As global restrictions ease and hotels begin to reopen, the outlook for leisure travel is increasingly optimistic. With the global hotel industry recording a 60% increase in net reservations since the beginning of the year and 56% of consumers are expecting to travel for leisure in 2021, data suggests that traveler confidence is returning.
Yet as demand grows, so does the need to improve operational efficiencies. A surge in guest bookings, combined with limited staff due to labor shortages, present new challenges that threaten our industry’s potential for an accelerated recovery.
Here’s a look at how some of these new trends are shaping operations and what hotel leaders can do to optimize processes for recovery and beyond.
The Other Crisis: Labor Shortages
Faced with historic falls in demand in 2020, hospitality businesses had little choice but to cut back on services to reduce cost, often resulting in significant staff reductions. In the U.S., a significant portion of hospitality jobs lost during the pandemic have yet to return, representing more than a third of all unemployed persons.
Although the unemployment rate in the sector remains more than three times higher than the rest of the U.S. economy, with similar margins in the U.K. and other countries, the hotel industry is now facing enormous challenges when it comes to attracting labor.
The problem it seems, is two-fold: First, the annual influx of seasonal foreign workers has stalled in places because of the pandemic, with some countries unable to process work visas in time for peak seasons. Secondly, fearful or fatigued hospitality workers looking to shift industries are contributing to a limited domestic labor force with businesses struggling to attract workers.
With more than half (59%) of global hoteliers expected to recruit new staff in 2021, according to the Amadeus Rebuilding Hospitality study, the biggest challenge remains how to prioritize the work of the people you have. As occupancy begins to rebuild, so do guest requests.
Moving forward, hotels will have to analyze data of recurring guest requests to identify shifts needed in staff time or in-room amenity programs, while monitoring changes in booking patterns to avoid understaffing. Instilling a sense of safety by training on best practices for risk mitigation will also be key, while ensuring safeguards and appropriate PPE are in place for specific departments and tasks at hand.
Even as many have redoubled their efforts to hire locally amid high unemployment, hotels face the challenge of meeting the needs of rising demand without sacrificing guest satisfaction. Collecting and using data to ensure you avoid overloading the hotel’s operating team will be instrumental to a hotel’s immediate and future success.
Automatic Opt-Out Cleaning Programs
The issue of labor shortages translates to all areas of the hotel, yet can be particularly daunting when it comes to housekeeping. Not having adequate staffing means having to restrict the availability of services or guestroom inventory, with some properties forced to limit occupancy because staff simply cannot clean all the rooms.
Many hotels have additionally been shifting away from daily cleaning with automatic opt-out cleaning programs, which in some cases, can require a lengthier sanitization upon departure. Whether cleaning every other day will be accepted in various parts of the world remains to be seen. While over 20% of global survey respondents plan to keep the reduction of stayover cleans in place long-term, only 12% plan to keep the policy in place in Asia, where cultural norms value daily cleaning as a sign of a premium experience.
At the same time, the enforcement of new hygiene protocols, including the expansion of high touchpoints and frequency of cleaning, can increase the amount of time needed to spend in a room. Updated practices on the use of disinfectants and surface dwell times can even further alter the flow in which rooms are now serviced.
The increase in guestroom cleaning times can in turn make forecasting labor and servicing pop-up requests a more complex endeavor. Lack of planning for additional time can also cause strain on staff and increase guest request wait times, while last minute modifications to departure room schedules can impact room readiness.
This is why according to the Rebuilding Hospitality study, hoteliers are most likely to adopt technology that streamlines operations to reduce stayover cleans, and make contactless deliveries of amenities an immediate priority that will continue well into the future.
Shifts to Booking Patterns & Team Clustering
As the nature of travel has changed due to the pandemic, so has booking behavior. International holidays have been replaced with domestic travel or staycations. Business travel has been reduced and swapped for an increased demand for ‘work from anywhere’ accommodation. Hotel booking search patterns have been further out with rising demand for longer duration of stays, while last-minute leisure bookings have been driving occupancy.
At the height of the first COVID-19 wave (March 2020), 61% of all bookings globally were made within seven days of travel with over half of the bookings made on the same day as check-in. Naturally this makes staff scheduling and operational planning considerably harder as hotel teams are simply unable to predict if people are going to book, even on the same day.
Examining the implications of last-minute booking trends, coupled with labor shortages, raises questions on how to best streamline operations. Hotels will need to analyze this booking behavior to avoid placing additional last-minute pressure on staff, while threatening guest satisfaction.
Hotels with several properties may consider taking a centralized approach to organizing operations by clustering teams. This would be done by essentially creating groups of hotels and assigning key staff members to manage those hotels in a unified fashion. Call center activities for guest requests and rooms control could be centralized, as engineering and maintenance staff could share team members between properties. This could help hotels do more with less staff, while overcoming some of the immediate challenges as we work towards recovery.
Contactless Experiences & Rise of Generation Clean
When considering the many aspects of hospitality have changed due to COVID-19, hoteliers agree that both enhanced cleaning measures and long-term reduction in guest contact are here to stay. According to the Rebuilding Hospitality study, over a third (32%) of hoteliers think that they will always need significant social distancing, sanitization and visible hygiene measures, while 20% of global hoteliers indicate they will keep interaction between staff and guests to a minimum for the long term.
The rise of the “Generation Clean” traveler – a new travel segment valuing cleanliness protocols above all else – reinforces this dynamic, with hotel cleaning protocols ranking the #1 top priority for travel comfort post-COVID. Due to these increased health concerns, hotels have had to consider some major shifts across all touchpoints along the guest journey. It is recommended to display sanitization-related certifications or protection seals and feature prominent signage highlighting any associated materials or technologies. Additionally, some hotels might consider adding mini hand sanitizers, masks, and disinfectant wipes to personal care amenity kits in-room.
Contactless experiences through technology have also become more widely expected. 30% of hoteliers are most excited about the acceleration of new contactless tech to enhance the guest experience, while 61% of travelers say they’re likely to use technology like a voice assistant if present in their rooms. From temperature checks upon entering, to mobile check-in and digital keys, hotels will need to consider technology to further support a new age of contactless guest engagement. Not only do these technologies offer convenience for the guest, but more than four in five travelers feel it will increase their confidence to travel.
Forces Shaping the Future of Operations
The COVID-19 crisis has proved to be an unprecedented event, causing many to reflect on how hotels have historically operated. Even now as a phased market-by-market recovery begins to unfold, challenges continue.
A pandemic-related shortage of workers threatens our industry’s potential for success, as travelers arrive to properties with elevated expectations and a more critical eye, sharply attuned to imperfections. By considering the new trends shaping hotel operations and appropriately preparing teams to meet the new needs of emerging traveler demands, we can begin to welcome back travel globally.
For more hotelier insights and worldwide recovery trends, plus tips on how to optimize the future of your hotel operations visit our Rebuild Travel library.