Covid-19 Has Provided an Ideal Opportunity for a Hospitality Industry Reset
Peter McAlpine Senior Consultant, Renaissance Consulting Ltd.
The current trend for contactless service because of Covid-19 may be wonderful news for shareholders, but it will lead to further decline in the spirit of hospitality. Heaven forbid that the trend will become mainstream and grow!
The SOP-Customer Satisfaction concept used by the hotel industry has already drastically diluted the spirit of hospitality and removed its essence of unconditional love, but now we have some of the largest hotel group corporate offices leading an enthusiastic, Braveheart-like charge for contactless service.
Instead of killing off the spiritual life of hotel hospitality, the hotel industry should be using the current, unique opportunity provided by the pandemic to reset itself and move on from this old-style concept.
The Spirit of True Hospitality
But first, what do I mean by "hospitality"? My understanding of hospitality is radically different to the weak hotel industry norm:
True hospitality is an energetic and spiritual experience, which is rooted in and infused with unconditional love, loving-kindness, compassion, and heart-warming care. In its pure form hospitality is about showing unconditional love to fellow human beings, and this is shown especially by means of loving-kindness, compassion, and heart-warming care.
Every guest interaction creates the feelings in the quotation above. (Meditate to fathom the deep meanings and feelings in every word and clause.) Even before Covid-19 and the advent of contactless service, the standards-oriented SOP-Customer Satisfaction norm was a world apart from this. The gap will become wider still with contactless service.
The Nature of Contactless Service
What kind of contactless service are we starting to see? It resembles hotel virus quarantine service in some ways. Room Service is ordered by an app and delivered outside the door and the guests take the trolley or tray into the room themselves. Housekeeping items are asked for and provided in the same way. Room cleaning is carried out when the guests are not in the room. The room door is opened with an app. Check-in and check-out are done by an app. If a restaurant is open, food and drink orders will probably be carried out by using a QR Code or an app to eliminate the use of printed menus.
If you do not use a check-in app a masked Receptionist will greet you from behind a plexi-screen and hand you an A4 sheet of paper outlining the hotel's Covid-19 protocols and priorities. Your key cards will be presented on a tray so there is a contactless exchange. Nobody will show you to your room. Around the hotel the staff will keep their distance from the guests. This is just part of what contactless service entails.
The Further Decline of Hospitality
This is not hospitality. It is SOP-Customer Satisfaction sinking to even lower spiritual depths. What has happened to the grand promises of hotel groups that they will provide guests "hospitality from the heart"? "But we must protect the guests from the staff.", they cry. "They might have the virus! And we must protect the staff from the guests. They might have the virus!" I understand the fear. But what happens to hospitality in such a fear-filled environment? Yes, it dies. The energy in such a hotel and the energy radiated by the staff must have a terribly low vibration. This is not hospitality anymore.
"Ah, but it's only for a short time. Once Covid-19 has gone, we'll get back to providing caring service!" Do you really think so? I don't because the contactless service procedures and technology will stay largely in place, just in case.
Also, the staff will have got so used to contactless service and to just doing their job with as little contact with guests as possible that it will be very difficult to raise them up from the unemotional depths of contactless service. Simply rolling out the corporate 7 Steps to Memorable Service training after the virus has gone will not remedy the situation.
If the trend for contactless service gains traction, hotel groups and hotels that have implemented it should delete the word "hospitality" from their websites because there is no hospitality in contactless service. I hear screams of "Nonsense!" You don't believe me? Try providing your mother with contactless service and ask her to evaluate your spirit of hospitality. If she gives you one out of one hundred, it's only because she doesn't want you to feel bad.
With the digitalization of service in mind, Etihad Airways' Vice-President of Guest Experience and Delivery, Linda Celestino, has pointed out that there are many things that can be replaced by automation in this digital age. However, one of the few things that cannot be replaced is how another person makes you feel. The personal touch is what creates a connection, warms the heart, and nurtures loyalty.
The New Normal
Later this year the international hotel conferences will no doubt start again, and the usual hotel group CEOs will give their vision for the future of the hotel industry. I expect that they will talk about what they consider to be the sensible New Normal in the hotel industry, which will probably include the need for long-term contactless service and even more technology. I hope that they will be wiser than to propose this direction because they are supposed to be the leaders of the hospitality industry.
What effect will this vision of the New Normal have on guests? Certainly, it will keep the guests reasonably safe from getting infected by the virus. But the guests are human beings and it is ironic that the leaders of the hospitality industry are forgetting the basic human need for unconditional love, and the very essence of what the industry should be standing for, which is unconditional love, loving-kindness, compassion, and heart-warming care.
People Need Unconditional Love
We are experiencing a pandemic, which has dramatically changed our everyday lives. Millions of people have lost loved ones. We are also experiencing an epidemic of fear, anxiety, and suspicion because we are worried about meeting someone with the virus. Many people have experienced the isolation and loneliness of a lockdown, which creates its own range of mental health issues. People are worried about the future. Will they lose their job in these difficult, economic times? Will they find a job if they lose their job? Will they or a family member get infected by the virus or by one of the many emerging mutations? How will they pay for the hospital bill?
What is it that people need most, especially nowadays? If hoteliers listen to their heart, they will hear the answer, namely that people need unconditional love. They need loving-kindness. They need heart-warming care. They also need compassion. How intensely should staff show these spiritual qualities? Regarding compassion, the Dalai Lama has said: "True compassion has the intensity and spontaneity of a loving mother caring for her suffering baby. Throughout the day, such a mother's concern for her child affects all her thoughts and actions. This is the attitude we are working to cultivate toward each and every being." The hospitality industry should also. Does contactless service provide this? Does SOP-Customer Satisfaction? Need I answer for you?
Unconditional love, loving-kindness, compassion, and heart-warming care are not even the core values of the hospitality industry. You can see this is in every mission and vision statement. Hotel groups like to say that they provide "true" or "authentic" hospitality, but then why do they remove the essence of unconditional love from hospitality? The nearest you get is "care", but that is corporate-style SOP-care, not energetic, spiritual, heart-warming care based in unconditional love. What has the hospitality industry got against love anyway? Why can't the industry understand that unconditional love is the essence of hospitality?
Show Unconditional Love During the Pandemic
Can hotel staff create the feelings in the quotation above about care during the Covid-19 pandemic? Can they be so caring as to make guests feel like they are smelling a most beautiful perfume? Of course, they can! But it is difficult to do this when the hotel is using the loveless, quality standards-oriented, and unemotional concept of SOP-Customer Satisfaction.
I hear corporate hoteliers protest that the concept isn't loveless. Then why don't you make unconditional love, loving-kindness, compassion, and heart-warming care the central core values of your hotels and hotel groups? The first action of the new Marriott CEO should be to remedy the group's pitiful list of core values by giving unconditional love the seat of honour.
I don't mean that the staff should hug the guests during the pandemic. The staff pass the guests in public areas, don't they? Can't they show these core values in words and body language, especially through the eyes? Of course, they can. Can staff call the guests in their rooms, ask them how they are, and show compassion and kindness in words? Of course, they can. Can staff leave handwritten notes in the guest rooms that show compassion and unconditional love? Of course, they can. Can the staff at Reception and in the food & beverage outlets show unconditional love and kindness to the guests even from behind their plexi-screens? Of course, they can.
My point here is that guests need unconditional love, but I cannot see how the hotel industry can be providing it. Indeed, with the advent of contactless service and the inclusion of more technology it is watering down hospitality even more than SOP-Customer Satisfaction does at the best of times. I feel sure that the industry's New Normal will be a disaster for the spirit of hospitality.
What are the consequences of contactless service for guest loyalty? Hotel groups have spent a fortune developing loyalty programmes, but why should a guest be loyal to a particular brand when hotel groups generally are providing contactless, unauthentic hospitality with QR codes, apps, and plexi-screens? The loyalty playing field has been flattened, so guests have no need to be loyal to any brand.
SOP-Customer Satisfaction Is the Wrong Direction in a Pandemic
But just supposing that a hotel group had decided before the pandemic to move on from SOP-Customer Satisfaction to energetic and spiritual hospitality. Would this have helped them now? Absolutely! Supposing that the staff showed intense unconditional love, loving-kindness, compassion, and heart-warming care, how would the guests feel? Would they be loyal to the hotel or brand both during and after the pandemic? It's a no-brainer question. If hotel groups had moved on in the direction of spiritual and energetic hospitality they would not be worried about where their guests will come from during and after the pandemic.
But if unconditional love, loving-kindness, compassion, and heart-warming care aren't included in a hotel group's or a hotel's core values, they won't be included in the corporate service training after the pandemic, will they? Besides, you develop the essential core values of hospitality by developing spiritual capacity, which hotels do not do. Can you imagine a hotel group Board member saying, "I think we should develop spiritual capacity throughout the group because I think we should transform our group's hospitality with energy and unconditional love."? There would be stunned silence followed by fits of laughter.
One day Covid-19 will no longer be a problem, and gradually hotels will rehire employees and carry out training for the new staff as well as refresher training for the other staff. Hotels in the chains will use the same old corporate SOP-Customer Satisfaction workshops while independent hotels will use their own SOP-Customer Satisfaction workshops. Soon afterwards, hospitality throughout the hotel industry will be back to what it was pre-Covid-19 except for all the hotels that have chosen to provide contactless service. Does nobody see anything wrong here?
SOP-Customer Satisfaction is already a deficient concept. It doesn't provide genuine hospitality because it is a quality standards-oriented concept. The concept is about correctness and efficiency, not about the essence of hospitality, which lies in unconditional love for fellow human beings, loving-kindness, compassion, and heart-warming care. Why on earth would the hotel industry want to recreate itself in that image? Worse still, why would the corporate leaders of the industry want to recreate it throughout their tens and hundreds of hotels?
Resetting the Hospitality Industry Concept Now
Covid-19 has provided an ideal opportunity for a complete reset of hospitality. What an opportunity the hotel industry has now to leave the obsolete concept of SOP-Customer Satisfaction behind and to move on to energetic and spiritual Heart-Based Hospitality! Hoteliers now have the time to recreate hospitality in its energetic and spiritual essence.
Yes, it will involve an awful lot of work. Hotel group and hotel mission and vision statements will have to be rewritten. The operational manuals will have to be adapted to include unconditional love, loving-kindness, compassion, and heart-warming care. The 7 Steps to Perfect Guest Satisfaction workshops will have to be thrown in the bin and rewritten. Policies, procedures, and job descriptions will have to be adapted, and hiring procedures will have to be changed. Of course, some corporate folks and hoteliers who do not like change will have to be … replaced.
Think of the Possibilities!
I should point out here that I am not talking about replacing a static and limiting hospitality concept with another one. There is no ceiling to energetic and spiritual hospitality. Once a hotel or hotel group is set up, the hospitality can become energetically and spiritually warmer and warmer and … Indeed, the energetic and spiritual nature of the hospitality that hotels provide will become the main area of competition between hotels. Hotels that become very good at creating it may be able to command a premium. People will pay to stay at a hotel that feels energetically special and which is strong in unconditional love, loving-kindness, compassion, and heart-warming care. This is where true loyalty will arise.
I think that hoteliers generally know that something is wrong with SOP-Customer Satisfaction, but nobody dares to say anything at a hotel conference. Contactless service will worsen the situation. Recreating the same old hospitality "normal" when you know that something is wrong with it is like moving back into your home when it is leaning over after an earthquake.
The hotel industry has to move on some day so why not now? Is the well-worn and barren Rut of Tradition really so beautiful? When the next pandemic comes you will have loyal guests because everyone needs unconditional love, loving-kindness, compassion, and heart-warming care and they will stay at hotels that provide it. I hope I am wrong in thinking that mankind will have to wait another generation for the inevitable change to come, but I honestly believe that this is the case.
Dare to Change!
I am realistic. Energy and unconditional love are not words used in corporate boardrooms where nobody wants to rock the corporate boat. Even among independent hotels, will any of them perceive the value and wisdom of transforming their hospitality with energy and unconditional love? Yet, this transformation is what should be happening now and the virus has provided the opportunity.
It is unlikely that Covid-19 will be the last pandemic. What will hotels do after the next pandemic? Recreate SOP-Customer Satisfaction yet again? You know that it doesn't meet people's emotional, energetic, spiritual, wellness, and healing needs, so why would you want to keep recreating it? Yet I believe that this is what will happen, and that it may take a whole generation of time before the dawn of change and understanding appears.
It doesn't have to be like this though. If independent hotels started today, in 6 months their hospitality would already start to be in greater demand than the SOP-Customer Satisfaction over at the competing chain hotels. Chain hotels are like a kilometre-long oil tanker putting on the breaks to make a U-turn compared to a speedboat-like, independent hotel. If independent hotels make the change en masse, hotel chains will go out of business because they will change much too slowly, if at all.
Why would guests stay at a chain hotel when they can experience unconditional love and a special energy at an independent hotel for the same price or less? Moreover, can anyone even imagine any of the leading hotel groups deciding to change to energetic and spiritual heart-based hospitality? They are already charging off into the barren wilderness of contactless hospitality, it seems. Perhaps though, there are a few listening ears out there in the wilderness.