Over the last 18 months, there have been few beacons of hope for the hotel industry. But this past summer, when governments began lifting many of the stay-at-home orders and travel bans, it marked the first time in almost a year that the industry could see the light at the end of the tunnel.
For the hotel industry, that light came in the form of travellers filling their rooms — not just for leisure, but for business as well — with all signs pointing to a spike in numbers and boosts in sales.
For hoteliers, the challenge became how to get travellers back into rooms and out into the real world immediately after they have been told to shut themselves off for the better part of two years — starting with guest safety and the assurance of the highest quality of cleanliness.
“Right from the onset of the pandemic, we knew travel would return, so in preparation for this return we really leaned on the programs we had started early on, things like CleanStay, so that when customers were ready to travel, they’d feel safe doing so,” says Andy Loges, area general manager for Eastern Canada & Cleveland, Hilton.
Hilton wasn’t the only brand placing an emphasis on cleanliness; the team at Marriott also recognized that in order to get customers back, operators have to know what the customer wants.
“Communicating with customers about what to expect in terms of safety and cleanliness when they visit one of our hotels is imperative. At the start of the pandemic, we raised our already demanding cleanliness standards to an even higher level and created a Global Cleanliness Council,” says Laura Pallotta, regional vice-president, Sales & Distribution – Canada, Marriott International.
Staying in touch with its client base has been important for Hilton as well. Loges says through social-media outreach, online communication and other forms of community outreach, the company is able to keep on top of what leisure travellers want and determine how to deliver it in a safe and comfortable way.
Though safety is important, comfort — whether during a pandemic or not — is paramount to any hotel’s success. From softer sheets and fluffier pillows to mental comfort during times of high stress, welcoming — but not forcing — customers back is essential, according to Pallotta.
“Throughout the pandemic, our focus has been to prepare, inspire and be ready for travellers when they’re ready for us. Our customers have told us that their safety and the opportunity for flexible booking and cancellation policies are two of their most important priorities,” says Pallotta.
Loges stresses that to attract customers to leisure-level hotels, it comes down to what each individual hotel in an area has to offer.
“[Focus] on what your attributes are at each property and find the customers that want to come to your hotels for a specific reason,” recommends Loges, adding that for the average leisure traveller, at least right now, peace of mind and safety are at the top of the priority list for getting back out and testing the proverbial hotel waters.
However, for business travellers, a hotel’s business meetings and events facilities are always top of mind.
“Business-wise, it comes down to outreach,” says Loges. “We continue to touch base with our top corporate clients so we can have an idea of what their sentiment is and what they think they’re going to do.”
At Marriott, Pallotta says business bookings are beginning to pick up, particularly for those in essential business sectors.
With corporate business back on the rise, the focus for hoteliers is now firmly on meetings and events. With the rise of hybrid meetings over the course of the pandemic, hotels should be in a good place to share the load of these events. In addition to the hybrid meeting, there will still be in-person meetings flooding hotels as the world continues to open up and for Loges and the team at Hilton, it’s all about being prepared.
“It comes down to our in-place programs like Event Ready,” he says. “It’s about touching base, and right now these companies are asking a lot of questions so we have to have the answers and make sure they’re comfortable with the answers and playbooks we have for their events.”
And as traveller wants and needs evolve, so, too will ways of attracting them.
“We understand travellers’ desires, when it comes to cleanliness, may continue to evolve, and travellers may define safety differently or be comfortable with different kinds of experiences or types of travel in the future. Understanding and adapting to consumer sentiment and public health guidance around safety and cleanliness is so important,” says Pallotta.
Written by Nick Laws