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September 9, 2020

With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to impact occupancy rates of hotels across the U.S., hoteliers are doing what they can to signal to travelers that their properties are taking every precaution to keep them safe, but this messaging — even with the continued support of brands and industry associations — is often inconsistent with the narrative consumers are hearing from other sources. The confidence to travel again is predicated on the confidence in the information being consumed. Competing information sources have left business and leisure travelers unsure which precautions are impactful. 

To that end, here are a few examples of innovative approaches being taken by hoteliers across that globe that I think you’ll find interesting and may even implement at your property.

Fly Them Private!

Even though commercial airlines are doing their best to promote their efforts to keep customers safe, travelers aren’t convinced. Fifty-eight percent of travelers have avoided air travel during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a recent survey conducted by the International Air Transport Association (IATA). Additionally, 33 percent of those surveyed plan on continuing to avoid air travel to avoid contracting COVID-19. Obviously, this isn’t great news for the airline industry, but it’s also a significant challenge for the hotel industry which traditionally receives many of those air passengers.

While some hoteliers are refocusing their efforts on guests traveling by other means of  transportation, to increase occupancy others aren’t letting people’s fear of flying commercial amid a pandemic get in the way of filling beds with heads. Several luxury properties, such as the Four Seasons Resort Lanai in Hawaii, The Lake House on Canandaigua in New York, and the Waldorf Astoria Los Cabos Pedregal in Mexico, are now offering private flights to lure guests. Of course, not every hotelier can roll out the red carpet on the tarmac next to a private jet, but those that can are limiting guest exposure to COVID-19 while increasing hotel occupancy and revenue.

Balcony Concerts

Everybody is looking for entertainment to pass the time. We’ve all been cooped up in our homes  for the past several months and being able to take a trip, even if it’s relatively close by, is how many of us would like to take a breather. But in many locations, entertainment options are limited due to the pandemic. Instead of offering many of the same activity’s competitors are marketing to guests, leading hotels are getting creative and using their properties distinct features to their advantage.

For example, Paséa Hotel & Spa, located in the heart of Huntington Beach, Calif., this summer began hosting balcony concerts where guests can watch live concerts from their balconies on Friday and Saturday evenings. During a show, bands perform on a roof on the property, which is situated below the guestrooms. The concert fee is tacked on to the room fee, so guests don’t need to pay for additional tickets to enjoy the event. In effect, the guest rooms have been turned into luxury suites at a outdoor concert venue, except the ticket holders get to stay the night. 

Robot Butlers and Voice Assistants

By minimizing guest interaction with employees, properties can keep both their guests and employees safer. Leading hoteliers are utilizing innovative technologies to keep their “social distance” from guests.

The pandemic has prompted a rapid expansion of voice assistant solutions atop Amazon’s Alexa, IBM Watson, Alibaba’s TMall Genie and other major platforms in hotels across the globe.  These custom solutions enable guests to engage with the hotel amenities and services without having to put the guestroom phone up to their lips or stop by the front desk for a face to face with an associate. They also facilitate controls of the in-room television, lights, thermostats and more without the guest ever needing to touch a switch or germ-infested remote control. 

Many hotels have coupled their voice assistant with a robot butler, to complete socially distanced deliveries.  Leading hotels from the Westin Buffalo to the EMC2 in Chicago to the Aloft Hotel in Dublin, Calif., have successfully implemented complementary voice-assistant-plus-robot-butler guest experiences that together fulfill socially distant guest service.

The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged the management of leading hotels to rethink the way they use the technology available to them. Today, no longer a novelty, voice assistants are supporting guests with information critical to their stay, concierge recommendations, and service requests while robots are a full part of the team delivering wine, towels, groceries and more to guests who prefer contactless deliveries.

Promote Staycations

With many people putting off traveling for the remainder of 2020, marketing successfully to tourists from afar has proved to be challenging for many hoteliers. It’s because of this that many hotels have switched to making special offers to locals

Partnering with local tourism boards on aligned messaging and marketing efforts can amplify the reach of these offers and campaigns. In Niagara Falls, tourism leaders are marketing to individuals who may feel safer driving across New York State instead of flying in from elsewhere. The city had to change the size of its targeted audience significantly, going from marketing to global travelers to local or regional ones. Destination Niagara USA, the county’s tourism promotion agency, is using "Wide Open Spaces Now Open for Adventure” as the city's advertising slogan to promote the openness of the destination to visitors. On board with and supportive of these efforts? You guessed it — local hotels.

Whatever strategy you employ, there is no question that this pandemic is challenging all hoteliers to think differently about their offerings to the market.  The winners — and there will be winners — coming out of this pandemic will redefine hospitality for the next generation.

 
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WASHINGTON (August 31, 2020) – The American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) today released an analysis on the economic and human struggle  of the hotel industry six months into the COVID-19 pandemic, with millions of employees still furloughed or laid off and travel demand lagging far behind normal levels.

Key findings of the report include:

  • Four out of 10 hotel employees are still not working.

  • Almost two-thirds (65%) of hotels remain at or below 50 percent occupancy, which is below the threshold at which most hotels can break even and pay debt.
  • Consumer travel remains at all-time low, with only 33 percent of Americans reporting they have traveled overnight for leisure or vacation since March and just 38 percent saying they are likely to travel by the end of the year.
  • Urban hotels are suffering the most and facing collapse with cripplingly low occupancies of 38 percent, significantly below the national average.
  • COVID-19 has left hotels in major cities across the country struggling to stay in business, resulting in massive job loss and dramatically reducing state and local tax revenue for 2020 and beyond.

Chip Rogers, president and CEO of AHLA, said the prolonged economic impact of the pandemic has taken an incredible toll on the hotel industry, with no sign of a recovery in sight.

“While hotels have seen an uptick in demand during the summer compared to where we were in April, occupancy rates are nowhere near where they were a year ago. Thousands of hotels can’t afford to pay their mortgages and are facing the possibility of foreclosure and closing their doors permanently,” said Rogers.

“We are incredibly worried about the fall and what the drop in demand will mean for the industry and the millions of employees we have been unable to bring back. The job loss will be devasting to our industry, our communities, and the overall American economy. We need urgent, bipartisan action from Congress now.”

As a result of the sharp and sustained drop in travel demand, industry leaders say hotels are now facing the harsh reality of deciding whether to close their doors permanently. Hoteliers are urging Congress to move swiftly to help the industry through a targeted extension of the Paycheck Protection Program, establishing a commercial mortgage backed securities market relief fund, and making structural changes to the Main Street Lending Facility to ensure hotel companies can access the program.

“Our industry is in crisis. Thousands of hotels are in jeopardy of closing forever, and that will have a ripple effect throughout our communities for years to come,” said Rogers. “We need help urgently to keep hotels open so that our industry and our employees can survive and recover from this public health crisis.”

 

 
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MARKHAM, Ontario and TORONTO, Sept. 1, 2020To create instant and ongoing communication between hoteliers and travelers, as well as internal staff operations, Maestro PMS, the leader in cloud and on-premise property-management system solutions for independent hotels and luxury resorts, conference centers, vacation rentals, and multi-property groups, has partnered with Fetchto provide a digital hub to enhance guest engagement, communication, and operations. Using Fetch, hoteliers will have another third-party option to access  everything they need to embrace contactless, digital guest interactions while maintaining a consistent, high-quality experience.

“The guest experience is evolving, and communication will continue to advance once COVID subsides,” said Warren Dehan, Maestro president. “Through the Maestro suite of products we offer a collection of contact free and guest engagement tools, and we are delighted to integrate with Fetch to expand the offerings to hoteliers giving them ability to engage with customers 24/7 throughout their entire journey ― before, during, and after the stay. Fetch app enables hoteliers to capture every engagement opportunity through 24/7 guest outreach and improved analytics, while also streamlining communications between property staff. Using email and/or SMS, we are digitally linking guests to staff and meeting their every need without physical contact.”

Over the last few years, contactless check in and check out have been gaining momentum as guests continue to choose to skip the front desk. Since COVID's appearance, the technology has become so important it can sway guest bookings. Communicating with these guests can be a challenge, but Fetch makes it simple. The solution enables hotels to interact with guests using digital avenues, such as email or SMS/text messaging. For example, guests booking at a property powered by Fetch are sent messages at strategic times urging them to provide feedback after booking a stay, checking into their room, or upon check out, for example. By reaching out when guests are most likely checking their personal devices, Fetch increases the chances of a response from guests, keeping them in closer contact with hotel operators and maintaining consistency.

Fetch also equips hotels with a full guest-engagement suite capable of organizing and sending surveys, collecting and presenting guest analytics, two-way messaging, and a 24/7 chat concierge linked directly to staff members. Through this suite of tools, Fetch is designed to help hoteliers find opportunities to improve the guest experience or attract more guests through proactive surveys and two-way messaging. Fetch can also provide real-time alerts and a full analytics suite capable of providing actionable data on guest satisfaction, hotel performance, and current trends.

"Our goal was to create a one-stop-shop for communication between hoteliers and guests, and also within a hotel's team," said Russell Silver, founder and CEO of Fetch. "We were looking for inefficient processes, such as manually generated shift reports, and built them right into Fetch as features hoteliers can schedule to generate automatically. We wanted to give operators a way to improve communication and operations in an efficient, service-oriented manner.

“Through this integration partnership with Maestro, Fetch will have the opportunity to work with the more than 800 hotels integrated with Maestro PMS, and improve communication across the industry while preserving the key service elements that make hospitality so special,” he said. “We have a mission to put everything hotels need to stay in contact with guests and employees in one place, and Maestro is helping us deliver.”

In addition to helping hotels maintain social distancing between team members and guests, Fetch is designed to help hotels obtain crucial guest data about their stay. If hotels can receive complaints and react to them fast enough, hotel operators can alter or remove a potentially negative online review before it is posted.

Toronto’s Town Inn is one of the first properties to benefit from the Maestro/Fetch integration. The property’s Director of Revenue and Sales Daniel Seifer said integrating Fetch into his property’s existing Maestro PMS was seamless. Using both systems, Seifer said his extended-stay hotel can maintain contact with guests and employees, keeping them updated about the status of the property. He also said that in some cases the digital aspect of guest communication has allowed for greater insight into how to improve his property.

"In many cases, we find some guests can be reluctant to address certain issues over the phone, or at the front desk,” Seifer said. “When prompted to provide responses over email, however, we received a lot of good, useful feedback we could apply to our property. People are sometimes more open if they aren't speaking directly to someone. Ultimately, it's fine with us, we want to make sure our guests are happy, and Fetch helps us find ways to improve."

For more information on Maestro PMS, visit maestropms.com. For more information on Fetch, visit www.getfetch.ca/.

 
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WASHINGTON – (August 26, 2020) – A new national survey commissioned by the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) conducted by Morning Consult shows that a number of improvements to health and sanitation protocol at U.S. hotels would have considerable impact on guests' comfort levels staying there, with the top three including face coverings for employees (87% a lot/some impact) and guests (85%), suspending daily housekeeping of rooms (86%), and utilizing technology to reduce direct contact (85%), are the top priorities among frequent travelers to staying in hotels during this pandemic. These priorities align with AHLA’s Safe Stay Guest Checklist and CDC recommendations distributed on behalf of the industry. 

Other popular measures to increase a guest’s comfort level include adding transparent barriers at front desks, concierge or valet stations (82%), signage for washing hands, distancing and PPE (80%), temporarily closing amenities (77%) and floor markings to promote social distancing (77%).  The overwhelming majority of respondents indicate that these protocols would impact their comfort level, with eight out of ten (81%) frequent travelers responding that they feel comfortable staying in a hotel that has implemented the enhanced cleaning and safety protocols called for in AHLA’s Safe Stay initiative.

Among the key findings of travelers staying in hotels five or more nights per year:

  • Cleanliness Is the Top Priority: Out of a list of nine options, frequent travelers most often chose cleanliness as the most important factor when determining their next hotel stay, and 81% of travelers are more comfortable staying at hotels now with enhanced protocols and standards implemented. 
  • Guests Prefer Housekeeping by Request Only: Nearly nine out of ten (88%) frequent travelers say that limiting in-room housekeeping to “by request only” would increase their comfort level. Nearly three-in-five (58%)  guests do not want daily housekeeping; and 58% would not be comfortable with housekeeping staff entering their room without advance permission.
  • The Use of Face Coverings is a Priority: The majority of guests (62%) are a lot more comfortable if hotels require face coverings and 66% of guests are a lot more comfortable if hotels require employees to wear face coverings and gloves.

The pandemic has decimated the hotel industry as travel has slowed significantly throughout the last few months. The fall looks to be equally as challenging, with only one-third of frequent travelers (33%) expecting their next hotel stay to be within the next three months, 18 percent within three to six months, and 25 percent in 6-12 months.

“The hotel industry united to enhance our already rigorous cleaning protocols for the health and safety of our guests, and it’s working,” said Chip Rogers, president and CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association. “It’s more important than ever that guests follow our Safe Stay Guest Checklist so they understand what is expected of them no matter where they stay. Travelers across the country looking to include a hotel stay in their upcoming vacation plans know that with the implementation of Safe Stay, hotels will be safer and cleaner than ever before.”

AHLA recently released the “Safe Stay Guest Checklist” for guests on how to travel safely while also creating a standardized safety experience nationwide, which includes several requirements such as the use of face coverings and limiting daily room cleaning. This checklist is part of AHLA’s Safe Stay guidelines, an industry-wide, enhanced set of health and safety protocols designed to provide a safe and clean environment for all hotel guests and employees.

 

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