The 1976 movie “Marathon Man” has an unforgettably tense scene where Dr. Christian Szell (played by Sir Laurence Olivier) torturously drills a restrained Dustin Hoffman’s teeth amidst an ongoing interrogation, repeatedly asking, “Is it safe?” If you have not seen this classic, be prepared to avoid the dentist for a little while thereafter.
The movie may be out of mind for anyone under the age of 35, the line, “Is it safe?” has since resurfaced into the zeitgeist as travelers continue to wrap their minds around the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccination rates, vaccination mandates, hospitalizations, new airport requirements such as antigen tests and local or regional requirements.
Simply put, travel is no longer merely booking a hotel, flight and possibly a rental car. For some, the extra effort required may be simply too much to warrant the extra time and costs required.
Even amongst the well-educated and travel-centric upper-middle class, this new and enduring inconvenience underscores deep-seated safety fears. These fears are not restricted to any sex, age group or race. No more the vaccination rate and how adept governments have become at managing this disease, many would still audibly gasp at the mention of someone returning from an international trip. And until the vast majority of the public is confident and actively encouraged to feel comfortable about travel, our business will struggle.
The business travel segment is playing a great game of chicken. Who will go first? Will Company A let Company B get ahead of them insofar as traveling to meet customers? Or will both companies simultaneously realize that the human connection is a necessary part of successful selling? Or, worse, has videoconferencing cemented itself in the rubric for sales, with far less budget allocated for corporate travel from now on?
The most recent HITEC tradeshow disappointingly reflects this reluctance to travel, which is particularly concerning given that it is one of our industry’s premier shows. Normally some 6,000 buyers mingle with exhibitors to create a buzz around new product launches and other related announcements. This year saw far fewer buyers, reflecting continued fears of the Delta Variant’s flare up in Texas, a division of interest with the concurrent Lodging Conference, and perhaps a lack of funds for hotels to send out a team of delegates.
We cannot just sit back and wait for the tide to turn our way. COVID-19 is not going away; it’s now ‘covid and flu season’. At one point, our collective skins will thicken, then we will start to lose some interest in this continual news banter and Greek alphabet of variants, inevitably venturing out of our bomb shelters (that is, our homes) to travel again. But will this day come soon enough for all hotels to survive?
Hoteliers need to be part of the travel-is-safe bandwagon, ready and welcoming for any and all guests no matter their dispositions toward the current status of the virus. We need to expect and anticipate that many guests are still re-emerging and traveling with some trepidation.
This means meeting guests’ expectations with reassurance and some technical wisdom as support. Some initiatives should include:
- Contactless check-in and check-out
- Mobile keys, concierge and ordering systems
- Air purification systems
- Handwashing stations
- Cell phone cleaning stations
- Entrance temperature (or vaccination) status checkpoints
- Visual cues of recent sanitization
And this all starts well before arrival onsite. Besides updating your digital channels, whenever a guest calls in with any iteration of, “Is it safe?” you best be able to reassure them in a confident and undistracted manner, as this question could well prove to be the dealbreaker for many still-shellshocked customers.
With budget season upon us, the time to get ready for 2022 is now. Make the investment in your future and you will be rewarded.