The pandemic created challenges for hotels at a scale never seen before. In 2020, the industry experienced the most devastating year on record, with hotel occupancy plummeting to historic lows. New research from Honeywell, based on data from its INNCOM INNcontrol hotel guest room energy management system (EMS), revealed the extent to which the pandemic turned established patterns upside down and gives key findings on how hotels can respond to new guest behaviors in the future.
To understand hotel guest patterns, the study looked at three different types of occupancy rates: hotel occupancy, which refers to the proportion of all available rooms in a hotel that are actively rented by guests at any given time; room occupancy, which refers to the proportion of all available rooms in a hotel that are physically occupied at any given time of day by guests or staff; and guest occupancy, which indicates the proportion of rented rooms in a hotel with a person physically inside the room.
Guests Chose to Stay In Rooms
While room occupancy patterns typically vary based on a hotel’s location and the season, guest occupancy patterns are usually fairly predictable. Hoteliers could assume about half of their guests would leave their rooms for the day between 6:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. and return for the evening between 8:30 p.m. and midnight. New arrivals checking in would increase the hourly guest and room occupancy rates from about 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. before rates declined again as people went out to dinner.
That predictability came to an end in 2020. Honeywell’s study found room occupancy dropped proportionally to overall hotel occupancy. Yet, guest occupancy rose beginning in April 2020. At the studied U.S. hotels, the hourly room occupancy curve — formerly consisting of peaks and valleys as guests left in the morning and returned in the evening — flattened significantly with most hotel guests staying inside their rooms throughout the day. In fact, the hotels sampled in the Honeywell study, located in major cities across the country, reported less than 15% of rented guest rooms were left unoccupied during the daytime over the past year.
The recovery has begun, however. The hotels sampled in this study reported an increase in hotel occupancy and reduction in guest occupancy rates in the first quarter of 2021, meaning hotels are seeing more guests and those guests are spending less time in their hotel rooms once again. The recovery hasn’t been evenly distributed, though. Regional variances were noted in the first quarter of 2021, with sample properties in California, Colorado and Washington, D.C., reporting a small increase in hotel occupancy while guest occupancy remained relatively unchanged. The sample property in Florida, however, reported a much larger increase in hotel occupancy, along with a much bigger decrease in guest occupancy rates, through March of 2021. The room occupancy levels in Florida thus appeared to be returning to pre-pandemic levels much faster than the other properties surveyed.
Implications for Hoteliers
While the industry is seeing hotel occupancy increase, challenges remain, both financial and operational. It’s also not clear when, or if, things will fully return to normal. What is clear, is that studying patterns developed during the pandemic can help identify opportunities for hoteliers to meet the evolving needs of guests and operators. If guests are spending more time in their rooms, what opportunities are available to make their rooms more appealing, such as expanding amenities and enhancing on-property food and beverage offerings? Is the quality of furnishings or level of in-room technology and entertainment enough for a more present guest?
Hoteliers are already rethinking hotel designs (including floorplans, layouts and general use of space), technologies, and guest-facing features, both inside and outside rooms. They are evaluating new in-room amenities that support guests wellness or productivity, or are providing more options for entertainment and fitness, as well as socially distanced, low-cost-to-serve food and beverage services, such as employee-served buffets and expanded grab-and-go offerings. Many full-service and luxury properties have been enhancing premium amenities, including upscale room service offerings or private, in-room fine dining experiences.
Indoor air quality (IAQ) throughout common spaces as well as in guest rooms is also a need for hoteliers. Hospitality technologies require additional investments into more versatile and efficient solutions, from upgraded Wi-Fi networks and building controls to an EMS that responds to guest room occupancy patterns and automatically adjusts the thermostat when a room is empty, providing energy savings.
Using the Past to Prepare for the Future
Hoteliers have watched guest behaviors shift because of the pandemic, and while some changes are temporary, others may be permanent. Hoteliers should continue to monitor and adapt to their guests’ needs to support business continuity and drive profitable growth through and beyond the recovery, while also improving and enhancing the guest experience.