INTERVIEW by REGITSE CECILIE ROSEVINGE
Colleague, writer, marketing consultant, blogger, published author, founder of Room22.agency, mother, traveler and friend Regitse Rosevinge is the brilliant author and creator of this interview piece, originally published on her blog Regitse Rosevinge.
Regitse contacted me a few weeks ago wanting to discuss and explore the consequences of the pandemic on our day to day, and the impact of the same on the guest experience.
She has raised some interesting points, and I have thought deeply how to answer those questions keeping in mind both the guest and the workers perspective. Because after all things have changed for all of us, and all of us are working hard to accept and adapt to the best of our abilities.
End result? I feel like I this interview has made me think about the situation again, and again, and I have found my answers. I am happy to realize I still feel positive about the future, as I have always advocated, but now more than ever thanks to the situation I am living and thanks to the company I am working for.
Ultimate goal? As usual to inspire, give hope, and share some positive results that I have experienced, with the thought that the positive achievements will soon spread and reach everywhere.
Thanks for reading!
How has the Hotel experience changed in the wake of the pandemic?
A hospitality experience certainly looks different these days, both from a guest and from a worker perspective. Our job has changed a lot, not only in the way we handle operations and the technicalities of our day to day, but also in the way we feel in our hotels as workers.
We walk around with our masks on, not being able to greet each other and our guests showing our smile - the one thing that no matter where we work or where we have been trained - we are all taught to always have on our face. We handle interactions through plexiglass screens, forced to have a barrier between us and our customers, an unnatural division for hospitality workers. We do not hand things out personally anymore and we are forced to contactless interactions, quite an impersonal way of dealing with people, and something we are really not used to. Connections with people are everything to hospitality, and the adjustment is hard on us; if we feel this way, we know our guests are feeling just the same way.
If you haven't walked in a hotel in the last 12 months, the next time you do you will notice right away the indisputable changes: the appearance of lobbies, restaurants and guest rooms has shifted to a simple and minimal display that includes only what's necessary. Services have been reduced to necessities as well: to cope with the losses of last year, the staff is significantly scaled down compared to what it used to be, which obviously impacts our ability to maintain service level and consistency. Daily housekeeping service is a memory; in room dining experience is minimized; fitness center, pool and other entertainment outlets are operated on a very reduced schedule and with multiple restrictions; getting a luggage pick up or a room orientation does not exist anymore; the restaurant and bar work on a much lower capacity, and dining in a half empty room almost feels uncomfortable.
The overall experience definitely feels very different, and we are aware of how guests sense it going through it: minimal, discounted, almost bare.
However, as hoteliers we hope our guests will
remember that it is tough on them just as much as it is on us: service is our nature and not being able to provide them with it makes us feel unaccomplished.
Hotel companies are working hard through the adjustment to cope and to always provide new options, new alternatives, new ways to make that service possible.
At this point, for the most part guests are responding quite well, and most of them understand that the experience can no longer be what they were used to, they understand and appreciate that we are hardly working towards new solutions for them and that this takes time and effort from both sides.
We will undoubtedly see a shift in the mindset of travelers moving forward. What will their primary request be when checking into a hotel?
This is extremely hard to predict, but I can tell you how it's shaping up to be based on how guests are behaving currently. We are seeing mainly two types of guests responses at this point: those who are reasonably accepting the situation, who understand how nowadays things are different and how they will most likely stay different. And those who are behaving as if nothing had changed and who do not acknowledge that things are no longer the same. The first ones will continue looking for peace of mind when it comes to safety and cleanliness measures, more than they used to, so hotels will need to keep up with the expectations set by the pandemic for better or for worse. The second ones will continue acting as if masks are not a necessary measure, as if social distancing makes no difference, as if all the protocols implemented by hotels are just an obstacle to being able to fully enjoy the experience.
The first ones will continue avoiding or minimizing contact until they feel like it's safe to do otherwise, and will opt for technology over person to person interaction whenever possible.
The second ones will continue expecting daily housekeeping, they will continue to choose personal interactions, service, deliveries and so on, all just like it was before the pandemic, and will not accept the fact that this is not possible.
So to answer the question the shift in mindset is only happening for a group of travelers and not for everybody.
The first group will choose hotels who have committed to a high level promise when it comes to technology that allows a contactless experience, when it comes to high standards of cleanliness and disinfecting, and when it comes to security measures and protocols.
The second group is looking for the same things they were looking for before the pandemic. For them, nothing has really changed.
It's easy to say the first ones are right and the second ones are wrong, but as hospitality and service souls we need to make a bigger effort in understanding where people are coming from and why they feel the way they feel. Perhaps we need a mix of these two groups to overcome the situation and create a new normal that makes sense for both guests and for the industry.
Perhaps having people who do not accept the circumstances will push hospitality peeps to continue seeking improvements and solutions to the situation, who could otherwise potentially become stagnant.
One of the things we'll most likely see less of in hotels around the world is human contact - at least in the first few years. How does that correspond with the core of hospitality, which is based on human interaction? How will the progress of technology work with hotel guests who are not so tech-savvy?
I feel like in some hospitality environments I have seen the urge to replace human labor with technology already more than 10 years ago. I have worked in a high volume fast pace property where kiosks would be available for guests to check-in, check-out, close bills and assign room numbers, back in 2010.
Nowadays technology can basically perform most hotel operational tasks: software will check you in online before you even are present at the hotel, and it will check you out after you're gone, it lets you pay and close your bill remotely, it downloads your room key on your phone, it allows you to order your dinner with the touch of an i-pad or with a simple QR code. Technology can handle several of our front office operations by auto assigning rooms to arrivals and performing global check-ins and check-outs. It can also handle housekeeping operations by automatically creating the cleaning boards for your room attendants based on certain configurations. Revenue software are so advanced they can build your entire rate strategy day by day, month by month, year by year, based on inputs from historical and forecast data, and based on trends and local and global events. Believe it or not there are even companies working on self-cleaning rooms, so it really does seem like we are going towards a future where machines will replace human labor and personal interaction might not be necessary anymore.
The pandemic has done nothing but turning tech advancements from operation enhancement to necessities. So when Covid hit and we all started looking more and more into software that could replace our job and the job of our employees, I started myself thinking about this point, and wondering if the pandemic was going to accelerate this trend exponentially. I have certainly thought about a future where human contact will no longer be the core of our business, and it has saddened me very much to think so. Service cannot be performed by a machine, and as I always say service is not just our job, it is our lifestyle. As much as I enjoy the efficiency and facilitations of technology, and as much as I know these are just needs of our lifetime, it is disheartening to think about our industry without the human component. It simply cannot be this way.
Worried with this thought, last year I have made a point to discuss it with my colleagues.
I have talked to people who have been in the business for a long time - much longer than me - and who have seen the progress of technology over the years and the impact that it has had or has not had on a certain clientele. These are workers who have feared their job being at risk perhaps more than any other fellow workers in the last few years (but especially in 2020), because of what the internet is doing for people nowadays. They are concierge, and they have really made me see that - despite the progress of hotel tech and its acceleration caused by Covid19 - all the machinery in the world will never be able to perform hospitality.
I really would like to quote them because I think they truly understand where we are going as an industry despite the latest developments:
"All new computers and technology in the world cannot build a connection with a human being. Guests are still coming to the desk to work with us - with all the right safety measures - but they still are. Despite the pandemic, we hear a lot of opinions regarding how - with the new technology and necessities - the future of certain services and certain positions in the hotel business will inevitably change, but people of who are well travelled and choose traditional hotels, are still in need of personal assistance, maybe now more than ever.
Human relationships are fundamental to the health of our society, so maintaining those trustworthy relations and personal interactions is an aspect of our lives that will not disappear any time soon", (I add) no matter how much A.I. and machinery will progress and how much other circumstances will intervene in our day to day.
I believe certain companies and the more modern trendy hotels will opt more and more for an avant-garde approach to service by utilizing machines on a large scale - especially post pandemic. But they will realize soon that not everybody will be able to accept and adapt to this, indeed the older and less tech savvy guests will opt out of these hotels for this reason.
Traditional luxury hotels will implement whatever is necessary to the comfort of their guests, but will continue to find ways to maintain personal service and human contact to the core of each experience, because that's what true hospitality is.
What can hoteliers do to provide an extra comfortable experience for their guest in a post-pandemic environment?
The most important thing we can do is to communicate efficiently and proactively. If we are able to provide guests with the necessary information about the adjustments before arrival and during their stay, we have already accomplished a lot. The worst thing that can happen for a guest in these times is walking into a hotel not knowing what has changed or what to expect. It is crucial therefore to ensure customers are up to date in terms of the modifications that have occurred in any given property, and to let them know certain things are required by state law and/or by company policy: setting the expectations avoids confusions and frustrations. It's also important to communicate with guests what we are doing on a daily basis to ensure their comfort and safety, which has mainly to do with reinforced housekeeping procedures and security protocols. Hotels have been very good at announcing and making available on their website their safety commitment, for our guests' peace of mind.
Not second to communication is the empathy and compassion we must offer to our guests: we know it's a big acclimation, we know they will not enjoy their experience to the fullest, we know it is inconvenient and unsatisfactory not to have all those great amenities and services available. But it is for their own safety, and we must continue to stress that if we want to comply with our commitments.
With that being said, now more than ever guests need to be pampered, listened to, understood, empathized with. In my eyes we are overcoming the phase when guests were criticizing hotel workers for not offering full service, and when staff was upset with the sometimes rough guests' reactions.
We are going towards a place where we meet in the middle once again, where guests are more understanding of our policies and behaviors, and where staff enjoys serving guests again to the best of their abilities given the circumstances. We can only remember we are all human beings going through something extremely tough together, and together only we will come out of it.
This is a slightly edited version of the article "Shaping the Post Pandemic Guest Experience: An Interview" published on Regitse Rosevinge's blog on March 30th 2021,
with credits to Regitse Cecilie Rosevinge.