Amidst the many challenges faced within the travel industry, COVID-19 has presented an opportunity for hospitality to reemerge better, stronger.
As travel continues to rebuild globally, hoteliers are taking the time to reevaluate the fundamentals of how they've historically operated and strategize new ways to recoup lost revenue.
Fortunately, two areas of focus offer cause for fresh hope. The first is the speed of digitalization. The world's digitization is accelerating at a rapid rate, meaning technology that was once complementary may now be essential. Incorporating digitalization and automation into everyday practices gives hoteliers the opportunity to amplify team capabilities, so that they can focus on what's truly important - the guests.
The second area of focus is a renewed drive prioritize the guest experience. The core of hospitality is and always will be about its people. No matter how the world of travel evolves, the nature of hospitality will always remain the same. How we nurture those relationships and guest experiences however may forever be changed.
The following strategies will help your team win in a world at the intersection of these trends.
Preparing for increased occupancy
There's no challenge that brings the human-centric nature of hospitality to light more than recent labor shortages. Faced with historic pandemic-related falls in demand, hotels have had little choice but to cut back on services due to budget, often resulting in significant staff reductions.
However, as demand and occupancy returns, so do guest requests. This is where hotels may want to consider tools to help orchestrate tasks such as automating room assignments, managing housekeeping opt-out programs, and proactively scheduling maintenance checks to help give limited time back to already scaled-down teams.
Beyond the immense complexities echoing behind the scenes, there are further lessons to be learned. Rapid response times to guest requests leads to improved satisfaction ratings. Loyalty also begins with guests knowing they will return where their needs and requests are met with a personalized touch.
And there’s no touch greater than the gracious, anticipatory service and attention to detail that can quickly turn a hotel stay into an extraordinary experience.
In a people-first industry, finding a balance between high-tech and high-touch has the potential to have profound effects, and being able to more with less will be key.
Rethinking sales strategies to fuel growth
Another area of hospitality where human connection is at the forefront is sales. Fierce competition for business coupled with a drop-off in demand makes for a complex sales environment. Effectively prospecting, building relationships, and negotiating deals with accounts are now met with a series of new challenges.
Structural shifts in our attitudes about work and a rebalancing of the tradeoffs with digital interactions are changing the 'why' and the 'how' behind our travel decisions. The good news is sales teams have a unique role to play when it comes to recovery, serving as the link between the hotel's eyes and ears into a changing world and driving profitability.
With some businesses questioning the necessity of travel all together, providing flexibility, empathy, and reassurance when it comes to safety and sanitization measures are critical to recapturing business as it returns.
A recent industry survey shows that a majority of business travelers are in fact willing to travel, with 54% citing a desire to make personal connections with customers and colleagues. If COVID-19 has taught us anything it's that we all need to nurture and be nurtured.
Fostering relationships with clients is no different, as they consider the multitude of safety and cost concerns of corporate travel.
For hoteliers, there is also an opportunity to fill the newly created void in face-to-face interactions. Sales teams should consider how to position their properties as the preferred location to host meetups for remote teams or for local businesses that have foregone offices but still require a physical space to meet clients for impromptu meetings.
Success will however no longer be reached by simply processing leads but by combining a deep understanding of new challenges customers' face and a commitment to solving them in new, more personalized ways.
Enhancing the speed and ease of conducting business - from prospecting and negotiating to closing deals - can also be mutually beneficial by leveraging online bookings to reduce RFPs or electronic options for proposals, signatures, and payments to remove friction from the buying process.
While relationships are the cornerstone of sales, hoteliers will need to be open to new opportu-nities on how to engage, understanding that the mindsets are likely to have fundamentally shift-ed as a result of COVID-19.
Enhancing the group business experience
Group business can generate significant revenue for a property in any given year, so it's no surprise hotels are anxiously awaiting the return of the meetings, events, and social-related bookings.
Now as furloughed event planners return to hotels and global restrictions begin to ease, studies show that both consumers and industry professionals are indeed eager to resume face-to-face events.
In fact, 81% of meeting planners say they will hold their next in-person event sometime in 2021, most of which (59%) will fall in the second half of the year, with only 19% saying they will hold their next gathering in 2022 or later.
More requests for proposals mean hotels must be prepared to accommodate the requirements to support these evolving programs, as well as fundamental changes to the overall event experience. Virtual and hybrid events will remain an important business strategy in the long-term, even as physical events resume, to ensure events are financially viable and accessible to more attendees.
Safety and security protocols, followed by disinfection and social distancing protocols also show to be top factors influencing group decision making. Hotels must demonstrate that they follow stringent sanitizing, health, and safety guidelines as part of a new standard of criteria to close business.
Transparency will be crucial to earning back the trust of planners and attendees, and appropriately communicating those new standards could be the value-add factor needed to close business now and into the future.
Capacity to accommodate social distancing additionally proves to be a deciding factor of whether to hold an in-person event with 77% of meeting planners saying it would affect their meeting location choice.
Automated event space diagramming can help solidify a decision, allowing planners to see how your space can be set up for their event, with accurate details before they even sign a contract. To inspire even more confidence, diagramming can help calculate social distancing between seating, hand sanitizing stations, or boxed lunch stations.
In the world of group business, hotels that can also remove manual processes, will be able to spend less time in front of a computer and more time creating the personalized, wow-worthy experiences we have all been missing. The inherently personal nature of events means group business is all about people connecting.
Those connections begin with sales and aim to linger long after execution, with customers returning to where relationships are strong, and the event experience has been safely reimagined.
Rebuilding hospitality together
Hoteliers that adapt to these new trends shaping hospitality - from operations to sales and events - will be the first to experience positive revenue impact.
By considering these actions and combining a skilled staff with new technologies, as an industry we can better adapt to the future needs of guests.
Hotels will always be about people. But the reality is digitalization and automation can support and augment personal interactions at a higher level. Finding that balance is what is needed to succeed in this new - and evolving - world of travel.
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