As we approach the one‐year mark of the pandemic, I am
reflecting on the year that changed hospitality, looking at the things that
have been a case of survival and considering the changes that are for the
better and likely to be around for the long‐term.
New tech: Reducing contact and improving guest experience
The pandemic has fast‐forwarded guest technology plans as
hotels across the world have taken steps to minimize all possible touch points.
The go‐to guest apps have been those that enable online or contactless
checking in, menu lookups or digitally executing guest in‐room requests.
The Little National Hotel in Sydney, Australia, reports that
they have operated on a completely cashless basis since the crisis began. As
well as reducing touch points, this approach has streamlined their operations considerably,
eliminating the need to manage cash change and balance tills.
Investment in guest technology is here to stay because it
not only delivers efficiencies, but it also enables customers to spend less time
waiting and more time indulging and enjoying the services. However, as staff
remain thin on the ground, technology companies will need to continue to ensure
that it adds value straight away and doesn’t cause a distraction.
Changes to cleaning timetables and procedures
One of the most immediate departures from the norm at the
arrival of the pandemic was the strategy to cut stay‐over cleans. Many hotels
in the United States and Europe moved to a minimal cleaning model to reduce
exposure for both guests and staff. This initiative, on the face of it, appears
to not only decrease guest contact but it also appears to reduce the amount of
housekeeping time required.
However, it has not always been that straightforward or a
success. Many guests report that being left with a bedroom that is not
refreshed daily detracts from the hotel experience, particularly where they
have still paid a resort fee and half the other facilities are closed too.
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One of our large resort customers in the U.S. reports that
while they implemented a ban on all in‐room cleaning when a guest is in residence,
the hotel intends to return to cleaning stayovers as soon as is feasible.
Without regular cleaning, the rooms are in a state that requires
much more extensive cleaning at checkout, which in turn complicates turning
the rooms fast enough. This strategy delivers on safety, but it doesn’t
necessarily deliver on guest expectations, cost savings or efficiency on
By contrast, the five‐star Okada resort in Manila at no
stage considered eliminating stayover cleans, because it simply would not be
acceptable to do so within the region. In fact, they expect to continue with
all extra cleaning and sanitization efforts for the foreseeable future to
absolutely ensure that they are meeting their guests’ expectations.
The extent to which cleaning techniques and strategies will
remain in place will depend on the economics of balancing wages, which vary
significantly from country to country, with an intimate knowledge of what
guests in each region and each environment want. This will be locally driven,
in line with manager judgements and listening to customers.
Operational and managerial efficiencies
We estimate that a staggering 90% of hotels still run their
operations with a pen and paper, and on closer inspection, our experience is
that hotel groups with multiple sites generally see huge disparities when their
manual operations processes are digitized and compared.
Being able to trace who has been where or making the best
use of staff time is nearly impossible to manage on a manual basis, particularly
as demand continues to surge in a very unpredictable way. Furthermore, offering
the latest in‐room technology to request specific cleaning times or a light
bulb change is useless if the back office doesn’t support it.
An increasing number of hotels have turned to technology to
control this, the largest controllable expense line item in the hotel. By fully
understanding and automating schedules, they have been in a completely
different position to manage things more effectively.
Similarly, hotel groups with hibernated rooms, floors and
sometimes whole hotels have turned to clustering resources where a management
team can run the operational teams at several properties at once from one
location. It is an obvious strategy to help streamline costs but also to hold
on to great staff that may not have access to their usual job. It is
complicated though, and hotels that have attempted it without the right
technology in place have found the economies of scale to be elusive.
Biggest change? The role of hotel operations
One thing that is for certain is that housekeeping and
cleaning are no longer back-office tasks. If you had said in December 2019 that
the cleaners will soon become some of the most important, if not the most
important, people in hotel operations, I am not sure the majority of people
would have believed you.
Now, with adherence
to cleaning protocols being the make or break of a hotel on the basis that
people’s health and wellbeing can be directly affected, it is most certainly
front-of-mind. The question is whether over time it will shrink back to just
being part of the normal infrastructure.
I don’t think so. There is a new consciousness toward
cleaning and operational touch points that will be with us for many years to
come. But the winners will be the hotels that get the balance right between
hotel staff and guests, enabling warm, seamless interaction - but at an arm’s
About the author...
Soenke Weiss is founder and chief strategy officer at Optii Solutions