In sickness and in health – how hospitality is embracing the ‘new normal’

As the hospitality industry begins to emerge from lockdown, hotels and restaurants across the world are looking at how they can begin to safely operate again. For an industry that prides itself on the personal touch, hoteliers and restaurateurs are now having to remove touch all together – rethinking their business model in the process.

This presents many challenges, least of all how best to communicate these changes to consumers. Do consumers want to know what brands are doing to keep them safe, or does this remove some of the magic? Does the use of 1% sodium hypochlorite disinfectant really constitute a PR story?

The short answer is yes, but only as part of a bigger story which focuses more on the macro than the micro. We have certainly seen increased demand in recent weeks from journalists looking for more detail on what the future of hospitality looks like, but the focus is less on the nitty gritty of how often touch points are cleaned and more about how the experience will look and feel different upon reopening. Whatever strategy you subscribe to, we believe hospitality venues need to be transparent about their systems and processes in response to the pandemic and they also need to have information readily prepared and digestible for both consumers and press.

Many brands feel like they have always put hygiene first, albeit discreetly, but times have changed, and the safety of guests and staff has taken on a new significance. Hospitality brands are not just selling an experience anymore, they are now in the business of selling safety and sanitation.  

But how best to reassure and encourage guests to return? India’s ITC hotels is using accreditation from the National Accreditation Board for Hospitals & Healthcare Providers (NABH) to demonstrate its enhanced cleaning protocols.

In the UK, a COVID-19 ‘quality mark’ championed by Visit Britain is currently being considered by ministers. As reported by The Telegraph, this certificate will be awarded to all UK hospitality businesses that meet certain social distancing and hygiene standards, providing consumers with reassurance that it’s safe to stay.

Many hotel brands have enlisted scientific advice to help formulate their reopening plans. Spanish hotel group Barcelo has created the ‘We Care About You’ programme, a comprehensive set of measures to protect guests, employees and suppliers. Using expert guidance about viral infection, the programme focuses on enhanced cleaning and adaptations, including a grab and go F&B concept.

Another client, aparthotel brand Native is confident that its self-contained apartments, complete with kitchen and washing facilities will prove particularly appealing for guests in this post COVID-19 climate. Guests will be greeted by an unbroken ‘clean seal of approval’ on their door, showing that the room has been deep cleaned using environmentally friendly powerful enzyme cleaning products. Mid stay cleans have been abolished and apartments have been decluttered, with pillows, throws and even equipment manuals removed in the name of safety.

Monte-Carlo Bay Hotel

At the ultra-luxury end of the market, Monte-Carlo Société des Bains de Mer has worked hard to preserve the overall guest experience. Group Director of Sales and Marketing, Axel Hoppenot, explains: “We’re adapting our establishments across the portfolio. From hotels to restaurants and spas, we will be controlling capacity, guiding traffic flow and using stringent sanitation. Restaurant menus will be downloadable via a secure code to diners’ phones, while occupancy will be limited to one person for every four- square metres. Instead of brunch buffets at the Monte-Carlo Bay Hotel, the brunch will be served at the table. We will also propose a new service: floating breakfast trays beside the lagoon and sunbed dinners”.

Boutique hotel group, The Calcot Collection believes the pandemic has encouraged some positive changes. For example, Calcot & Spa has introduced a new outdoor gym to aid social distancing. An extra floor has been added to its play barn by decommissioning offices and the events space has been transformed into a beautiful yoga studio with countryside views ready for reopening. Set amidst 220 acres, Calcot has been able to tap into consumers’ new-found appreciation for nature and has shown how businesses can innovate quickly to thrive. The Painswick will also be available for exclusive lets – ideal for family reunions after months of lockdown.

Cornish hotel, St Michaels Resort in Falmouth has introduced a new one-way system throughout the property to ensure easy social distancing and pushed kids club activities outdoors. Guests may also be allocated arrival time slots and the reception area has been reconfigured to provide more space. In the hotel restaurant, dishes will be presented under a cloche, with staff trained to minimise contact. Room service will be available without charge for breakfast and dinner and all employee temperatures will be checked on arrival for each shift.

So, it seems there is plenty to talk about when it comes to health and hygiene in a post pandemic world. Yet we believe that the really intriguing story is actually about how hospitality businesses are innovating in response to this pandemic. Certainly, there is a trade-off to be had in terms of experience, but the examples above prove just how resilient and inventive the sector can be. These measures will undoubtedly change the way people stay for years to come, but we hope that they will future proof an industry that employs over 120 million globally whilst also still encouraging cultural connectivity and joy in the process.