Hotel stays are going to be different in the future as people start to travel again. The sorts of people who make up a lot of travelers – middle and upper middle class professionals especially – are likely to be especially conservative in their personal behavior and the experiences they’re looking for. Social distancing, masks, and avoiding situations that expose them to health risks are likely to be key customer preferences at least in the medium-term (and for some, they’ll persist even farther out).
For hotels to attract guests they’re going to need to be responsive to these customer demands. They need to give guests confidence to stay, and hotels will compete to offer a product that appeals to these sensibilities.
Marriott’s CEO Arne Sorenson gave an interview where he, in effect, served as a human starting gun for this conversation. Marriott followed with a press release outlining their plans for increased health and safety for both employees and guests.
- They named a Global Cleanliness Council to develop “norms and behaviors that are designed to minimize risk and enhance safety” chaired by their Chief Global Officer of Global Operations (which sounds like a title conferred by the American Dodgeball Association of America) and includes outside representatives from food safety, infectious diseases, hospitality management, and food sciences.
- Use of electrostatic sprayers to sanitize surfaces throughout the hotel using “the highest classification of disinfectants” to “rapidly clean and disinfect entire areas and can be used in a hotel setting to clean and disinfect guest rooms, lobbies, gyms and other public areas.” They’ll also use UV technology for sanitizing room keys and shared employee devices.
- Increased frequency of cleaning for high touch surfaces and requiring all guest room surfaces to be cleaned and disinfected.
- Guest rooms will all include disinfecting wipes.
- Lobby signs to remind people to social distance and change furniture layouts in common spaces (or remove furniture) to accommodate these practices.
- They are considering “adding partitions at front desks to provide an extra level of precaution for our guests and associates” and they are working on making masks and gloves available to employees (but not, it seems, guests although admittedly sourcing approved PPE is hard).
- Installing more hand sanitizing stations at hotel entrances, front desks, elevators, fitness centers and meeting areas.
- Redesigning buffets and room service practices (expect more packaging and fewer open trays).
So is Marriott on the right path here? I do think there’s finally a real use case for mobile check-in and especially keyless entry and Marriott points out that this is available at an increasingly large percentage of their properties (though not half).
Airbnb actually finally has a use case for travel too, at least where they’re offering homes rather than condos in high rise buildings. Those are great for social distancing. However they need to get the check-in experience to be automated, consistent, and with low transaction costs. Ideally all listed properties would be accessible via app, if not using keyless entry than to access a lock box.
The next challenge that Airbnb faces is ensuring consistent and strong cleaning practices. What Marriott has above all else is a brand and they can message consistent practices across their hotels. When Marriott says ‘this is what we’re doing’ most people will assume that means everywhere and always, while that’s a tougher hurdle for more boutique experiences to not just promise but convince consumers is real.
Assurance is key, and brands like Marriott, Hilton, IHG and Hyatt have challenges,
- At the individual hotel level
- And especially at franchised properties
There have been myriad stories about hotels not changing the sheets between guests (including at a Marriott property in New York) and housekeeping using toilet bowl scrubbers to clean glasses in the bathroom.
Obviously these practices need to change, but they were already against corporate brand standards. They illustrate how difficult compliance can be, but stories like these in the new environment can cause brand-wide damage. A Marriott spokesperson acknowledges, “Training and compliance will be critical in executing.”
Ultimately changes that need to be made are more fundamental than just better cleaning of rooms.
Brands like Moxy that were built with tiny rooms, with the promise of getting people out into social spaces where they’d spend money on hotel food and beverage seem suddenly anachronistic. How bad of an investment Does Hyatt’s new Caption brand seem right now, or Hilton’s Canopy?
And how will W hotels work in socially distanced environments when they’re aim has been to create dense partying atmospheres in lounges and at their pools? Marriott assures that “social distancing will be implemented across all brands” though some things they’ll need to do “are currently being developed for execution soon.”
Meanwhile the idea of shared bath amenity dispensers seems so six months ago, but Marriott suggests “it’s too premature to comment on what’s happening with toiletry amenities.” Surely at the very least Marriott needs to suspend its lobbying efforts to force other hotel chains to drop single use toiletries for everyone’s good.