My passion for hospitality is rooted in my love to travel, which has been quite a challenge over the last year with the pandemic. Each year I look forward to attending different industry events, with the International Luxury Hotel Association (ILHA’s) annual INSPIRE Summit being at the top of the list.
Like so much else in 2020, the event moved to a fully virtual platform due to COVID-19, but that didn’t stop it from being an amazing experience. I was able to virtually connect, network, and learn from the industry’s best.
Over the course of the conference, it became clear to me how hotels plan to change the way they deliver service in 2021 and beyond. Here’s what I took away…
1. Redesigned loyalty programs
Amanda Elder, Chief Commercial Officer & Member of the Management Board for Kempinski SA, delivered a session on post-pandemic guest loyalty. She asked us to consider what the next 10 years would look like for the loyalty program. A decade ago, the loyalty program was the realm of the corporate road warrior. Today, we’re seeing more leisure-based guests becoming part of loyalty programs (51% of enrollment, according to Elder’s findings). In a post-pandemic world, what will guests want out of these programs, and how can we as industry leaders deliver?
Her group conducted in-person workshops in cities around the world, unveiling what people want most out of loyalty programs. It ultimately came down to three things:
Fairness: guests want to be rewarded for every dollar they spend
Flexibility: guests want choices about how they redeem their rewards, and they want those rewards to be relevant to them
Transparency: guests want to be able to keep track of their rewards and understand how the program works
Worth noting is that 70% of guests find loyalty programs elitist, while 69% find them too basic. Elder emphasized hoteliers must keep in mind:
Travel behavior continues to change, and we should be ready for that
Loyalty as it stands now is somewhat broken. It’s not as exciting or engaging as it could (and should) be
Ultimately, we will need to work harder to keep up with the evolving customer
2. A genuine shift to sustainability
The pandemic has emphasized the need for corporate sustainability, especially in the hotel sector. We’re seeing significant reductions in energy consumption, especially carbon emissions from fossil fuel with less people driving. We even saw a record-size Arctic ozone hole heal itself as a direct result of the global lockdown. Hervé Houdré, Founder of H2 Sustainability Consulting, stressed that hotels should be ready to play their part in the way they deliver service moving forward. It’s no longer about green “trends” that look good to the public eye. It’s about capitalizing on a historic opportunity to reset, refocus, and regenerate.
Hotels rapidly evolved during the pandemic to include protective gear, hand sanitizer, and contactless check in and out; safety measures that are now simply accepted by guests and associates as part of daily hotel operations. Actions for sustainability and environmentalism should be the next big push. The planet - and brand loyalty as customers inevitably seek to align themselves with companies that stand for good values - depends on it.
3. Creative approaches to social distancing
In a lighter segment, Colin Cowie, CEO of Colin Cowie Lifestyle, offered creative takes on social distancing for hotels as we move into what will likely be another year of masking up and staying apart. Through several personal experiences, Cowie encountered innovative ways to enable guests to interact in group settings.
One includes offering three types of bracelets for guests to wear:
One color indicates that the guest would prefer to be completely distanced (+6 ft) from all others
Another color indicates that the guest is okay with somewhat closer interactions
A third color indicates that the guest is okay with quite close interaction – presumably for those who have COVID-19 antibodies
In all scenarios, every guest is masked at all times.
Another example Cowie provided could serve to inspire executives to think outside the box for activities at their properties. In a party setting, he set up three dance floors:
One with large enough squares on the floor for couples only – no social interaction allowed between squares
One with smaller squares for those people comfortable with less than 6 ft of distancing
One for those comfortable with close interactions
I could see hotels taking these creative measures and developing their own spins in order to tread the delicate line of providing a safe environment for guests while accommodating the interactions we crave as social beings. One thing’s for sure: the pandemic has challenged us all to reimagine service experiences and redesign the guest journey.
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