Guestroom-Centric Experiences in a Post COVID-19 World
From implementing strict cleanliness procedures to reshaping the way that services and amenities are offered, it's clear that the hotel industry has experienced a seismic shift and will look very different as the threat of COVID-19 subsides and guests begin to return.
One thing hoteliers can be sure of is that the first bookings will come predominantly from business travelers. In fact, recent survey findings from consulting firm Oliver Wyman support this conclusion with approximately three-quarters of business travelers expecting to travel the same amount post-pandemic as they did before, due to an improvement in market conditions. Yet while this demographic represents a reliable source of revenue for hotels, there will also be a great deal of competition in attracting their business. Not only will guests now be carefully analyzing a hotel's ability to ensure enhanced health and safety standards before making their booking decision, they will also be looking at a hotel's ability to meet their basic needs and preferences, since many hotels have scaled back on staff and services during the crisis.
Further supporting the need for hotels to adapt are recent findings from GlobalData, with three-quarters of global travelers indicating that their purchasing choices will be influenced by how the world around them is changing. With this in mind, hoteliers will need to strategize on how to address the new demands for contactless and social distancing-compatible services, meet guest needs and still ensure a steady flow of revenue. The solution to this dilemma can be found in the place that many changes are already being made to enhance cleanliness and guest safety: in the guestroom itself.
With 85% of global travelers indicating a significant amount of concern over possible exposure to COVID-19, future business travelers will likely seek to avoid public spaces such as a hotel's restaurant or bar and will opt instead to spend more time inside their guestrooms to minimize health risks. Yet although seemingly representing a loss of revenue, hotel guest avoidance of public areas does not mean that they do not expect their food and beverage needs to be met at the property. Instead, they will expect more options to be made available to them within the safety of their guestroom. Often the only point of sale within a guestroom, minibars are an ideal solution to address these needs. With remote management capabilities, online minibars and monitored dry goods trays allow hoteliers to provide flexible options for guests, while respecting their desire to maintain safe social distances. With the addition of enhanced cleanliness measures that ensure minibars and its products are sanitized before each new guest arrives, a guestroom-centered minibar food & beverage strategy can ultimately lead to enhanced guest satisfaction, confidence and the ability for hoteliers to recoup profits that may have otherwise been lost due to the declining use of other property amenities.
As Deana Kay, Managing Partner at Torn Ranch, points out, "As hotels welcome back guests during this unique time, it is critical to project safety and cleanliness at every touch point, and creating an environment of confidence and trust in your F&B operations yields strong results, reviews and return visits. At the property, communicating and taking visible steps to enhance guest comfort and safety is central. The in-room offering is a key part of the equation. We know this because immediately prior to the hotel closures, minibar sales rose significantly as guests wanted to be distanced. The behavior we observed was to turn to sealed, packaged foods available in the room without having to go anywhere."
Forbes Travel Guide reiterated Kay's stance in a recent post, adding tips on how to accomplish a safe and healthy guestroom environment for guests, suggesting hotels:
- Offer pre-packaged, outer-sealed, multi-snack item delivery options as part of your full or limited room service program
- Have packaged snacks available in the room and let the guest know at check-in. Many guests may not feel comfortable having to leave their accommodations to return to a lobby, restaurant or store
- Add non-food items, such as a PPE welcome kit
Sharing a similar viewpoint on the importance of revising food & beverage operations to incorporate a more guestroom-centric approach is Ray Burger, President and Founder of Pineapple Hospitality, who stated, "Hoteliers are now beginning to recognize that solutions such as minibars provide an ideal means of addressing the decreasing use of restaurants and bars by guests, and are increasingly becoming open to exploring new minibar product options as a way of maintaining safe guest social distancing abilities while still generating revenue. This can include partnering with minibar operators and product vendors to implement fresh product options that would otherwise have been sought by guests at a hotel restaurant, cafeteria or at some offsite location."
Reinvent the Minibar
One essential advantage of guestroom minibars that is also being given increased attention is the fact that offerings do not have to be limited to common snack items, but can be tailored to meet a wide range of guest consumption needs, including full meals or even customized alcoholic beverages. With regard to these potential service offerings, Burger further commented, "Properties could offer pre-made meal options that a guest can purchase via a hotel's website at the time of booking and that could be brought up and stored in the guestroom minibar prior to arrival. This ability can even extend to making popular items such as cocktails available for order online by providing guests with an easily accessible menu of options. By providing these updated service alternatives, hotels can demonstrate their commitment to cleanliness, while still ensuring that guests have everything that they need to experience an enjoyable stay."
More recent advances in minibar technology have provided hoteliers with even greater flexibility in making products available for in-room purchase that go beyond refrigerated items or even food and beverages. With guests likely to avoid onsite or offsite retail outlets as they would restaurants and bars, such items can include electronics, toiletries, hand sanitizers, gloves or face masks.
Once a minibar is sanitized, guests can be assigned to rooms that are certified as safe, since it is possible to ensure that the minibar door has not been opened since the last sanitation. With automated minibar systems, this information is collected by a central server, instead of requiring a staff member to visit all rooms in order to check. This not only helps to ensure guest safety by limiting guestroom entry by staff, but it also minimizes labor costs.
By considering the many benefits that a minibar solution can provide, hoteliers can strike a balance between prioritizing the health and safety of both guests and staff, while fulfilling essential service expectations and ensuring their ability to increase revenue-earning opportunities. In addressing each of these crucial factors with the use of minibars as a core element of their reopening strategy, hotels can be confident in their ability to resume operations successfully and in a way that restores guest trust and satisfaction in the months and years to come.
For more information on the role of minibars in the post-COVID era of hospitality, please visit www.bartech.com.