“I wish I owned a cleaning supply company,” says Sloan Dean, CEO and president, Remington Hotels. “Look at what happened to the price of hand sanitizer.” Hoteliers are going to be spending more – a lot more – on cleaning supplies and housekeeping to keep up with new brand standards on hygiene and guest safety.
The previous protocol for companies like Remington was that elevators were cleaned three times daily. In a COVID-19-conscious world, it’s more like every hour – and that’s just one line item. If there’s good news, it’s that the new standards could be a big blow to Airbnb. “The announcement of cleanliness and sanitation standards by the major brands was very negative for Airbnb,” Dean said. “There is not across-the-board quality control component in place among their owners. That hurts them massively.”
“The hospitality industry has always been known for a high-touch approach. Now, we need to do a complete 180 and provide little- or no-touch service,” said Jon Bortz, chairman and CEO, Pebblebrook Hotel Trust. “We’ll have to redo everything in the hotel: transitioning to mobile keys; replacing minibars with upscale vending machines guests can access with a key; and so on. When the hotel bar can reopen, will there have to be a plexiglass shield between the bar staff and the customer? Will guests have to sit six feet apart? Who wants that? Hopefully, [the social interaction] will come back once we have solutions for dealing with COVID-19.”
Martin Smura, CEO, Kempinski Group, sees it differently. “Before COVID-19, we in the 5-star world would hide the ladies and gentlemen cleaning the rooms,” he said. “Now, people want to know everything is hygienic. We will have to make that visible. What we did before behind closed curtains will have to be shown off so that guests know every part of the hotel is clean and sanitized. Hoteliers will have to shift paradigms after the crisis.”
Chad Crandell, CEO and managing director of CHMWarnick, says a number of operational changes will be implemented at various stages of recovery from the pandemic. “While many of these changes will be directed by local and national guidelines and restrictions, and certainly those that might infringe upon social norms and medical information (taking temperatures), we are including assumptions in our financial modeling and developing strategies in line with what we expect might be the ‘new normal’ for a period of time,” Crandell said. “Considerations include everything from revising restaurant and meeting space configurations and capacities, to guest-facing services and identifying those that might be better received by guests’ technological solutions or other changes” – for instance, by staggering use of guest rooms, cleaning protocols, amenities and much more).
If there were ever a circumstance to push hospitality into the age of technology, it’s now, Crandell says. “Guests will undoubtedly seek out opportunities to leverage technology where it reduces exposure, like mobile check-in, and also perhaps where it enhances the guest experience,” such as digital concierge, ability to order food, communicate with staff, etc., he said. “I expect we will see a rapid adoption of new technologies in the coming months, especially those focused on air purification, cleaning, sanitizing, reducing the number of people entering a guestroom during a stay, food service delivery, and more. Let’s just say, robots may finally get their big break.”
Jonathan Fareed, managing director, chairman North America, Horwath HTL, says that as long as “touchpoint” is a negative word, hotels will continue to adopt more check-in and payment kiosks, perhaps similar to Delta Airlines’ new facial recognition boarding system. “But I also think we will begin to see a new era of automation such as robots delivering room service, or robots equipped with spray systems and UV lights that continuously sanitize surfaces — given that we’ve all become compulsively clean about our environments,” he said. “Given the new realities of the post-COVID-19 world, I expect we can’t predict everything coming our way, much the way no one could have seen the full impact 9/11 had upon travel.”
Despite the corporate hotel giants’ rollout of new health and hygiene standards, Ali Kasikci, founder and CEO, Bentley Management Inc., sees luxury and ultra-luxury properties selling a subtler message.
“I don’t think hotels at the top end of the market are going to be launching marketing campaigns that promise they’ll be clean and hygienic. Properties at this level should have been doing that anyway,” he said. While some hoteliers contend that guests will want to see what measures are being taken to meet new standards, Kasikci says high-end hotels may still prefer not to pump up the visibility of new sanitization programs.
“Five and 6-star guests don’t want to stop smelling the potpourri and start smelling bleach,” he said.