Industry Update
Opinion Article24 July 2020

Hotel GMs Share What They Are Doing to Welcome Guests Back Safely and Comfortably

There are many challenges and opportunities inherent in the reopening process; Learning from each other will help make the industry stronger

By David Berger, Founder and CEO of Volara

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As the hospitality industry realigns to new guest requirements it begins the process of reopening hotels across the U.S. While each of their situations are unique, hoteliers are navigating similar economic and environmental challenges. Now is the time for hotel operators to learn from one another while formulating and sticking to a selection of best practices to ensure guests feel as confident checking in now as they did one year ago. To take the pulse of the industry, I spoke with four hoteliers to better understand their reopening plans.

The Gale South Beach aspires to open its doors to the public on October 16th. While shut down, General Manager Kevin Waldstein like many others saw an opportunity to improve the property through technology investments, including the adoption of an e-mist sanitizing machine to spread disinfecting material throughout the hotel.

"It's all about confidence, from cleaning to the way we speak with the travelers who contact us," Waldstein said. "Managers are walking the property with checklists in tow to make sure that all i's are dotted, and t's are crossed when it comes to guest and staff safety. We are using electrostatic misters to disinfect all surfaces and touchpoints in rooms, and we are sealing room doors with a tape strip to emphasize and visually show to guests that no one has entered the room since it was disinfected."

Much has been said about the "new normal" of traveling amid COVID, but according to Waldstein there is nothing normal about the situation. For this reason, he recommends hoteliers create checklists for each position in the property to adhere to, while following up with daily meetings to constantly remind hotel associates of the hotel's processes. He also recommends updating signage across the property in public areas and elevators to inform the guests of the procedures being taken to protect their safety.

"I've stayed in contact with colleagues whose hotels are open and have visited their properties to learn from them," he said. "It's been very helpful. Likewise, our managers have been communicating new procedural changes to staff to make sure they are ready to hit the ground running when they return."

Starting, Stopping, and Starting Again

Anton Moore, GM of the Gansevoort Hotel in New York City's Meatpacking District, joined the property in early March just in time for it to shut down 18 days later as the coronavirus took hold in the city. A proposed June reopening for his hotel came and went, and now Gansevoort Meatpacking is hopeful for another try late Summer 2020 with a completely new look and feel following a top-to-bottom renovation.

A lot has taken place in the city, and Moore said it is important for the hotel and the ownership group to get the word out that the property is well-prepared for guests in safety, comfort and a true Meatpacking experience. For now, he has refocused his marketing toward those looking for a staycation in a city without a deluge of tourists.

"New York was at the epicenter of the virus, and at the beginning, everything felt very unknown," he said. "Now that we have a better understanding of what is required of us, we feel ready and excited to welcome guests back through our doors with a few new 'good' surprises in store. We believe in hospitality and we know how to take care of our guests."

Moore suggested staying away from words like "clean" in guest-facing messaging, because hotels have already made a commitment to cleanliness, and instead focus on "disinfected" and "safe." Normalizing this messaging now is going to be important down the line, Moore said, because guests are likely to grow accustomed to increased sanitation.

"It's a strange world to be in. We don't want to promote the fact that we are super clean, because we always have been. Now we are taking extra measures. There is a large investment associated with keeping your hotel sanitized, but the health and safety of our guests and staff has always been and will continue to be the top priority. We think implementing procedures such as having an Electrostatic Sprayer disinfecting your lobby air two times a day is a good thing," he said. "These new practices will change the industry going forward, particularly as we continue to fight this pandemic."

Hospitality Improvisation

Unlike many of their peers, The Hotel Concord in Concord, N.H., never fully shut down. Instead, the boutique property stayed open exclusively to medical personnel. Now, owner Jamie Simchik said The Hotel Concord has opened the rest of its rooms to guests contingent on them signing a form stating they are asymptomatic. The hotel has also made a host of improvements that Simchik hopes will bring guests back to the property, including contactless check in, an updated website, and joining the Stash Hotel Rewards program.

"The situation has accelerated a lot of the technology investments we were considering, and the slower business gave us the opportunity to implement them," Simichik said. "Rolling out mobile check-in alongside hand sanitizer stations and minimizing the unessential items available in a room goes a long way toward improving efficiency and guest confidence."

The Hotel Concord also provides Volara-powered Amazon Echo Dot devices in each guestroom, According to Simchik, the voice-technology enables the hotel to address the guests' needs without needing to be face to face with them and facilitated the removal of all printed collateral and guest directories from the guest rooms.

Jonathan Whitehead, GM of the Howard Johnson Anaheim Hotel & Water Playground, is unsure exactly when his property is reopening, but he is continuing to make changes in anticipation. His hotel relies heavily on business from the nearby Disneyland Park, and while the recent reopening of Disneyworld in Florida is an encouraging sign, the continued scarcity of cleaning products remains a challenge.

"We invested in brand new ASSA ABLOY RFID locks to allow guests to check in on their own terms, which is great. But there is a huge lead time for things like hand sanitizer packs and electrostatic sprayers, things that are becoming brand standards but are sold first-come-first serve," he said.

Lastly, Whitehead said that even though the property hasn't welcomed new guests in months he made a point to retain as much staff as possible, particularly maintenance.

"We kept our staff busy with projects such as PTAC cleaning and property improvements," he said. "Our focus right now is on what we can do to keep our property moving forward until the time comes to reopen. We've partnered with ipalapa.com, a web-based reservations system, which allows our guests to reserve their own seating at our pool and waterpark and helps us manage guest capacity. Limiting contact with guests is a good start, but this is still hospitality. When our guests come back, they have to feel welcomed and safe."

Ultimately, the reopening should be led by a drive to provide guest comfort, just as hospitality has always done. Inherent to comfort is, of course, health and safety. Hotels are putting in place plans that allow them to remain confident as they welcome guests to their property. Each of the hoteliers I spoke with is eager to share, as well as to listen and learn. We are on the same team when it comes to combating COVID and regaining the trust of guests.

David Berger

    More from David Berger

    About Volara

    Volara is THE provider of custom voice-based solutions for the hospitality industry. It's the only provider of voice-based solutions to the hospitality industry with the Alexa for Business Service Delivery Designation from Amazon and is a launch partner of Alexa for Hospitality, as well as an authorized solution provider for theGoogle Assistant's interpreter mode and Google's hotel solutions. Volara's proprietary software creates a hotel business tool atop the leading smart speakers and natural language processing platforms. Volara's proven best practices ensure high utilization rates and an optimal guest experience that creates personal and remarkable engagement with brands. Volara is the largest manager of Alexa devices in the enterprise today and over 10 million people have used voiced-based solutions powered by Volara. To learn more about Volara, visit https://volara.io/.

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