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  • Writer's pictureKarl Gleave

Hotels are not made to be Hospitals… or are they?

Hotels let private bedrooms, twin rooms, family suites and hostels accommodate as many as 10 bunks to a room! Hospitals are littered with hundreds of rooms, each with one or more beds. Hotels serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner in their restaurants. Hospitals serve food 24hours in canteens. Hotels provide room service. Hospitals provide bed service!

I caught myself at least three times last week saying, “hotels are not made to be hospitals” when speaking to colleagues in the industry. In our current mixed up world where a pandemic affects every business in some way or another, we would be excused for making such a mistake.

“…and it’s unlikely that many would book if they read a review highlighting poor cleaning, cockroaches, or bed bugs.”

As we all live through these trying times, we expect the places we visit, shop, eat, and conduct business, to implement protective and stringent measures to ensure our safety. Hotels and guests have always valued cleanliness and when staying away from our own homes, cleanliness and safety are generally top of most people’s mind. In fact, guests will often check review sites before booking a hotel, homestay, or rental and it’s unlikely that many would book if they read a review highlighting poor cleaning, cockroaches, or bed bugs.

Now more the ever, the cleaning measures a hotel operator takes are more important to instil confidence for the guest. This means hotels have started to up the ante on their cleaning, or at least they’re advertising it more. The thought process being, if the guest is confident that they’ll be safe, they will book with us. This might be true and extra cleaning standards are certainly not going to damage any brand, however have we now reached a new level of “safety theatre”, and forgotten what we fundamentally do in hospitality. Some of these procedures are not just affecting our bottom line but how our hotels feel.

“…some hotels wouldn’t be worried about potential explosive devices inside, or that a little girl might be separated from her teddy bear…”

Where I once would’ve offered out my hand as a polite greeting it would now be perceived as ill-mannered and inconsiderate. Where hotel owners started to breakdown giant impersonal reception desks, we now build giant screens to separate us from the guest. Where staff once offered to carry guests’ bags, we now offer them a sanitised trolly like they’re at an airport and responsible for their own luggage. It’s a minefield! I honestly feel like if a guest was to accidentally leave their luggage in the lobby, some hotels wouldn’t be worried about potential explosive devices inside, or that a little girl might be separated from her teddy bear, but more worried about the bacteria or germs on it! I can imagine hotel staff being quickly dispatched to a Louis Vuitton case in a hotel lobby with wet floor signs to cordon off the area, and armed with gloves and a spray bottle of disinfectant.

While I might joke about this, it is a very serious matter of health and safety right now and hotels are doing all they can to ensure the safety of their guests and staff.

· Some hotels are sending guests health questionnaires days before visiting the hotel.

· Temperature checks taken before check in.

· Masks on both the guests and the staff.

· Screens placed at every desk, bar, and table.

· Anti-bacterial gel at the entrance, elevator and exits.

· Static cleaning robots circling the lobby, the rooms, and the toilets between each guest.

· Access to healthcare professionals direct from your room phone.

Whilst we do all this to ensure everyone’s safety, what are we doing to try and ensure a great guest experience?

During the month of August, I went out to a restaurant to support, and take advantage of the governments “Eat-out to Help-out scheme”. While I think that the idea to get people out again was great, I understand there are many different views on how successful this scheme was. I don’t want to criticize the scheme but instead want to share my own personal experience which felt a little… lack lustier but highlights my concerns in hospitality right now.

I pre-booked a table online at a restaurant one week in advance for me and my partner. When arriving we were greeted at a distance by a host wearing a mask which covered most of her face. If she was pleased to see us or welcoming us with a smile we certainly couldn’t tell. We were taken to our table, asked to each pick up a paper menu, and prewrapped cutlery on the way through the door. We were seated at a very clean, but empty table and were informed about their new App ordering system. It took us a while however to log onto the restaurants wi-fi, and a longer time downloading this app using it. It was then a tense 20minutes of trying to place our order on an app which clearly had a lot of traffic. I looked around and saw everyone struggling with the same process and one desperate host dashing to each table trying to help customers having the most difficulty. One elderly couple on the table next to us spent at least 30minutes trying to work it all out and after being in severe distress the host caved in and took their phone doing it for them.

My concern wasn’t the technology, the new-fangled order process, the safety, or cleanliness, it was the distinct lack of personal touch. There was no personality from the host or our waiter due to the fact there was no waiter service, and no chatter about the specials or upselling chefs’ latest creations, because the menu had been reduced. We had chosen to eat there out of hundreds of options yet were not made to feel valued or welcomed at any point. This was because the staff were so preoccupied with the safety measures and new protocols, that they forgot the most important part of their jobs… providing a great service.

“...providing a service without any hospitality is actually just a transaction.”

The hospitality business pride themselves not just on their standards, but their ability to provide great service too. The service a guest receives is ultimately decided by the individuals working on the front line, but with the current risk of bad publicity, zero customers, and an empty cashier, we are now balancing service levels with new safety measures. The key thing to remember is that providing a service without any hospitality is actually just a transaction. For example; ordering at the drive-through and paying at the next window when we’re given our food, it’s a transaction.

“…The friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers.”

Sometimes I quote the definition of ‘Hospitality’ to myself in my mind, reminding me of what I’m really meant to do. I’ve even been that geek that’s quoted it to my team or colleagues before too, but in this instance, it really does help to remind us what we are doing and focus not just on the safety of our new environment but what the job is really about.

Hospitality: The friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers. Synonyms: Warmth, friendliness, helpfulness, kind-heartedness…

Hotels are facing some serious challenges with barriers to hospitality. The safety and precautions put in place cannot disappear just yet in the current climate, and they may even be here to stay for the long term. However, how long will guests perceive these new protocols as more important than their overall experience? Right now, we are impressed when a business has taken steps to ensure our safety. However, if we want something and are told we can’t have it, or can’t do it, even for our own safety… its natural human behaviour to become frustrated. People check into hotels often to escape their normal world and for those working in the industry you’ll know that “vacation brain”, is real and not just a phrase. Some people forget the norms, or are less accepting when they are on holiday and checking into a hotel, expecting a “yes no problem”, to any of their questions or demands.

So, despite acting a little like Hospitals right now, Hotels are NOT made to be Hospitals. The future of hospitality in hotels will be to facilitate these new safety measures but finding ways of delivering them without being at the expense of the guest experience. Our challenge as custodians of hotels is to find new ways of welcoming our guests in a pandemic world of zero contact, and balancing great service with continued guest safety.

Stay safe. Stay friendly. Stay welcoming.

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