HSMAI: Put Guest Experience First Post Pandemic

LONDON—In order to overcome the challenges and capitalize on opportunities in the post-pandemic business recovery, the hospitality industry will need to rethink former working processes and be prepared to adapt to meet the changing customer requirements. This was the message from the recent HSMAI (Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International) Region Europe webinar, “The All New Customer Journey.”

Research Findings
According to the latest research from HSMAI Europe unveiled at the webinar, more than three quarters of the membership surveyed believe firmly that customer experience rather than profitability will be a core focus for the rest of 2020 and 2021.

“The industry cannot remain fixed to the former way of working,” said Ingunn Hofseth, president/CEO of HSMAI Region Europe. “Now is the time to pivot and to truly understand the customer mindset and needs, rather than the industry telling about its customer journey maps. This is a time for being creative about the experiences and, crucially, listening to both loyal and potential new guests.”

“Life is a book, and those who do not travel only read one page,” said Monique Jaspers-Wijn, chair of HSMAI Region Europe Customer and Distribution Advisory Board.

Other highlights of the research included the following:

  • 43% of the respondents stated that guests will only stay again at hotels if there are strict COVID-19 guidelines. As part of the customer journey, establishing, implementing, communicating and executing protocols to ensure safe and hygienic experiences should be guaranteed.
  • 29% of respondents believe that customers will only book direct with their trusted brands. Expectation management has thus never been more critical. Setting the right expectations before arrival will not only make sure guests will be more likely to accept the measures taken by the property or brand, but also increase their overall satisfaction.
  • 36% of HSMAI’s survey respondents stated that a contactless stay empowered by technology will be the new standard (e.g. during check-in, checkout and for ordering food).

Other news and insights discussed during the panel discussion included the following:

  • Benelux has already shown a strong recovery due to its light lockdown measures. Scandinavia, Iberia and the DACH region (Germany, Austria and Switzerland) have taken more time, and thus recovery so far has been slower.
  • The U.K. and Italy struggled the longest before, finally, a positive pickup is now emerging.
  • Currently, residents from within Germany, the U.K. and the Netherlands are the only ones who significantly go outside their domestic home market.
  • The industry is seeing more return guests rather than new ones, although the panel agreed that this will probably change over the next few months.
  • August and September are still forecast at only half of the booking numbers of July. However, according to the panel, this will likely increase closer to the booking dates in this period.
  • From September, more bookings from corporate travel are expected. However, restrictions will continue to dictate demand and pickup, and booking patterns will follow accordingly. There was a unified view from the panel that, for now, short lead times for bookings will be the way forward with flexibility for last-minute cancellation.
  • Guests will seek brands they trust, not necessarily the brand they have known and trusted before the pandemic. Training of staff will be one of the key elements.
  • The panel recommended doing more marketing and social media communication than ever before, to ensure their property/properties are to be the first or preferred choice whenever the big surge for bookings resumes.
  • There was agreement about making policies sustainable in every meaning of the word.

“HSMAI members wanted to bring the customers to the heart of this advisory board. Not only do we focus on eliminating silos, but also by empowering everyone involved in the customer journey, we enable a memorable experience at every touchpoint,” said Hofseth. “By developing an environment where professionals can fail fast, we foster a culture of learning and sharing that enables personal development at the highest level.”

“While the desire to travel comes back, trust and customer experience are going to be the currencies of tomorrow,” said Michael Hucho, member of HSMAI Region Europe Customer and Distribution Advisory Board. “A key success factor will be to focus on customer centricity. To the outside market, customer relationship management becomes more critical. Digital and personal interaction with the customer at all touchpoints before, during and after the journey is vital to drive direct business. To the inside, hoteliers review their org-charts to the benefit of a more agile and guest-centric working culture. The crisis can be a powerful catalyst for digital transformation. Now, after the lockdown, people have a strong desire to experience something outside their home. The hospitality industry needs to answer this new demand.”