Prior to Covid-19, the most frequent cause-for-complaint within a hotel, was cleanliness. Hotels were constantly scrutinised by guests, with even the least offensive scratch, mark or stain impacting the customer experience.
Now this issue is expected to be intensely magnified, and rightly so, as hospitality businesses prepare for trading once travel restrictions surrounding the Coronavirus start to lift. As hotels begin to reopen, the sector must be prepared for considerable changes in consumer demand when it comes to hygiene and sanitation.
It’s likely that guests will place as much importance on this, as they will on price and location, as fears over contracting the virus will remain far beyond the end of the pandemic. Trust in cleanliness standards will be critical to restarting travel.
But this could be a real chance for hotels to claw back custom. Next week the government is expected to announce a plan on how to gradually restart the economy. A guide to reopening hotels safely will undoubtedly be outlined. And while it’s not known when the green light will be given to hospitality venues, boutique hotels should embrace the moment to become known as havens of hygiene.
This is a golden opportunity for the country, but especially the hospitality sector, to permanently raise the bar and set a new standard for cleanliness.
Globally, a handful of major brands have recognised that Covid-19 has presented a new benchmark for health and safety standards within hospitality, and as a result have launched new platforms to promote increased levels of cleanliness to help reassure travellers.
In the US, Marriott is using its newly-formed Global Cleanliness Council to harness technology to improve hygiene standards in its hotels, including electrostatic sprayers with disinfectant to sanitise surfaces throughout the hotel.
Signage in hotel lobbies will remind guests to maintain social distancing protocols and furniture will be removed or rearranged to minimise contact. The addition of partitions at front desks is also being mooted.
Hilton has collaborated with RB, the makers of Dettol, to develop new processes and training as part of a company-wide Hilton CleanStay initiative, introducing ‘hospital-grade’ cleaning products and guest-accessible disinfectant wipes.
It remains to be seen what measures the UK government will enforce once the industry is permitted to trade again, but hotels will need to adopt a long-term strategy to minimise the risk of transmission and meet the heightened concerns of consumers.
And this is where hotels can lead the charge in restoring confidence back into the sector and in turn help bring in a profit.
Social distancing in the bar/restaurant area may well affect turnover, but boutique hotels should be better placed than standard restaurants to cope. Yesterday Simon Emeny, boss of pub chain Fullers, acknowledged the challenges for the group’s 400 pubs and restaurants, saying that the ‘practical problems’ such as going to the bar, would make it difficult to reopen and adhere to social distancing measures.
But hotel restaurants can space tables out and set out fewer numbers, and still provide fantastic service. Communal seating areas in your lounge or lobby may have to be reconsidered and the fruit bowl on your reception desk removed for now, but hotels can find other ways to show off their generosity that is better suited to our ‘new normal’ way of living.
If guests know that they can turn up to a boutique hotel and have the same personal experience as before, just with a few minor changes, but in the knowledge that the levels of cleanliness will be higher than ever before, then demand will soon pick up.
There are lots of rich people with a lot of pent up spending, so those hotels at the front of the queue with the best product could have a stellar second half of the year.