How hotels rebuild traveler trust in 2021

By Brady Watkins

Following a brutal year for the hospitality industry, rebuilding guest trust is undoubtedly the top priority for hotels in 2021 and beyond. Even though hotel industry revenue is projected to increase in 2021 by an additional $25.9 billion, that remains 34% below pre-pandemic revenue levels. With all lodging options competing to claim a share of the smaller number of travelers, now is the ideal time for the hotel industry to reinvent itself.

For hotels to stand apart and secure a more substantial share of guest traffic in the year ahead, they will need to make changes. Hoteliers and their service providers need to introduce new technological solutions to gain travelers’ trust now, ultimately, and in a post-COVID world.

Increasing cleaning visibility
The coronavirus pandemic has created a new awareness of the indoor environment’s impact on our health and safety. Hotel housekeeping is being scrutinized like never before. Going forward, cleanliness must become part of a hotel’s culture. This can be conveyed through clearly branded programs promoted on-site and online. Hotels will also need to provide visible reassurance that they are taking extra precautions to maintain a new, higher standard of clean that goes well beyond “looking clean.” For some, it may mean partnering with a trusted provider of cleaning products or safety expertise to demonstrate a visible willingness to invest in your guests’ safety.

The key here is that hotels must go beyond messaging to truly differentiate their properties from others. New technological resources will prove indispensable here, as the most effective cleaning solutions will support housekeeping while promoting social distancing among staff and guests.

There’s an added benefit to adopting tech-based cleaning equipment: data. After all, do you know with absolute certainty what spaces in your hotel were cleaned and when? Can you quickly reference when the last time a particular space was vacuumed? Do you know whether your cleaning workflows are as efficient as they could be? And can guests see and feel reassured by your investments in health and safety?

Many housekeeping managers don’t have an easy way to access this type of data, and manual documentation is prone to error. But the more you know about your cleaning operations, the better your process will become, and the more valuable your cleaning assurances. Data-capturing cleaning tools can confirm your messaging around clean while also providing insights to improve productivity and efficiency.

Some of these robotic and other technology-based solutions being deployed today can also serve as health and safety ambassadors, showing guests you are going above and beyond to keep the space clean.

Understanding your operational evolution
Heightened cleaning requirements have already placed a significant strain on your resources as you’ve worked to try to rebuild occupancy, and, as occupancy rebounds, the scope of work will surge. And, you likely had to reduce hours, furlough or even lay off staff during the pandemic, and are competing for talent to rehire as travel and bookings increase. The combination of too much work and too little time to do makes it difficult to achieve daily housekeeping targets, and it puts additional burden and stress on your remaining staff. Altogether, this adds to the hospitality industry’s already exceedingly high turnover rate, tracked in October 2019 at 75%. The pandemic has only exacerbated an already significant pain point. The staffing struggle will likely continue into 2021 unless housekeeping managers can find ways to offload some of the cleaning burdens.

To better support staff, hoteliers should consider investing in additional tools and resources to keep up the pace set by new cleaning demands. In robotics, cleaning and delivery solutions have surged, with top hotel brands adding them to automation portfolios that include bot-driven customer service apps, contactless check-in and payment and smart room accessories. Cleaning and delivery robots allow for more social distancing while increasing service coverage, and they take on tasks like vacuuming and running up towels to allow employees the time and energy to focus on the guest experience without being overburdened.

For example, vacuuming alone can take up to 30% of your housekeeping team’s time. With robots on hand to take on this time-consuming labor, operations managers can create more manageable workloads for staff while cleaning more space, more frequently and more effectively. Implementing technological solutions like commercial robot vacuums can ensure that shared areas are thoroughly cleaned every day, whether or not you are fully staffed.

Creating a contactless experience
In addition to competing against one another, hotels have continued to compete in new ways against home-sharing services. One of the advantages the home-sharing experience has held over hotels this last year is that it provides a “contactless” feel for guests who have an entire property at their disposal. This means guests have the advantage of not worrying about sharing an elevator or lobby with fellow travelers.

Even as concerns around COVID cease, a renewed focus on cleanliness is likely to remain for many guests. Hotels can regain an edge by limiting guest interactions with high-touch surfaces while improving the overall guest experience.

Contactless check-in, room service and room keys are becoming the new baseline, which means hotels must evaluate new ways to reduce contact while boosting service. Investments in mobile and voice-activated services for contactless check-in and other interactions may be the best next steps.

Looking to the future
The American Hotel & Lodging Association’s 2021 State of the Hotel Industry report found that guests continue to rank enhanced cleaning and hygiene practices as their second priority, just behind price, when selecting a hotel. This demand for visible cleaning and minimal contact will be expected well into the future and will continue to strain housekeeping staff if processes don’t change to accommodate new workflows.

For the last year, staying afloat has been the priority of many hotels. Now, hotels must begin to think strategically about how to stand apart. It’s time to make investments that support your staff in creating a cleaner, safer hotel environment.

Brady Watkins is SVP/GM at SoftBank Robotics. 

This is a contributed piece to Hotel Business, authored by an industry professional. The thoughts expressed are the perspective of the bylined individual.