The current COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented challenges for many economic sectors. One of the most highly impacted industry by the pandemic is the hospitality industry. And as we have progressed through this worldwide crisis, one of the most widely discussed concepts for being able to be with others – and welcome back guests to our hotels – is social distancing. This concept requires people to keep a safe distance between individuals in order to diminish the chances of propagating the virus. Social distancing can be enhanced by the use of technology, as the technology diminishes the need for consumer/staff interactions in hospitality services. Based on this principle, several technologies can be deployed to enhance social distancing and create a new environment for hospitality services. In this environment, consumers can interact with technology rather than with staff members to access services.
This past July 2020, we surveyed a nationwide sample of over 1,000 hotel guests from the United States to gain perspective into the potential use of technologies for social distancing in hotels. This resulted in a comprehensive report analyzing the data and offering the industry much-needed insight into the types of installations, investments and service strategies that need to be made to best respond to consumers’ needs while keeping everyone safe.
As a preview, here are a few takeaways from our analysis.
Use social distancing technology, but keep being social.
We saw in the survey results that perceived social benefits to these technologies, especially in cultivating good relationships, has a low score. So, how can hotels still create a social environment for their guests to relax, enjoy themselves with their loved ones and perhaps make new friends during their stay? Social distance does not mean isolation. So long as precautions such as setting tables at least six feet apart and placing pool lounge chairs six feet apart are taken, a hotel can still accommodate guests desire to be amongst others. Hotels can also work with their staff to make guest connections and stay social: such as saying hello and opening doors.
Show me please, don’t tell me.
We also note from the results that guests, when not successful in using social distancing technology, can feel frustrated, worried and uncomfortable — and we do not want any such feelings in our hotels. So, what can we do? While using technology is intuitive to some, it is not to all. To accommodate offer a variety of support services to your guests – videos instruction, print material, signage, phone support – to help the guests navigate the technology in their own time.
Emphasize and share the importance of data security.
While guests recognize that hotels have their best interests in mind when introducing social distancing technology, they are also a bit worried about the information they provide over social distancing technology could be used by other people. How can hotels handle this issue? Hotels simply need to share with their guests the steps they take to follow data security regulations and how guests’ personal information is kept safe.
Technology is here to stay, social distancing or not.
Social distancing technology are going to be used for the future once the pandemic is over. They are here to stay. Therefore, it is to the advantage of hotels to show their guests that these new technologies will make their stay more personable. Hotels need to continue to work with the guests to get used to the technology.
Invest not in the hotel, but in the people (guests and associates).
All these technology installations are huge investments. How can hotels be able to recuperate such investments if guests do not use them or are apprehensive of using them? Therefore, hotels need to look at all these investments in technology not for the hotels, but for the guests and for their employee and associates. When the ultimate reason for action or change is placed on the betterment of the users, the people, then the change will be smoother and more widely accepted. We need to help manage this change towards a more tech-forward stay. From management’s positive roll out of technology, to short training programs for the staff, to promotional videos and printed material, to pre-arrival messaging to guests, every little thing counts. The profits and the returns will follow.
Agnes DeFranco, Ed.D., CHAE, CHE, CHIA, CAHTA (email@example.com) is a professor and Conrad N. Hilton Distinguished Chair at the Conrad N. Hilton College, University of Houston in Houston, Texas USA. DeFranco is the co-author of six textbooks and has published more than 115 refereed articles. She is an HFTP Global past president and a recipient of the HFTP Paragon Award.
Cristian Morosan, Ph.D., MSc, CHTP (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an associate professor at the the Conrad N. Hilton College, University of Houston in Houston, Texas USA. His research in the areas of hospitality technology has led to 110 peer-reviewed publications. Morosan has received numerous recognitions from multiple academic institutions.