4 Detailed Steps Hotels Can Take Now to Regain Guest Trust

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4 Detailed Steps Hotels Can Take Now to Regain Guest Trust

By Zongqing Zhou, PhD, Professor at the College of Hospitality and Tourism Management of Niagara University - 04/29/2020

In the Chinese language, the word “crisis” consists of two Chinese characters: “danger” and “opportunity.” In every crisis, there are opportunities for those who can see them and are able to take advantage of them. The bigger the crisis, the larger the number of opportunities. 

If there is one crisis that we can call big, it's COVID-19; it is unprecedented in modern history. The most conspicuous effect it is having is that it is bringing every company, large and small, to a level playing field: no company can simply just pick up the old “tricks” to win their customers back. Something must be done before customers, old and new, feel safe and secure and trust the measures you've taken to be effective and efficient. So, what is that something? Below is a list.

1.   Offer A Peace of mind pledge

a.     Sanitation pledge: Daily thorough professional cleaning of the environment, including but not limited to non-touch temperature checks for all guests and disinfection and sanitization protocols.

b.    Food safety pledge: From food suppliers to how food is prepared in the kitchen, served and delivered.

c.     Basic medical protection equipment: masks, gloves, sanitizers provided either free or at cost.

d.    Add free room sanitation amenities.

e.    Special cancellation policies pledge: For bookings/orders that have already been made, guests can cancel without any penalty and credited for a future stay that can be used any time in the next 12 months (Additionally, rates will stay the same for services and products they would have had the chance to purchase). For new bookings/orders: Cancel any time without any penalty with two options. 1) Either a full refund or 2) A credit for future use in the next two years.

f.      Government COVID-19 guidelines pledge: Will follow strictly the guidelines issued by either local, state or federal government; will practice social-distancing even at the cost of reduction of number of customers at a particular date or time.

2.    Create An Enhanced loyalty program 

a.     Crisis benefit pledge: add d. above (free sanitation amenities) to the existing loyalty program without raising fees, if there are any, for existing programs. Make a point to say that no phone calls or any other actions need to be taken during any crisis that restricts travel. Refunds and/or credits will be made automatically.

b.    For new customers: these benefits start immediately and will be valid for the next three years, even without a crisis. After three years, this benefit will kick in during any crisis. This is probably the best time to recruit new customers who will be looking for safety, security (including financial security) and flexibility.

3.    Make public safety and security the center of management, marketing and operations

a.     Hire a CSO (Chief Safety Officer). This person must be a public health and safety professional

b.    Create a training program: all managers, from the top to frontline supervisors must go through a training program and acquire a "certificate of completion" in public health and safety. All new hires in any managerial position will need to have this certificate before being fully employed.

c.     Public relations campaign: publicize the above two measures

d.    All marketing and promotion should place public safety and security as part of the message.

e.    Revise the old operational manual or procedures (create one, if one did not exist) to streamline the public safety and security operation.

f.      Accordingly, procurement of equipment, services and products must be in line with e. above.

g.     Customization: pay special attention to the new needs of the travelers. The majority of these needs will be centered on public safety and security, social distance, small crowd travel products and services, on-site temperature testing and/or other assurance of a virus-free environment.

h.    Create innovative social distancing products and services.

i.       Bottomline: this is not a time to think about making profits! This is a time to focus on establishing trust, highlighting benefits, keeping the old customers and recruiting new customers. This is the time to think about how to retain your most valuable employees by finding ways to obtain basic cash flow to pay these employees. This is not the time to try to keep everything you are accustomed to, but a time to think about reengineering your management practices, operations, marketing and promotion, human resources strategies, organizational structures, automations, and smart technologies.

4.    Use technology

a.     For large corporations, use of big data to better understand customers. In particular, two pieces of information are especially relevant and important: age and geographical location (countries, cities, etc.). The reason is clear: COVID-19 affects older people more than the younger people and it affects some countries and regions more than it does others. The older the people are, the more concerned they will be with health-related safety and security, for example. This information can be used in promotional incentives, customizing marketing messages and providing special services.

b.    Implement touchless check-ins, check-outs, door locks and other service elements

c.     Streamline marketing/promotion/booking/reservation/check-in/check-outs/post-travel feedback, either through the internet, or by creating a proprietary APP or both. For destinations, theme parks, the concept of carrying capacity is particularly important to understand. Once you know the carrying capacity of your destination or theme parks, you can use the technology to require pre-booking to be able to visit your sites, which in turn enables daily control of crowds.

d.    The accelerated use of VR, AR, robots, video conferencing programs such as Zoom, Google Hangouts, GoToMeeting, Skype for Business, Cisco WebEx, and event management programs such as Cvent. Many of these programs were made popular and household brands due to the stay-at-home orders surrounding COVID-19. Customers are likely to accept them if offered or made available. These technology tools are very useful and effective in presenting intangible services and products offered by the hospitality and tourism industry. They are also great tools for social distancing, customization and market targeting.

e.    Now is the best time to implement smart tourism, smart hotels and smart food service.

Dr. Zhou is a professor at the College of Hospitality and Tourism Management of Niagara University. He is currently the President of the International Society of Travel and Tourism Educators (ISTTE).