Understanding the new guest experience
by GREG GLINIEWICZ
Say what you will, COVID-19 changed the way people live their lives. While it’s difficult to think of an industry the pandemic hasn’t impacted, few were more seriously affected than hospitality. People were forced to put travel plans on hold for the unforeseeable future.
Now that we are in a time of recovery and the new normal, hoteliers must adapt without compromising brand standards or the guest experience. As the needs of guests and consumers change, it’s crucial for customer-experience leaders to stay ahead of these trends. Monitoring how guest preferences change now and in the future is key.
FLEXIBILITY STARTS WITH TECHNOLOGY
Before COVID-19 entered the picture, travelers’ actions were predictable, but they stopped seemingly overnight. Interacting with hotel staff face-to-face suddenly became dangerous. As they tried to find solutions, owners and operators turned to technology. Even simple technologies like QR codes came to offer hands-free options for checking in to hotels or ordering room service. Now, guests expect digital self-service options for everyday activities, like checking in on a hotel’s mobile app or using their phone as a replacement for key cards. Hoteliers are urged to incorporate technologies into their day-to-day and consider the power of automation to help hotel staff continue offering high-quality customer service while being less hands-on. Regularly offering self-service options will create guests for life.
The other angle of technology is the influence of social media, where everyone is privy to everything. From personal happenings to world news, people stay connected 24 hours a day, and news travels fast. Because of this, there was a sudden halt in international travel due to the Ukraine conflict. In addition, users constantly are exposed to our online connections traveling, which causes a yearning for traveling in those who are exposed to that content. These cultural events can shift guest preferences so quickly because humans stay technologically connected.
Another phenomenon the industry is seeing is a strong pent-up demand for domestic and international travel. After years of restrictions, travelers are beyond ready to pack up and go whenever and wherever their schedule allows, but they also want it to be convenient, consistent, and easy. With this in mind, hotels have the upper hand. Short-term homestays and rentals are losing popularity due to inconsistency, excessive house rules, and cleaning guidelines, none of which are found at hotels. Hotels offer a predictable, comfortable stay – something humans desperately crave in a post-pandemic world.
LETTING GUESTS CHOOSE THEIR EXPERIENCE
To retain loyal guests, it’s important to look at how the guest experience has changed. Guests want more autonomy over their stay. In some cases, this means less human interaction. Traditional hotel rituals like front desk check-in or daily cleaning services are no more. Instead, concepts like self-check-in, cleaning by request, and other self-serve options are coming into play to let guests choose their experience based on their preferences.
Since the pandemic began, travelers quickly have learned not to take anything for granted, and for some, this means combining business and leisure (bleisure). People are still working remotely and often choose to work in shared spaces in hotel lobbies while they travel. Public spaces are more than just the hotel bar and front desk; they’re multipurpose spaces that must be invested in to cater to every type of guest.
To continue giving guests the experience they prefer while still offering true hospitality is a professional balancing act, and strategically placing staff to create a flexible guest experience is critical. Now more than ever, guests desire autonomy over their experience, but if hotels find ways to cater to the ever-changing needs of guests, they’ll receive loyalty in return.
ADAPTING IS NECESSARY
Rising to the changes in today’s modern guest preferences with added flexibility and autonomy will only help brands succeed. The industry has waited quite a while for the return of travel, and while it’s coming back in full force, that doesn’t mean it will be easy. Brands choosing to embrace technology and rethinking the guest experience will ultimately win in the new way of the world. Let’s hope they’re ready.
Greg Gliniewicz is the senior manager of sales and operations at Elkay Interior Systems (EIS), and he specializes in new business development and project management for architectural hotel millwork projects nationwide. He can be reached at [email protected] or (630) 346-7549.