With the staying at home recommendations, and travel bans, the hospitality industry has been one of the most heavily impacted during the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada, with lost revenue, fired personnel and even some of them closing altogether. To face the new circumstances, businesses have adapted in different ways to stay afloat in the middle of a recession and a future that still seems uncertain, and restaurants, hotels and tourism venues are no exception to this.
Increased sanitation measures on all surfaces, pickup services, and capacity restrictions were among the first steps taken by the industry in June 2020 during the pandemic first wave, however, with increased case numbers, those actions are no longer enough to inspire confidence in their customers, which is why a lot of business owners are wondering how to survive and keep the industry going.
Rely on Automation Tools
Staying at a hotel can take more than the usual check-in time, plus the time it takes to drive to the location. Nowadays, it is required that hospitality workers screen every client with a checklist that could protect the business and the customers. As soon as reaching the lobby, visitors are asked if they’ve been in contact with anybody who tested positive in the last 15 days, if they are coming from abroad, and if they’ve had any symptoms that could indicate that they may have the virus. Only after answering ‘no’ to all the questions, they are allowed to proceed with the usual registration. Experts in the industry state that these actions could take less time if they are automated. “Automation tools can be used for guest communication, staff management, pricing, payments, cleaning tasks and more. These tools streamline internal operations, save your team time on the most repetitive aspects of their jobs and speed up response rate, which ultimately results in positive guest experiences and glowing reviews.”, said the president of Guesty, Vered Schwarz, to Forbes recently.
Relying on automation can bring benefits for the industry, not only because it streamlines work processes, but also because it can alleviate the weight on human resources to clean, and screen clients before receiving them. According to a recent article by Brad Beumer from UiPath, the industry could benefit from making these changes, “automation technologies are not only a solution for addressing pressing challenges resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak but also optimizing customer-facing operations in the long-term. Together, these capabilities work to free up hospitality workers to focus on the more personable activities that attract guests and drive the industry forward”.
Build Trust Through a Commitment to Health and Safety
Another aspect businesses could focus on is in letting their customers know they are committed to health and safety. Since the desire for travelling and getting away from their daily routine hasn’t gone, and some might say it has increased due to the confinement, by conveying that there is guarantee of doing it in a secure way, clients will feel confident in purchasing the services that are being offered, while staying protected and healthy at the same time. The real estate professional Chris Bounds, stated to Forbes that companies need to demonstrate how they are being extra careful, and putting the health and safety of customers first. “Describe measures that are taken before, during and after guests arrive to help build trust with travelers.”
Make Strategic Forecasts
Trying to perform under a pandemic can be a challenge, especially without having a clear picture of the future. Nonetheless, businesses need to make strategic forecasts taking into account all the variables possible to be able to respond to different scenarios.
“Dan Hedeen advocates for starting with assumptions in the planning process. Tracking those assumptions over time can help to identify plans that won’t work very well. For example, if a plan is based on the assumption of accelerating e-commerce, that assumption can be monitored. If it turns out that people really want to go back into stores, and e-commerce levels off, it’s good to know that as soon as possible”, said Bill Conerly in a Forbes column.
Reevaluating the current method of work is another piece of advice experts suggest. “Get a sense of strategic forecasting. Think red, yellow, and green revenue outcomes at specific dates in the future. Then work backward from those outcomes in terms of investment and cost structure decisions today“, explained Clark Twiddy, from Twiddy and Company
Establish and Strengthen Client Relationships
Even though physical distancing has been the rule for more than a year, it doesn’t mean losing connection with customers and other businesses. Hospitality professionals can build resiliency by cultivating relationships. Keep clients updated on what’s going on and the changes you are making, and that might also inspire others and strengthen the connection while staying apart.
Focus on the Customer Experience
The hospitality industry revolves around the guest or customer, so going back to that in times of uncertainty is the more logical action. In the context of a pandemic, this means being able to adapt to the client’s needs, especially when the industry can’t do business as usual.
Yannis Moati, CEO of HotelsByDay, said recently to the Washington Post that “hotels are going to be, in our view, more flexible than ever. Whereas before they used to focus solely on overnights, post-pandemic they’re going to be much more flexible in their use of the space.”
Moati’s company lets people book rooms for part of a day, as a way to adapt. He mentioned that some hotels are renting some of their rooms as “gym rooms”, so customers can use a Peloton bike in privacy.
Create Multiple Revenue Sources
Reshaping the business goes in hand with diversifying the revenue sources, since having more services to offer will generate other income sources. This means the hospitality industry will need to go outside of its comfort zone to go the extra mile for the client. “Building up multiple sources of revenue allows for the distribution of risk and increased revenue. Think of things like repurposing shared spaces to co-working spaces, maximizing food and beverage offerings or outreach and integration in the community. Don’t just be hospitality, create options”, said Charles Argianas, from Argianas & Associates, Inc.
Rethink Existing Spaces
Rethinking the spaces means the rooms and services the business used to offer could adapt to offer a different kind of service to suit the customer’s needs. According to the Washington Post, some hotels are offering their rooms as office space to people who can’t work from home, and private dining rooms as an option to eating outside of your home, when restaurants are not open or a safe choice. “The ‘Work From Hamilton’ offer at D.C.’s Hamilton Hotel includes a Keurig coffee maker and a fax machine or printer upon request; prices start at $79. The Sawyer in Sacramento rents out pool cabanas for $150 a day for people who want to work poolside; lunch, water, Wi-Fi and parking are included.”
Diversify your Clientele
After reshaping spaces, and offering different services, the target audience of the business will expand, and the industry has to take advantage of the opportunity by addressing clients that otherwise wouldn’t have noticed them. As some have moved to open private in-person services, others moved to online resources that allow them to expand the scope of their market.
“Hospitality professionals are coming up with innovative solutions to think outside the box. As people continue to scale back their travel, the focus is on virtual. Professionals are utilizing unique features such as chefs providing cooking demonstrations or bartenders giving mixology lessons. Although not conventional, these alternatives will help the industry to continue to deliver key services.”, said Don Wenner, from DLP Real Estate Capital.
Prioritize Planning, Transparency and Communication
While the industry is facing a contingency and going through a transition, it’s important to remember that having a plan for every scenario might reduce the uncertainty inherent to the times, and will bring more fluent communication and transparency to the employees and customers. “With the uncertainty and misinformation surrounding the pandemic, building and showcasing trust with your customers will help you earn more business and thrive during the pandemic and well after.”, Ron Costa, The Eighty-Two Group.
Provide Incentives to Attract Consumers
Finally, hospitality professionals are always working on different ways to attract and retain customers and the pandemic is no exception. With social distancing and the fear of contracting the virus once outside of the house, businesses will have to convince their customers by providing a safe space, and something extra that they wouldn’t get under regular circumstances (aka pre-pandemic), a special discount, increased rewards, could go a long way right now in customer service.