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The Pandemic’s Legacy

By: Joanne Sasvari

These days we expect bathrooms to be tiled, closets to be built in, hallways to be wide and well lit, a powder room to be located near the main entrance, and windows designed to let in fresh air and daylight. But not so long ago, these were newfangled notions. They only became standard because of pandemic diseases.

In fact, the whole school of modern architecture was informed by the esthetic—and the functionality—of the hospital. Features like easy-to-sanitize tiles and well-ventilated interior spaces were designed to combat the influenza pandemic of 1918 as well as other deadly diseases like tuberculosis, cholera, and typhoid.

‘The whole school of modern architecture was informed by the esthetic—and the functionality—of the hospital.”

COVID-19, which has upended every facet of our lives for two years now, will also leave a legacy of long-lasting changes in how we live, work, play, and travel. While it’s too soon to know the full impact, here are some of the changes that are sure to stay in hotels, motels, resorts, and inns.

Marketing

Before the pandemic, BC’s tourism and hospitality industry was growing faster than the provincial economy, producing some $20.5 billion in revenue each year and providing 161,500 jobs. Then in March 2020, the coronavirus shut everything down. Since then, things have re-opened in fits and starts, with hopes for a speedy recovery fading day by day.

A year after the initial closures, Destination Canada (DC) published a report on COVID-19’s impact on the visitor economy. “Tourism in Canada was first hit, hardest hit, and will be last to recover,” it read in part. “The state of the visitor economy is more dire than the impacts following 9/11, the SARS outbreak, and the 2008 economic crisis combined.”

“The EHL Hospitality Business School is encouraging hoteliers to think like start-ups and embrace new, even disruptive ideas.”

Hotel occupancy, DC further reported, fell to an all-time low of 13.8% in April 2020, and accommodation revenues dropped by 71% year over year, April to November 2020. Experts predict that the travel business won’t rebound to 2019 numbers until at least 2025. Remember: It took a decade for travel and tourism to recover just from 9/11.

That’s why the EHL Hospitality Business School in Lausanne is recommending properties rethink their marketing efforts. They’re calling it “the great hospitality reset,” and encouraging hoteliers to think like start-ups and embrace new, even disruptive ideas.

That should mean investing time and money in digital marketing campaigns to attract new guests, especially those who live close by. After all, many Canadians are still reluctant to travel abroad and locals may want to use your workspaces, spa facilities, and banquet rooms on a day basis.

Cleanliness

Before March 2020, hand sanitizer wasn’t displayed prominently in most hotel lobbies and staff weren’t noticeably wiping down door handles every few minutes. Guests didn’t expect to drop their key cards in a bowl of disinfectant, or to find medical masks among the amenities in their rooms, or to have fresh towels left hanging in a bag from their door handle. Cleanliness was an expectation, but it was done out of sight and out of mind.

No more. Seeing strict cleaning policies at the establishments they frequent is considered “extremely important” by 72% of respondents to a study by OpenTable, and frankly, that number seems low.


According to the 2020 J.D. Power North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index Study, the top three most important factors when it comes to guest expectations are: cleanliness, clear communication, and a peaceful sleeping environment.

And in a 2020 report on the future of hospitality, Deloitte found that many properties were accelerating plans to replace furnishings with ones that are easier to clean (or at least are perceived as cleaner)—for instance, replacing carpeting with high-end vinyl flooring. Some hotels are even reformulating their signature scents to increase customers’ perception of cleanliness.
Deloitte also reported that major hotel chains were forming strategic alliances to demonstrate their commitment to cleanliness: Hilton consulting with the makers of Lysol; Four Seasons collaborating with Johns Hopkins Medicine International; Extended Stay America partnering with Procter & Gamble, maker of Spic and Span and Mr. Clean products.

In other words, expect to keep sanitizing those high-touch surfaces.

Technology

The biggest ongoing changes will involve technology. Even before the pandemic, properties were experimenting with innovations like robot delivery service, digital booking, self check-in, and contactless payment. Now tech adaptation is accelerating at lightning speed.

In part, it’s a necessity, given ongoing staff shortages as well as consumers’ reluctance to deal in person with people who might carry the virus. But during the pandemic, consumers also became accustomed to going online to order food and buy furniture, book appointments, follow the latest news, and download vaccination passports. They expect digital convenience in every facet of life from streaming entertainment to videoconferencing with family to booking hotels.

“EHL strongly advises properties to take ownership of their own booking services.”

Digitalization will eventually take over the entire hotel booking market, reports EHL, which strongly advises properties to take ownership of their own booking services rather than leaving them to Online Travel Agencies like Expedia. At the very least, they suggest, diversify across OTA platforms and invest in your own website.

At the same time, the level of technological service a property offers needs to be top-notch, and that means providing high-quality (and free) WiFi, touchless technology and videoconferencing services for both in-person and virtual events. IHG Hotels & Resorts, for instance, has a Meet with Confidence program with resources and tools for hybrid events, as well as convenient cancellation policies and even a special offer for future events.

Trust

In its December 2021 Global State of the Consumer Tracker, Deloitte reported that only 36% of Canadians felt safe staying in a hotel (compared to 58% across the border). That is a whole lot of trust that needs to be rebuilt.

“A December 2021 survey indicated only 36% of Canadians felt safe staying in a hotel.”

The hospitality industry will have to work hard to win back skittish consumers, who need assurance that they will be physically safe, but also that their digital and financial security is being cared for. They will remember, and reward, the brands that made them feel safe and valued.

One way to do this is through personalization. More than anything, EHL says, properties need to put the guest at the center of any strategy. Listening to their needs and adapting services accordingly is the best way to set your business apart from the others.

Of course, that’s just what good businesses have always done.