Hospitality must adapt or die

THE tourism revival initiative that kicked off on September 1 presents new horizons for the hospitality sector that has been hit the most since the advent of Covid-19. There is no question that travellers will return, but to move into the tomorrow of what that means for hotel establishments, the hospitality industry needs to work today on convincing people, first and foremost, to leave their homes.

With the relaxation of lockdown and permission being granted for international leisure travel, our industry needs to get the new hygiene, sanitation and social distancing processes right the first time. There is truly no room for error, particularly considering how long our establishments have had to adapt and introduce these measures.

Business travellers may have initially been less critical of shortcomings in this regard, but this too shall quickly dissipate. Leisure travellers will be unapologetically critical of non-compliance by hotels and accommodation establishments and will no doubt vote with their feet when they encounter it. As potential guests regain their curiosity and confidence to start travelling again, the industry also needs to ensure it is ready for them from the time they start searching online.

It is simply no longer enough for hotel websites to still have just their standard booking pages up front. This speaks to a time that simply no longer exists. A message around how the establishment is meeting Covid-19 head on needs to be among the first things potential guests will see. Loyalty programmes are also key right now, but again tailored realistically to the market as it emerges from shelter and into severe economic constraints. We should see these as opportunities to expand these programmes to a lower or wider entry level to get new clients on board with our brands.

That said, however, people will also seek less crowded venues. The hospitality industry must begin by adapting the public spaces in their own venues to accommodate this, and make use of vast areas that may already exist such as lounges, meetings or conference venues to encourage social distancing in terms of dining or even the relocation of exercise facilities.

This extends to making guests see for themselves that they care about their safety.

Along with the PPE hotels provide to all staff, reception teams must further be instructed, after each and every guest interaction, to wipe down countertops, pens or keypads, telephones and credit card terminals. All personnel handling cash must do so wearing disposable gloves. And, wherever possible, the industry must encourage online check in and check out, paperless processes and minimal contact while never losing the courtesy.

Many will recall how people commented on airline travel changing after 9/11, until they didn’t comment anymore. It became standard procedure. And similarly, while Covid-19 has had a far more powerful and devastating impact, across the globe, the day will come when the hospitality industry will experience the end of the pandemic but in the interim, there is work that needs to be done to make travellers comfortable with the idea of holidaying again.