Consumer expectations: Restoring confidence in the travel experience

Health and wellness has been no more paramount than it is today, as hotels have enforced strict cleaning protocols and guests have added cleanliness of the property as one of the top factors when choosing where to stay.

During the recent Hotel Business Hot Topics session “Consumer expectations: Restoring confidence in the travel experience,” with sponsor support from Delos, panelists discussed topics such as indoor air quality; vaccination passports and education; and the wellness trend.

Moderated by Abby Elyssa, digital content manager, Hotel Business, the group of panelists included Peter Scialla, COO, Delos; Dr. Zachary Pope, research scientist, physiology & behavior, Well Living Lab; Kevin Maciulewicz, SVP of resort operations, Wyndham Destinations; and Kevin Locraft, VP, partner success, vacation rental, Expedia Group.

Among the health & safety concerns of hoteliers and guests is air quality as it relates to the transmission of COVID-19 particles and other airborne pathogens. Scialla noted that his organization has been looking at the benefits of fine particle filtration for the better part of four or five years.

“This is not just a COVID thing,” he said. “The links between air quality and cognition and susceptibility for long-term disease are supported by years and years of research. The pandemic was an ignition switch to raise awareness that what we breathe matters—that indoor air quality is oftentimes a lot worse than outdoor air quality and that needs to be addressed.”

He did provide a word of caution about air-purification products: “There are so many gimmicks out there. [There is a] need to separate fact from fiction as it relates to manufacturers’ claims on what their units can do, or their claims on the efficiency of a filter that may have been rated by a particular standard—HEPA or otherwise.

Pope said that the Well Living Lab is studying, through a realistic breathing simulator, how a virus can be transmitted in office spaces, conference rooms and school classrooms.

“Our concentration has been on what the byproducts are and how air purifiers really stack up when they’re in a realistic space. Through that, [we are] providing evidence-based guidelines to consumers so that when they go into any type of hotel, Vrbo, etc., they’re going to feel safe. When they’re meeting with individuals in the meeting spaces within these facilities, they’re going to feel safe. It is about delivering clean air to a room and, from there, ensuring that while you’re doing that, you’re not releasing any byproducts that are potentially harmful to the occupants into that air.”

There’s some lessons to be learned from the hospital environment for areas where we can improve as an industry, noted Maciulewicz, adding, “Elevators are one that comes to mind when you’re talking about confined smaller spaces where people could be more compact. We’re actually testing some technology with some industry experts in our elevators in a few of our resorts now.”

Locraft pointed out that his company’s vacation home offerings have an advantage over other lodging spaces due to the fact that “these homes are located in places [such as] lakes, mountains, streams and beaches—out-of-the-way destinations—and they aren’t multi-unit hotels in the middle of an urban and densely populated area.”

On the subject of requiring all travelers to be vaccinated, Pope said, “There’s this whole conversation of social inequity. With the best of intentions, are you also furthering social inequity because you’re requiring vaccinations? That’s something that we’re all going to have to grapple with—where is the trade off between privacy and protection? We have to also realize that this is a personal choice and some people just quite simply aren’t going to choose to be vaccinated.”

Locraft agreed, commenting, “The notion of requiring vaccination to travel feels like they wouldn’t be particularly inclusive of particular populations that may not actually be able to be vaccinated like young children today, or folks that might not have the means to be able to access the vaccine.”

Both Wyndham Destinations and Expedia Group offer education to their employees on the COVID vaccines.
Maciulewicz said that his company gives its associates paid time off for vaccinations, adding, “We put out FAQs to over 200 resorts so that supervisors and management staff can talk to associates about it.”

Locraft said, “There’s a lot of internal resources within Expedia Group linking to where you might learn more—webinars on what the vaccine means, and how it impacts and interacts with different types of people. Education is key.”

Hoteliers, of course, have always focused on keeping their properties clean, but many guests are now mentioning how clean the property was when writing a review, noted Locraft.

“A third of all guest reviews are including information about cleanliness,” he said. “Imagine going to your favorite travel website to read reviews and one-third of them talk about cleanliness? In the past, all of us would have expected [guests] to talk about the great experience, the great [accommodations] or the great amenities; cleanliness was reserved for only if the property was unclean. Four out of five folks through the pandemic were booking places because the inventory types that they were booking had indicated that they were taking precautions during the pandemic.”

The wellness trend really gained traction during the pandemic. But is it here to stay? Scialla believes that it is.
“Once the pandemic is in the rearview mirror—hopefully for a very long time—and the industry and the world has gotten a lot better defending against the next cycle, the real differentiator in hospitality is going to be how real these folks are committed to taking a bigger bite out of wellness as a category, because it’s certainly a demand driver that’s here to stay,” he said. “The correlation between what surrounds us and our bodies and how effectively the travel industry can create experiences around that—and actually turn that into opportunities to upsell these experiences—is really going to carry the day.”