How will the experience of staying in a hotel change in the wake of the Pandemic? And how does it actually feel like to work in a hotel these days? To answer these questions, I summoned Silvia Kirkland who’s the Area Director of Housekeeping at Vail Resorts in Colorado, US. Keep reading if you’re curious to learn more about the hotel experience post Covid-19.
Q: Hi Silvia. Thank you for joining me for this interview! Let’s dive right in; how has the hotel experience changed in the wake of the Pandemic?
A: A hospitality experience certainly looks different these days, both from a guest’s and a worker’s perspective. Our job has changed a lot, not only in the way we handle operations and the technicalities of our day to day, but also in the way we feel as hotel employees. We walk around with our masks on, not being able to greet each other and our guests showing our smile – that one thing we’ve been trained to always put on.
We handle interactions through plexiglass screens, forced to have a barrier between us and our customers, an unnatural division for hospitality workers. We don’t hand things out personally anymore and we our interactions are mostly contactless. Definitely something we’re not used to. Connections with people are everything in the world of hospitality, and the adjustment is hard on us; if we feel this way, we know our guests are feeling it as well.
If you haven’t walked into a hotel in the past 12 months, You’ll definitely notice the indisputable changes next time you do; from the appearance of lobbies, restaurants and guest rooms to the level of services that have been reduced to only include the most necessary. In order to cope with the losses of last year, the staff is significantly scaled down compared to what it used to be, and most things are being operated on a very limited and reduced schedule. Having a bell boy picking up your luggage or getting a room tour doesn’t exist anymore – at least not for the moment being. So yes, the overall experience definitely feels very different, and we’re aware of how it may effect our guests as well.
Q: We’ll undoubtedly see a shift in the mindset of travellers moving forward. What will be their primary requests when checking into a hotel again?
A: This is difficult to predict, but I can tell you how it’s developing based on the way guests are currently behaving. We’re seeing mainly two types of guest responses at this point; those who are just accepting the situation and understand that things must be different, and those who are behaving as if nothing had changed and have a hard time acknowledging that things are no longer the same. The first-mentioned segment will continue looking for peace of mind when it comes to safety and cleanliness measures – more than they used to. This means that hotels will need to keep up with the expectations set by the pandemic, for better or for worse.
The second segment will continue behaving as though masks aren’t a necessity and as if social distancing makes no difference. I get the feeling that they regard many of the restrictions enforced by the hotel as mere obstacles that are in the way of them fully enjoying the experience.
I think the first segment will continue to avoid, or at least minimize, contact until they feel it’s safe to do otherwise, and they’ll opt for technological solutions whenever possible. The second segment will most likely continue to expect daily housekeeping, and they’ll always opt for personal service. So to answer the question; the shift in mindset is only happening for a group of travellers and not for everybody.
The first segment will choose hotels who show commitment to a high level of safety measures and technological solutions, and the second segment will be looking for the same things they were looking for before the Pandemic. For them, not much has changed.
It would be easy just to say the first segment is right and the second segment are wrong, but as hospitality professionals, it’s our duty to make a bigger effort of understanding why guests feel like they do – and what we can do to help. Perhaps we need a mix of these two segments to overcome the situation and create a “new normal” that makes sense to both guests and the industry in general. Perhaps having guests who do not accept the circumstances will push hospitality professionals even further in terms of improvement. Otherwise, we could potentially end up being stagnant.
Q: One of the things we’ll most likely see less of in hotels around the world is human contact – at least in the first few years. How does that correspond with the core of hospitality, which is based on human interaction?
A: I feel that many hotels have already expressed their urge to replace human labor with technological solutions more than a decade ago, so this isn’t a new way of thinking. In 2010, I worked in a large property where guests were able to do self check-in on the counters, assign themselves a room number and close their own bills. Nowadays, technology can basically perform most hotel operational tasks; softwares will check you in online before you even arrive at the hotel, you’re able to pay your bills remotely, download the room key on your phone, and allow you to order dinner directly from an iPad. Technology can handle several of our front-office operations by auto assigning rooms for arrivals and performing global check-ins and check-outs. It can also handle housekeeping operations by automatically create the cleaning boards for your room attendants based on certain configurations.
Revenue softwares are so advanced they’re able to build an entire rate strategy day by day, month by month, year by year, based on inputs from historical and forecast data, and based on trends and local and global events.
Believe it or not, there are even businesses working with self-cleaning rooms, so it really seem like we’re going towards a future where machines will replace human labor and personal interaction might not be necessary anymore. The pandemic has done nothing but turning tech into a necessity. I’ve certainly thought about a future where human contact will no longer be the core of our industry, and it has made me very sad. But service simply cannot be performed by a machine! I always say; “service is not just our job, it is our lifestyle”. As much as I enjoy the efficiency and facilitations of technology, and as much as I know these are necessary in our time, it’s disheartening to think about our industry without the human component. It simply cannot be this way. Worried with this thought, I had a few conversations with industry colleagues, and especially people who had been in the industry for a very long time. How did they experience the development of technology over time? What were their opinions? These concierges – who are an integrated part of any high end hotel – made me realize that all the machinery in the world won’t ever be able to perform hospitality. Let me quote one of them;
“All new computers and technology in the world cannot build a connection with a human being. Guests are still coming to our desks – taking all the right safety precautions, of course – but they’re still coming. Certain services and positions within the industry will inevitably change, but people who are well-travelled and choose traditional hotels, are still in need of personal assistance – maybe now more than ever. Human relationships are fundamental to the health of our society, so maintaining those trustworthy relations and personal interactions is an aspect of our lives that will not disappear any time soon”.
I believe that traditional luxury hotels will implement whatever is necessary to ensure the comfort of their guests, but they’ll will continue to find ways to maintain the personal service and human contact, cause after all, that’s what true hospitality is all about.
Q: What can hoteliers do to provide an extra comfortable experience for their guests moving forward?
A: The most important thing we can do is to communicate efficiently and proactively. If we’re able to provide guests with the necessary information about the adjustments before arrival and during their stay, we’ve already accomplished a lot. The worst thing that can happen would be for a guest to walk into a hotel not knowing what has changed or what to expect. It’s crucial to ensure that guests are up to date, and to let them know that certain things are required by state law and company policy. Setting the expectations avoids confusions and frustrations.
It’s also important to communicate what we are doing on a daily basis to ensure their comfort and safety. I think many hotels have been very good at announcing these things and and make information available on their websites.
As hotel employees we, we know it’s a big acclimation for guests to go through, and we know they won’t be able to enjoy their experience to the fullest. As inconvenient and unsatisfactory as it is, the safety and health measures are here to ensure the safety of our guests. That being said, I think guests must be pampered, listened to, understood and emphathized more than ever. We’re heading towards a place of mutual understanding – between hotel workers and guests, that is. If we all just remember that we’re in the same boat going through tough times together, we’ll come out of this even faster. One thing’s for sure; we can’t wait to welcome all of our guests again – with a smile beneath our masks 🙂
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