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Take a Number: How the Hospitality Industry is Adjusting to Stay Alive

Welcome to the Hotel Excelsior. How long will you be staying for? This is your captain speaking, we have reached our cruising altitude of 12,000 feet. But of course, monsieur, we definitely have space tonight at Bistro le expensive for a table of two.

Just a few months ago, those sayings and conversations had been all but relegated to room 101. But now they seem to be dusting themselves off and slowly but surely returning to daily life as we know it in the new normal. With a large degree of innovative operational and marketing touches it must be said.

That said, thanks to COVID-19, the hospitality industry is still on its knees thanks to crippling restrictions that have been imposed on restaurants, hotels, and travel companies.

During the height of the pandemic, hotel occupancy was down by as much as 95% in some markets, all restaurants and pubs were ordered to shut their doors and big budget movies that were due for circuit release were relegated from the big screen to people’s living rooms.

However, there does seem to be some light at the end of the tunnel and thankfully it does not appear to be a train.

A room with a cautiously optimistic view.

With probably the most to lose from the impact of COVID-19 on the hospitality industry, hotels are now setting the pace when it comes to attracting paying customer back. And the primary way to do that is to allay customer fears that their stay won’t negatively impact their health.

In fact, industry thought leaders J Lee Rofkind, regional leader of Hospitality in Asia Pacific, and Laura Jones, regional leader of HOK’s Hospitality practice in Canada, sincerely believe that hotels and the hospitality industry can rebound from the coronavirus pandemic.

They believe that by putting five easy steps into practice, occupancy levels can rise.

1. Consider guest health and wellness

Hotels can help mitigate this fear by ramping up cleaning efforts and making sure guests know (via marketing and messaging) which specific sanitation and sterilization measures are in place to ensure their safety. Marriott, for example, has announced it will begin using electrostatic sprayers with hospital-grade disinfectant to sanitise surfaces throughout its hotels.

2. Safeguard their hotel staff

Hotels need to make staff aware of WHO and/or Centres for Disease Control guidelines for preventing the spread of infection, including handwashing, surface cleaning and respiratory hygiene. Wearing of protective masks must be mandatory to ensure their safety and put guests at ease.

3. Install automation and hands-free technology

Many hotels have already switched to mobile check-in technology that eliminates the need to interact with the front desk and enables a smartphone to serve as room key. Beyond technology, hotels must consider how to lower the number of touchpoints in restaurants and dining spaces.

4. Hotels need to look to healthcare for solutions

These include, adding more hand-sanitizer dispensers, particularly in high-traffic lobbies and public spaces. Incorporating antimicrobial fabrics into guestroom soft goods such as bedding, towels, carpeting and drapery. And last but not least, replacing metal or plastic doorknobs and furniture handles with copper that has been shown to kill harmful bacteria.

5. Additional considerations and opportunities

Like the tail wagging the dog, guests will likely demand additional ways to control their hotel experience following COVID-19. For example, operable windows offer a simple way to provide guests a level of autonomy over their environment.

On a wing and a prayer.

In many countries, lockdown measures have put an abrupt stop to travel, prompting a resurgence in staycations. In fact, the Mirror has said that British holidays are ‘back on’ as bookings for staycations soared by up to 150% in July, with that figure expected to rise in August during the height of the summer school holidays.

That’s great for local hospitality industries around the world, but it’s a slap in the face for the travel industry looking to fill their aircraft with as many travellers as possible whilst still following guidelines.

The UK took definitive steps to breathe new life into the flagging airline industry by creating travel bridges between itself and low risk international holiday destinations. Government then promptly pulled up the draw bridge this week as COVID-19 cases spiked in Spain.

The fact of the matter is that the airline industry can’t look to air bridges to keep itself alive, airlines need to adapt to the hand that they have been dealt and do everything in their power to be a thought leader. This means adapting and changing their services to find innovative ways to set themselves apart from competitors.

For instance, Zephyr Aerospace initially came up with double-decker style seat designs to give passengers more space, but the concept would now appear to allow travellers more isolation, which could give them more confidence in flying following the coronavirus crisis.

Further to that, Avio Interiors has introduced a three-seater design which reverses the direction of the middle seat and separates passengers with a transparent shield. Airlines should start taking note and quickly move to taking these prototypes and turning them into a reality across their fleets.

Your restaurant table is ready. In your dining room.

Masked waiters, tables spaced the designated number of metres apart, glass barriers, and even inanimate objects occupying seats that can’t be used are just some of the changes you might encounter the next time you dine out.

Much like the airline industry, beleaguered restaurants have been staring down the barrel over the past few months. And for good reason, as virtually all restaurants were forced to close or drastically limit their capacity.

In order to keep the lights on, many mainstream restaurants adopted the take-away model, tapping into delivery services such as Deliveroo and Just Eat to get meals that people would have normally ordered and enjoyed in a restaurant, dropped off at their front door.

Now that restaurants and pubs have been allowed to reopen, many are adopting the model of table service with a difference. Those that are leading the charge have signed up with software providers to allow patrons to scan a QR code to access the menu, order from it, pay, and have one single interaction from a distance when the waiter has to drop it off at the table. Simple, but effective.

One restaurant in Amsterdam has really adopted thought leadership superbly by creating a solution so appealing that it might just stick around. Mediamatic Foundation’s Eten restaurant installed a series of mini greenhouses along the side of a canal that allow couples and small groups of up to four people to dine without being exposed to other guests. In the evening, they seem to glow, creating a romantic atmosphere that guests can appreciate regardless of COVID-19.

It really is no sweat!

According to an IHRSA report, total fitness industry revenue was an estimated $99.9bn in 2019, up from $94bn in 2018. That’s 210,000 clubs globally (7,000 in the UK) with 183 million members and a bucket full of staff to service them. It is no small fry industry.

Of course, the coronavirus pandemic changed the way people exercise, with many finding they can get a workout in their homes in lieu of going to the gym. Reflecting this shift, Gymshark clothing brand changed its name on its social media channels to ‘Homeshark’ and Les Mills saw the company’s digital fitness platform surge to a 900% increase in sign up. But will the virtual model last?

Now that gyms have been given the all clear to reopen, many are flooding back as people realise that what they were missing was not just the gym itself and the endorphin rush, but also the social interaction they get there. But gyms are having to toe the party line to continue to keep their doors open.

Exercise equipment has been spaced out and class sizes reduced to allow social distancing. People are being encouraged to arrive in their kit and to travel home to shower afterwards, and indoor pools are only admitting those that have booked a slot online. For the latter it really is a case of take a number.

The hospitality industry has dealt with setbacks before and returned.

The terror attacks of September 11 severely curtailed travel in the U.S. for over a year. SARS brought about sharp declines in bookings in Asia and Canada in the early 2010s. After each setback, travel returned to levels greater than before. Already bookings are on the rise in China, the nation first hit with the pandemic.

There is an incredible opportunity for entrepreneurs to thrive after COVID. Even if their industry appears to be failing, now is the time where businesses can reinvent themselves, adapt, make changes, provide more value, and come out the other side stronger than ever.

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