The transient nature of customers within the hospitality industry has presented a two-fold challenge this year. First, we saw significant decreases in traffic, bookings, and revenue when the pandemic forced people to stay at home and cancel trips. Now, as the country tries to reopen, the constant flow of people from different communities through airports and travel stops and into hotels can lay the groundwork for an outbreak if the proper precautions aren’t taken.
As I work closely with hotels and hospitality employers to help them bring a strong workforce back on board, I see the ways in which technology can complement the creative thinking that managers and their teams are engaging in. But no solution is one-size-fits-all. When selecting what resources are best for their team and site, there are obvious differentiators of size and location, and also more in-depth elements to consider before making any significant investments.
Scalability in staff management
When it comes to hiring, or even re-hiring employees who were already on the payroll, the biggest concern I’m hearing from property managers is training, accountability, and documentation. The hurdle here is that whatever they implement needs to be scalable to a large workforce, and there can’t be room for gaps. Failure to effectively scale runs a high risk: infection leading to an outbreak, leading to closure and serious harm to the brand. In this worst-case scenario, you will be asked about how thorough your training was, and you’ll have to prove that your measures were effective on the scale that they needed to be.
Whatever you decide to move forward with, my advice would be to selectively choose ‘hot spots’ to first pilot a solution before eventually - if at all - expanding it. The same goes for technology that alleviates other concerns as well: contactless entries, voice-activated dialing and messaging, etc. In the long-term, think about how these big investments tie in with your brand and who you are as a company.
Time horizon of investments
As all-encompassing as the concerns of COVID-19 are now, and will likely continue to be in the next several months, we have to remember that eventually, it will calm down. Beyond that, it will disappear and life will return to a semblance of normal. With that in mind, it’s important to think about the time horizon and the ROI of any big changes that you implement.
The big new innovative technology that comes to mind is the temperature scanning stations that use a heat map to scan crowds - we’re already seeing this roll out at airports. In regard to scalability, this allows managers to temperature check every employee that comes through the door, as well as simultaneously capture data that can be referenced if needed. But to make a significant investment like this, you’ll want to think of the ROI of a technology like that a year from now, when we can hopefully expect a vaccine and safe travel.
I don’t have the right answer for any particular property on what types of investments make sense, but I do want to caution leadership at hotels to keep this in mind before making sweeping changes that will be harder to undo down the road.
Promising Tech Solutions
With scalability and ROI in mind, there are several solutions that can help hospitality employers bring back and deploy their workforce safely and efficiently.
Getting the right talent in place: I would advise employers -- above all else and before making sweeping tech changes -- to prioritize identifying quality personnel for management roles. AI-driven recruiting and data-informed career mapping technologies can help you get the right people into the right roles. And if you can fill your staff leadership levels with responsible talent, it will have an immense impact on the rest of your workforce. They will be the ones making critical decisions on the front lines, holding teams accountable, becoming experts at any new technology, and representing your brand to the guest if an issue arises. Hospitality has always been a human-centered industry, and no company can afford to lose footing on this front.
Digital wellness checks & contact tracing: Once you have the right people in place, keeping them healthy is next. Contactless temperature checks can provide real-time data on your employees’ health without requiring employees to come within close proximity with one another. And in the event of an employee testing positive for the virus, contact-tracing apps can allow managers to discretely identify and alert other employees who might be at risk.
Training & compliance: Ensuring that your staff is properly informed and trained on new crowd control and sanitization procedures will be a large determinant in the success of your reopening strategy. The ability to quickly systemize and scale the onboarding process, certify appropriate individuals, and document all training is in high demand, and fortunately, there are several resources available. Learning management systems (LMS) are available through most large corporate brands, as courses and recommended checklists and safety protocol are available through industry associations such as the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) and the National Restaurant Association (NRA). These programs and certifications can be used for onboarding, development, and compliance training purposes.
Support your team with crowd control: Density management technologies are available to help identify the most high-traffic areas in your facility. Having data intel on which areas need closely monitored at certain hours or more frequent sanitizing can help managers organize and deploy their staff in the most efficient ways, which can protect your front-line staff’s time and avoid wasting resources. And if you already know which areas of your site are most busy and popular – lounges and pools for example – reservation apps can support your social distancing efforts by requiring guests to reserve their seats, tables, or lounge areas. Having properly distanced social areas will allow your staff to safely perform scheduled sanitizations and more easily monitor the areas for non-compliance.
Integration & Collaboration: None of the above solutions will fulfill their potential if they aren’t adopted with a bigger-picture mindset. Selecting the right tools, programs and platforms for your company’s rehiring, training, and re-opening plans will involve collaboration between technology leadership, general managers, and human resources. Implementation and adherence will require trust and collaboration with front line staff. And whichever technologies you do decide to adopt, you’ll have to make sure they complement and pair well with any other solutions or protocol you already have in place. An incoherent or patchwork strategy will only make things more complicated on your frontline staff, which can undermine even the best of intentions.
But by considering your team’s scalability needs and capabilities, the time horizon of any investment you make, and how the tech will work with other solutions you already have in place, hospitality employers can move forward with confidence.
Where does hiring stand?
Economists are like weatherpersons, and no matter where we’re looking for answers, it’s hard to say where things will go from here.
If our country continues to take precautions, we’ll see more of what we’ve already been seeing: people not traveling, spending remaining low, bankruptcies on the rise. And with governments moving slowly to help businesses, especially the small ones, the economy remains at risk. Even if political tides change in the next few months, the headwinds will not suddenly come from behind and carry us to easier days. There will be time until the issues turn around.
Any way the future takes shape, there will be headwinds for the hospitality industry. We saw rock bottom in April, that is for certain. But we are recovering. From this point on, only time will tell if we can continue to trend upward, or if we will be stuck in a plateau. So, month by month, we should be reassessing what we’ve learned so far, where we currently stand, and where we’re likely to go.
I’m cautiously optimistic about the future, but unabashedly optimistic about the hospitality industry and our ability to carry on.