As states begin to ease their stay-at-home restrictions, all sectors of the American economy are carefully planning their next steps to safely return to business. Accounting for 1 of every 25 U.S. jobs, the hotel industry and its recovery will be key to restoring overall economic health in the coming months.
To consider how hotels can start taking positive steps toward recovery, Roger Hill joined an esteemed panel led by Kate Walsh, Dean of the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration: fellow Cornell alumnus Raymond D. Martz of Pebblebrook Hotel Trust, and American Hotel & Lodging Association President Chip Rogers.
To restore demand from business and leisure travelers—and to ensure safe working conditions for staff—the hospitality sector will require a shift in culture, strong commitments and a spirit of collaboration.
Because it’s not the virus itself, but fear of the virus that’s halting guest demand, the hotel industry will need to engender a culture of transparency to move past that fear. Setting higher standards and training staff in new procedures alone won’t be enough; it must be accompanied by enhanced guest-facing messaging to promote trust and understanding.
In fact, with clear communication, some of the measures that hotels are currently considering may not even be necessary. In a recently reopened resort that’s prioritizing messaging, Pebblebrook has seen guests’ trust in cleanliness restored to a higher level than expected. At check-in, guests staying for multiple nights were offered the option to opt out of daily room cleaning—an option that was expected to be requested by guests. “A lot of this is guessing what the psychology of the customer will be, but the folks checking in said, ‘No, we want to have our rooms cleaned every day—we want that service,’” said Martz.
All parties with a stake in restoring the hotel industry will need to support one another with strong commitments. Valued hotel staff members must be provided with sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) to safely return to work—but they must also have the support to stay home from work if they’re experiencing symptoms of illness.
AHLA is also advocating for further legislative commitment in support of the hotel industry: tax credits—which will provide hotels with the funds needed to source the required PPE—as well as legal protections for businesses. With small businesses accounting for 61% of the hotel industry, there’s a real danger that even businesses that are fully compliant with required precautions could fail if sued by an employee or guest who becomes ill in spite of those precautions. “We need some immunity for companies that are doing the right thing and taking the right steps,” said Rogers, “We need to be giving these small business owners—not just hotels, but restaurants and anyplace else the public visits—some certainty that if they do in fact take that step, rehire their staff, and open those doors again—that they’re not going get shut down by a lawsuit.”
While hotels must present a unified voice in broadcasting their message of safety, our industry will also need third parties to work with us to restore consumer confidence. Initiatives like AHLA Safe Stay will ease guests’ concerns, but consumer confidence will soar if a trusted authority like the Centers for Disease Control reaffirms that approach.
Beyond messaging, we will also require a collaborative approach to innovation. While hotels are likely the next-most sanitized public environments after hospitals, opportunities still abound for new innovations—often with technology that already exists and merely needs to be adapted. A service like CLEAR—a touchless, biometric form of identification—could help consumers opt into providing medical data; users who have been identified as healthy could safely be allowed entry to events and venues. This kind of technology would provide a more streamlined approach to a practice already being utilized to safely open the 2020 Hunan Auto Show.
In a nation with a resilient economy, Hill concluded with a reminder to hold on to our optimism, our spirit of innovation and—above all else—our empathy. “I would encourage everyone to be empathetic to the people they know, but to also be empathetic to the people they don’t know,” said Hill, “This is a once-in-a-century opportunity—an opportunity to look at what good can come of this crisis through lasting innovation and change.”