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Bye Bye Ms American Pie

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October 26, 2020
Jeff Parker

Bye, Bye Ms. American Pie...
But March made me shiver with every twitter I’d deliver.
Bad news on LinkedIn ... I can’t remember if I cried ... the day the industry died... Bye-Bye Ms. American Pie, drove my Chevy to the Levy and had to wait on my contactless curbside check-in.
(with apologies to Don McLean.)

I can’t seem to get this song un-stuck from my head. I just keep humming it over and over to myself. My hope is that I have now shared this with all of you, a global head-stuck sing-along. It was mid-March, and I was sitting with my youngest having lunch at one of our favorite pubs. This was supposed to be that last father-son lunch before we shipped him back to school after spring break. Little did we know this was also the day before the Colorado governor closed down all restaurants, pubs, breweries and bars in response to the rapid progression of the pandemic. Most of the United States and the world faced similar shut downs in what we now know (hope) is a once-in-acentury event.

The day the hospitality industry died…
Instead of shipping Seppi off to NAU (Go Lumberjacks!) we were rushing down to Flagstaff to pack him up and keep him home for the rest of the semester. We all have our shared experiences of what happened next, this will be an event that the world will point to for generations.

My beloved hospitality industry was hit hardest with the shut downs, displacing workers all over the world. Bye-bye American Pie indeed, unless it is to-go, paid for online and contactless.

Oh, and there we were all in one place, a generation lost in space.
Facing all of this uncertainty several trade organizations (e.g. AHLA, HTNG) have banded together to focus on the pending recovery, to attack the problems we are facing, together. One of these groups is Hospitality Technology Next Generation (HTNG) and its Hospitality Recovery Workgroup. I have had the rewarding opportunity to be part of this great group of people moving our industry forward with technology. Like many people, these teams were grasping how to answer the myriad of questions before us.

Do you believe in rock and roll? Can technology save your hotel’s soul?
Like our American Pie, these teams started by taking the challenge one slice at a time by breaking down the guest, staff and vendor journeys into bite size pieces. We started with the guest journey. Twelve (or so we thought) separate phases to identity touch points and pain points, to apply solutions to: Dream, Plan, Shop, Book, Prepare, Travel, Arrive, Stay, Depart, Travel, Review

The first few teams built the foundation, for each piece of the journey we identified steps, highlighting the touch points (or touchless points), clarifying the specific problem and selecting a set of solutions.

We set up a set of guiding principles to evaluate each slice with:
1. Reduce shared physical touch points.
2. Reduce intrusion on personal spaces.
3. Reduce congestion in areas of gathering.
4. Manage and contain live infection (exposure).
5. Manage emerging hotel liability.
6. Reduce the anxiety of getting infected.
7. Operate under reduced budget and resources.
8. ALL THE WHILE: Deliver the expected hospitality experiences.

I met a girl who sang the blues, and I asked her for some happy news...
What happened next is amazing. Not only did this workgroup answer some important questions, they came up with a framework that any journey, technology or not, COVID-19 related or not, can be evaluated. They offered a tool to evaluate solutions, not just for current problems, but for future ones too. Over several weeks, the teams meet, work through the process and present to the larger group for direction and feedback. Finally, presenting to a larger HTNG audience. Each team broke out their slice of pie into bites. And some realized their slice was too large, so we cut it down into smaller pieces. Stay went from one to five (or more) mini-journeys, including the in-room experience and how events and amenities need solutions. 

These teams will focus on keeping our team-members safe and protected, what training is needed, what equipment is needed and how to overcome the challenges while applying the guiding principles of our workgroup. We are also working on a vendor registry so that hoteliers who are looking for solutions can see what partners have products that can help address pain points identified by the workgroups. It’s a tool to make it easier for a hotel to leverage our research in a tangible way. I am very excited for the teams to come together and discuss the solutions that will prepare our industry to recover. If you are interested in helping, please reach out to me at Jeff .Parker@TouchdownHospitality.com. We meet most Thursday Mornings at 10:00 Eastern Time, and we would love to have you join us. Come be part of something amazing!

What Have We Learned?
1. We work for an incredible industry. It amazes me every week that people are volunteering their time and expertise, hours of time, to help the rest of the industry solve problems. Many of these workgroups meet several times a week, and then take homework to finish when not in a meeting. This starts with great people, but I also have to give credit to companies that have the foresight to let their people participate, even in a recession, to help the industry as a whole.

2. Communication and messaging weave a constant theme. In almost every slice of the journey, better and more timely communication is a key factor to success. If your hotel does not have a solid plan for dynamic guest messaging, it is time to get one. This messaging should not be tethered to a branded app, it is not enough reach. A solid messaging plan has SMS, MMS, WhatsApp, email and emerging platforms like RCS. Messaging is not just for your guests. Develop a plan to use these platforms to communicate with your teams. Messaging has to happen before, during and after the team-member, vendor or guest is on property.

3. We can, and need to, hold our guests accountable. From masks to social distancing, we can't do it alone. Our guests need to be responsible in a way that has never been required. We need to enable our teams to hold them accountable, while still delivering great hospitality.

4. Training is the new black (it was the old black, too). Not only are we going to need to do a better job training our teams, continually, we are now educating our guests and partners on a regular, ever-changing basis.

5. Technology is leading the way. We are in an incredible place where new solutions are being built in near real time to address touch point reduction, from startups launching to established companies developing new tools. With hotels and restaurants doing more with less, it is great to see our industry partners rising up to be creative in helping people feel safe and accomplish more with less.

6. Think about all of our guests. In striving for touchless, we can't forget keeping our hotels open and accessible to people with disabilities. For our guests with vision impairment, many need to touch surfaces to read braille. Masks and plexiglass make it more difficult for our guests with hearing impairment to communicate. We need to address mobility as well, some of the standards on occupancy and capacity are creating pathways that are not easy for a guest in a wheelchair or on crutches to navigate and maintain recommended distancing. I know that our industry is excited to serve everyone, we need to take time in our haste to reopen to make sure we are making our hotels welcoming to everyone. 

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