By Tulika Bains
The winds of change have never swayed so fiercely – tearing apart the communities and livelihoods, business operations – feeding on the disruption in the midst of chaos leaving innumerable people reeling in shock, as we still strive to come out of this global pandemic. For the vast majority, it has been a disaster and one of the industries bogged down largely is the hospitality industry, which encompasses tourism, airlines, hotels, food & beverage under its umbrella. With the world now facing one of the worst economic crises on record, and millions of people in our industry losing their jobs, all indications are that the true consequences of the COVID-19 crisis are still yet to be felt, and more seismic shifts are yet to come – socially and economically. What does this mean for the future of hotels? Will the guests not stay there henceforth?
As per Mckinsey, their research suggests that recovery to pre-COVID-19 levels could take until 2023 or even later. Like so many industries, hospitality will also see both subtle and substantial shifts in the post-pandemic era. Some are already apparent today. The crisis is unprecedented and moving quickly, yet still deeply uncertain. One of the measures the hotels in India have to adopt on priority is to intensify the room cleaning and hygiene standard. It is a top action that many guests and respondents across numerous searches have stated, including the Mckinsey survey conducted in the US. There are additional guidelines which are obviously going to be followed by the hospitality chains domestically, more so for the mi-scale and economy segments owing to their budget constraints. The leisure travelers and tourists specifically are going to be skeptical for the next 2-3 years as per the predictions laid down by the WHO. The clientele traveling for work would be higher unless there is a global reduction caused by extended WFH for multiple companies.
Many hotels are wondering what steps to take, in what order, to make their properties safe, and demonstrate that to reluctant customers. Leading Chinese hotels are deploying a range of health and hygiene measures that may be helpful as examples. Upon check-in, some hotels require guests to provide proof (via a QR code), measure guests’ body temperature at several. For Indian hotels to adopt the same standards would require modifications in the government policy and public-health approaches. Some operators are limiting food and beverage options to prepackaged meals, to be consumed inside guests’ rooms versus common restaurant or bar areas. Additional hotel amenities like gyms, spas, and laundry facilities may be closed. Indian hotel chains too, have curated special menus for take-away and partnered with leading food delivery portals (Zomato & Swiggy) to have premium quality experience delivered at the doorstep. A unique concept of packed “CIY” – a contemporary rendition of the DIY meals has been conceptualized by the luxury restaurants. Pre-portioned meal boxes are delivered through advance orders and the food lovers can cook themselves in the comfort of their homes without the worry to step out and dine-in, as part of the #NewNormal.
A 360 degree turnaround of operations is the way forward. The management across levels would have to devise strategies to ensure utmost safety at all times and make the guests believe their premises is holistically secure at any point, through continuous efforts.
- Conducting rapid COVID tests has been a popular consensus globally.
- Complimentary mini sanitizers at Check-In and within the room.
- Stay gap of 48-72 hours between two consecutive stays with thorough sanitization
- Limited seating in restaurant outlets with prior reservations
- Contactless process (Automated as much as possible – cashless, digital, electronic bookings and settlements)
- Personal Protective Gear at all times for employees in guest contact areas
Future of Hospitality:
Travel will return. But the recovery will likely take longer than in other industries expectantly, and will vary across segments. Business and leisure travel will return at different paces, as will domestic and international travel. What’s certain is that the next normal will be marked by paradigm shifts, especially centered on customer expectations for hygiene and flexibility. Almost all tech-corporations would develop a more agile travel policy to account for safety before authorizing travel. Site visits and sales calls are likely to return soon, to gradually boost the hotel sales. Conferences and industry banquet events would return later depending on the increase in the guest capacity. Travel restrictions combined with economic uncertainty will likely translate into a higher share of domestic and close-to-home travel. Longer international leisure trips will be slow to return, and travelers can expect greater flexibility in cancelations & alterations. Hotels face the prospect of a long recovery. Over the coming months and years, properties’ circumstances will vary based on a number of factors, including chain scale, location, and demand profile. There is no particular ‘cookie-cutter’ response for everyone, but some guidelines shall apply universally. Hotels must care for their employees now more than ever, avoiding unnecessary firing as every company would try to minimize their costs and non-value added areas, staying engaged with them through the pandemic and keeping them safe when they return.
They must manage customer expectations, and be prepared to act appropriately to address all the health and safety concerns. The long term goal ahead for them should be based on stimulation and combinations to adapt to the new version of hospitality industry with utmost ease and seamlessly blend their strategy ahead into the existing practices.