How the Pandemic Changed the Hotel Business

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August 12, 2021
Special | Report
John Burns

Across the globe, the pandemic impacted – and changed – nearly every aspect of our lives. Maybe not immediately, maybe not directly, but eventually these changes will impact our hotel management technology and how we use it.  

 

The pandemic is comparable to the Great Depression. Think about how that event changed our grandparents. They became thrifty, cautious, family-centered and motivated. I predict the pandemic will heighten awareness of family and will remind us that YOLO (you only live once), prompting us 

to make the best possible use of our time and to strike a sensible work/life balance.


Tightening my focus to the hotel industry and the technology on which it relies, I believe we’ll see pandemic-related change nearly everywhere – amongst our guests, our staff, our processes and in our technology. Some specific predictions:

Our Marketplace/Our Guests
Mobile first becomes mobile only. Smartphones are now how we shop for travel, reserve, check-in, communicate while on property – everything related to our travels.


Heightened Guest Expectations
Our guests now want more – more information, more choices, more attention and more responsiveness, plus exceptional sanitation. We’ll be seriously challenged to satisfy these expectations with smaller service teams.

Changed Relationship with Our Staff
Fearing or actually being furloughed irrevocably changes the employer/employee relationship. Insecurity becomes ever-present, as does awareness of alternate occupations. In an environment of perennial staff shortages, employees’ desire for job stability, for a good wage, assured hours and professional-style management is forcing operators to regard and compensate staff differently. The pandemic has already made many bosses considerably more empathetic.

Retooled On-property Services
Some services may not return – buffets, for example – but hotels will most likely retain new pandemic-prompted options such as contactless check-in. The same goes for those ubiquitous quick response (QR) codes that allow us to order F&B via a smartphone (and have it delivered wherever we are). Grab & Go meal options will become permanent, too. Likewise, frequent messaging (before and after arrival) with special offers and satisfaction checks are now the standard along with mandatory reservations for previously first come, first-served pool facilities and other amenities.

Selling More Than a Sleeping Room
Today’s guests are leisure focused. While corporate and convention travel will gradually return (to some unknown degree), our business right now is to satisfy leisure travelers. Post-pandemic we’re more aware of, and creative with, the experiences we can provide within our properties. And we’re increasingly promoting the adventures, and memorable experiences in our own neighborhoods.

Fewer Staff, New Teams
Pre-pandemic, recruiting and retaining hotel was challenging. This will get worse. Hotels now employ fewer staff. They often fill multiple roles during a week or even during a day. Jobs are being merged and job boundaries eliminated. An operations manager may replace both the rooms manager and the F&B manager. Sales, revenue management and reservations will now be a single team, possibly serving multiple properties. The desk clerks and the concierge may be virtual; the general manager might be responsible for several hotels.

Robotics
This will grow, but with limited implementation initially. Robotic vacuums will clean public areas and meeting rooms. Robots will deliver room service and extra towels. 

Beyond our Walls – New and Different Markets
Leisure guests predominate and we’re adjusting our service style to satisfy them. Weddings, reunions and family celebrations will surge; staycations and daycations may as well.  

Commercial travelers? Convention attendees? Interest in going back on the road is there, but will company budgets support that travel? Hybrid meetings will become the norm with a combination of on-site and Zoom attendees. The pandemic boosted extended stay properties and seriously tested luxury hotels; the latter will be challenged to be special, be different.

Strengthened Competitors
City center properties face tougher than ever competition from hotels in leisure destinations. All properties have unprecedently successful competition from the alternative accommodation sector. In fact, they’re no longer alternative. Airbnb, VRBO and their peers are now mainstream. They’re demonstrating their e-commerce prowess and guest-hosting success.

In terms of competitors for the booking, hotels largely maintained their share of direct bookings (as compared with OTAs) during the pandemic. But the leading OTAs, Booking Holdings and Expedia Group, have refocused and retooled, intent on winning more travelers. The pandemic heightened the importance of e-commerce expertise, as well as data collection and analysis, re-emphasizing the vital importance of deeply understanding the marketplace and its opportunities.

Friendlier IT Systems
Hotel staffing struggles have reminded us in the lodging industry of the gap in user friendliness between Google, Facebook, Zoom, WeChat, Office 365, Slack, Instagram, etc., and the systems we use to operate hotels. Even as they struggled to stay afloat, the pandemic also pushed hotel operators to embrace the new generation of cleanly-designed and intuitive cloud-based systems that aim to be more supportive (and less intrusive) in guest service delivery. In short, they’re much more user friendly. 

In ways large and small, immediate and long-lasting, the pandemic has changed the hotel business. We – corporate, owners, property management, property staff – will need to be alert, agile and creative as well to begin prospering in this new normal.
 

John Burns is the president of Hospitality Technology consulting. You can reach him at john@burns-htc.com.

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