Main author byline: Alex Sogno, CEO, Global Asset Solutions
Co-author byline: Dylan Saucon, hotel asset manager, Global Asset Solutions

During the pandemic we had to make changes driven by the need for more robust health and safety, to ensure that everything was hygienic and because everything needed for every stay had to be dry cleaned afterwards, we had to be more efficient, only putting out what was needed.

In the past, you couldn’t rely on the contents of the room being put through an industrial process – the cups might have been cleaned by hand, not by a machine, for example – but during the pandemic, we couldn’t take any chances. So we changed everything to paper. With the remote control, which is one of the dirtiest items in a room, we put it in a plastic bag, then cleaned the plastic bag.

Now, some people may think those methods are a bit extreme. But it was necessary to do this to reassure clients, to limit the menus in the rooms, to make sure everything had a QR code and some of these changes have been good and changes we should stick with. We should continue to have one, rather than two bathrobes in a room. It’s pointless when the hotel has 1.2 people on average per room, and it can be a long-term saving: Hotel asset managers need to make sure their operators find out how many people are going to stay in your room. You end up saving a lot of money and it’s good for the environment because you do less washing.

We’re concerned now, that, as we move away from the extremes we saw during the initial phases of the pandemic, that operators are using Covid as an excuse not to have certain amenities. We need the excuse of Covid to go away. We need to move on and try to find solutions. I was told recently that I couldn’t get an ironing board and iron because of Covid. Or that housekeeping won’t do turndown because of Covid, which feels more like an excuse than a rational response.”

We are now moving back to the breakfast buffet after having an a la carte offering, and it raises a number of issues: how can we manage our costs when we sell directly from a la carte? Can we combine it with a buffet? And, in the wider hotel, what happens to all the amenities that were in the rooms? Is it going to go back as before, as we now realize that we can cut costs on even more operations in the hotel and save money to use somewhere else? It doesn’t feel to me as though we’ll go back to the way things were before the pandemic.

A lot will depend on operator standards and how they change and how flexible they can be. It is unlikely that all of them will return to how they were before Covid. It is not only elements such as having a public bathroom, but the slippers and all those little things, all those amenities that were found everywhere, that were given free to the customer.

Now I think we’re more likely to find that they will be on-demand rather than supplied
automatically, other than in the upper echelons of luxury.

Another element where we are likely to see a split between luxury and other operations is in terms of service delivery. At the moment we are navigating mask wearing, which can obstruct a proper welcome for the guest and is likely to stay for a very long time, particularly in locations such as the spa. But we still need to have that human touch, that personal welcome and that has been hindered not only by Covid, but by the issue of staffing, which was made worse by the pandemic, as people left the sector, but was not caused by it. Hospitality is a service industry, you still need the personal touch and for that you do need team members.

We are seeing more and more cases of restaurants being closed because of staffing issues around Covid and in general and that will have to be addressed. I think we’re going to have much more automatization, even more than before, especially in the three and four star segments and in housekeeping (e.g., robot vacuums) or staff dining room (e.g., quality meal prepared offsite and displayed in vending machine), where the guests don’t see a direct impact. In some cities, we are also seeing that room service is been completely outsourced to third-party outside the hotels, similar to any food delivery services.

It will become more and more common to have housekeeping taken care of by robots that can clean and sanitize a room and that will become the norm very quickly. In terms of the more traditional service elements, you will see a split between the different types of travelers. If you are a business traveler, staying in your typical roadside hotel, you don’t need a reception area, you don’t need that personal greeting, you just want your keys so that you can get to your room. It’s more transactional.
You have their credit card, you send their keys to their phone and they can come and go without having to see anybody, which is a preference for some people, just not so much in high-end service.
That type of low or no-touch hotel is going to become more and more frequent, because staffing is becoming an issue.

We are seeing amenities change because of this, with technology speeding up or replacing check-in and making those tedious tasks, which team members hate, automated and more accurate as well.
The trend was there before the pandemic – remember how tablets were popping up in every room? – but now it’s become embedded. And hotels have realized that they don’t have to provide iPads because people bring their own phones or tablets.

So with the QR codes, it’s fantastic, because you don’t need to do print anything and people have become used to it very quickly. It’s not shocking. If you had asked people to use a QR code three years ago then people would have got very upset indeed. But in the upper luxury, the human touch is vast, you cannot go without it and it is here where we will see the least change, both to amenities and to the general operations and service in a hotel.

Looking ahead we’re confident of a return to travel and a recovery in rates, which would support the sector in terms of what it could offer, both in service and amenities, as we move away from the more straightened operations under which many hotels operated, with sudden closures and restrictions.

In terms of pricing, we all know that Southern Europe this summer is going to do really, really well, alongside Italy and the south of France and that’s just with local European business, imagine what will happen when the Americans travel more widely again, it’s just going to push the rates higher.

People are willing to pay more for a good holiday and they don’t necessarily want to go far away anymore, because they have rediscovered Europe, which has been an unexpected twist. What we are expecting to see is more seasonality being caused by Covid, as we get flare ups around the winter time. Outside these, we can expect a return for MICE, which is one of the last segments to return. If you look ahead this year, you can see more live events coming back from mid spring to September. I think it’s going to be a good year in terms of business hotels, despite the advent of working from home and technology such as Zoom becoming the norm.

Moving on, when we can, from the pandemic reminds me of the issues with travel after 9/11. I was living in New York during 9/11. And one thing I realized was that, for travel, it wasn’t the day of the crisis that was the problem, it was the month or the year after. Because every time there was a threat, every time there was a scare, it was on the news all the time.

So now the problem is that every time there is a new virus, whether it’s bird flu, whether it’s Covid, whether it’s something else, there will be a threat, and everybody will panic. That’s the mindset that will be very hard to change rapidly, and that’s going to have a huge impact on big events, those things that you need to organize a long time in advance. This is what the impact will be on hospitality: dealing with that uncertainty, that feeling that things could change at any moment. As hotel asset managers, we recommend our hotels to carefully review their cancellation policies for individual travelers and MICE businesses to alleviate these last-minute risks.

Working with the potential that business could suddenly drop off makes it all the more important that hotels operate efficiently, not offering more amenities than make sense, but doing so in a way that doesn’t affect service, affect that welcome. Hotels have learned a lot of new skills during the pandemic and become much leaner, but the guest will, after being starved of their stays, be that bit more demanding. So we are being sure not to skimp, but to look at the value of everything we offer.