will be required to travel for work, common workspaces in hotels will be treated with caution, and guest rooms will be highly analyzed for cleanliness -- and this is true for leisure travelers as well.
The definition of the guest experience is changing, and that is not only going to impact how designers design new hotels, but also how hoteliers upgrade their current properties to meet new expectations. Though purse strings are tight for almost everyone right now, hoteliers are going to need to make both immediate and long term changes to properties to accommodate this new set of expectations and ensure guests feel not only comfortable, but safe. The same applies to employees of the hotel as they return to their jobs -- from management to housekeeping to facilities engineers, everyone this industry touches will want to know that measures have been taken to keep safety from the spread of germs top of mind.
I've worked in the hospitality industry for many years and at Legrand, I specialize in ideating and implementing energy-efficient and design-forward solutions for delivering power and light, as well as pioneering Internet of Things (IoT) systems for hotels. Below are a few ideas for hoteliers to consider to appeal to guests in a post-pandemic world.
It is intuitive that guests may feel trepidation about hotel restaurants and bars -- areas where folks are already on high alert for germs. However, coworking spaces and even lobby entrances will be seen with fresh eyes by guests looking for signs that a hotel is clean and hospitable. They will notice if work areas or bar seating is close together, and they may avoid banquettes or plush booths over hardwood or steel chairs, as they are on the lookout for surfaces that are more resistant to germs. Guests will seek streamlined solutions for check-in, ideally with less human contact, as a reaction to social distancing practices.
Here are some solutions hoteliers can implement in the common spaces of their properties:
Touchscreen check-in: While many hotel brands already use mobile check-in and room selection, guests will now be expecting this as the norm to avoid in-person interactions with people they don't know. Fortunately, this type of system is a lower-cost investment that hoteliers can make in the short term, providing an immediate assurance as guests walk in the door that the hotel is taking measures to accommodate travel post-pandemic.
Furniture upgrades: A higher-cost solution that can be implemented in the longer term is adjusting the layout and furnishings in common spaces to accommodate social distancing norms -- placing seating and tables farther apart, upgrading furniture to feature antimicrobial surfaces, and more. While you are at it, consider investing in furniture power centers that can be easily installed into furniture to offer convenient charging solutions for guests -- more power solutions means fewer people crowding around the outlets in a common area.
The hospitality trend in recent years has been to shrink rooms and build out more amenities in the common spaces, but to accommodate social distancing practices, that may change. Guests may opt to order more room service to avoid crowds while eating, or take advantage of the desk in their rooms for work instead of heading down to the coworking space. They may fear the gym and seek in-room opportunities to work out, using video workouts on their TVs or laptops. More time will be spent in the room as a safe haven from the germs of the outside world.
Here is where Internet of Things (IoT) solutions really come into play:
Imagine yourself as the guest, walking into your room. You've just entered without touching the door knob. The AC automatically switches on, as occupancy sensors recognize your presence in the room. You press a button on your phone, and the lights turn on. You head into the bathroom and put your hands underneath the faucet -- because you're still doing your 20-second handwashing, just to be safe! -- and the water runs without having to touch the tap.
Soap automatically dispenses. You dry your hands and press a button on your phone opening the blinds for some natural sunlight. Finally, you plop on your bed and plug your phone into the charger that's conveniently in your headboard, and rest after your long journey to the hotel.
This experience may seem daunting to implement -- all these upgrades to every room? It's not a small investment. However, with an open system, you don't have to make every upgrade upfront. An initial investment can go a long way and be added onto gradually over time. Here's how:
Scalable Open System Investment: To reduce the costs and risks of bringing technology into the guestroom, look for technology that can be easily integrated into your current set-up and that allows you to add more features over time. While some operating systems are designed to only be compatible with the brand that created them, there are systems on the market that can communicate with devices made by other suppliers and service providers, and those are the best for building up on a-la-carte IoT upgrades.
Door Lock Integration: This system is the first that guests encounter as they enter their rooms, but the immediate impression it leaves on guests is not the only reason it's a great initial investment for your IoT system. Door lock integration expands upon the benefits of basic occupancy sensor systems to paint a real-time picture of whether a room is occupied or not. Housekeeping can use door lock integration feedback more accurately than occupancy sensor systems to tell if a guest is in the room or not, avoiding the dreaded "Housekeeping!" knock that guests often experience. This system also works with other IoT add-ons to communicate occupancy for energy savings.
HVAC: Air quality has long been a concern for guests, and was exacerbated last year by a legionnaire's disease outbreak in North Carolina. Now, I anticipate it to be top of mind across the country: guests will want to know their HVAC systems are offering filtered air that's free from pathogens. Though new IoT HVAC systems are a large upfront investment, the good news for hoteliers is that they not only assuage guest concerns, but they also save on heating and cooling costs in the long term: IoT systems communicate with door lock integration to turn off and on automatically depending on if a guest is in a room.
Touchless Faucets: Motion-sensored faucets have been growing in popularity in commercial and hospitality spaces for years now, but in a post-pandemic world, they shift from a "nice to have" to a "need to have" to combat the spread of germs amidst frequent hand washings. They also allow hoteliers to regulate water consumption and identify if a hotel room is experiencing a leak, or if a guest accidentally left the faucet or bath on when they left the room.
App-Controlled Shading: This product allows customers to touch fewer elements of the room, with the bonus of having a major impact on the guest convenience factor (who doesn't love to open their shades in the morning without having to get up?). IoT window treatments have the added benefit of allowing hoteliers to automatically draw the blinds or shades when the door lock system indicates a guest has left the room, lessening the escape of heat or cool air through the windows and preserving the room's temperature. A large upfront investment, this offering does provide long term energy savings for hoteliers.
We have a long way to go before the hospitality industry is fully back up and running, but over the past few months I have been reminded once again of the incredible resilience of folks in the hotel business, and I know we can make it through to the other side. Hopefully these tips help you create spaces, whether all at once or little by little, that appeal to guests in a post-pandemic world -- with long term savings on energy and newfound data analytics to boot!