The world after COVID-19 is going to be different in many ways, because we now know that an illness outbreak has the potential to shut down multiple industries all at once. This unprecedented event has taught us that we need mitigation strategies to address the spread of illness. No other industry is looking for a fast and reliable answer to this question quite like the hospitality industry. Much like the changes to the travel industry after 9/11, society is expecting the hospitality industry to emerge from this pandemic with improved protocols and procedures in place for the health and safety of their guests. After months of being quarantined to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the hospitality industry will need to regain the trust of guests with stronger protocols to ensure healthier venues. Technology can be one solution.
Knowledge is power when it comes to fighting an illness outbreak, and technology can provide facts regarding outbreaks that can assist in mitigating the spread as well as calming fear among unexposed guests. Knowing where an ill person has been and who they came into contact with is critical to identifying potential exposure. This enables the staff to take proactive, preventative measures. Using technology to collect data on where someone has been in a complex indoor space and who they have been proximal to is powerful. Collecting data like temperature reads from guests before they enter an indoor environment (hotels, casinos, etc.) can mitigate risk and more importantly, provide peace of mind. This activity demonstrates that something is being done to try and prevent an illness from entering an environment and thus keeping guests safer. Access to this type of location and proximity data allows for the creation of retroactive timelines so cleaning protocols can be adapted rapidly and efficiently and, in the event of an outbreak, interaction can allow contact tracing.
However, collecting this type of data as it relates to location, proximity and health brings up the issue of individual privacy.
Privacy is inherently tied to trust. When a guest visits a hospitality space, they (rightly) assume they will be safe. That is an explicit exchange of trust. For the venue to efficiently provide a safer stay for its guests, that trust can be exercised in various forms. For instance, guests are accustomed to surveillance cameras. This extension of accurate data collection for health, we believe, may represent the “new normal.” This data is only used to improve the health and safety of the venue and guests and the venues must exercise the proper amount of governance with regards to management of that data. In the hospitality industry, data is already collected from guests if they are a member of a hotel rewards club (as an example.) Guests “opt-in” to these programs to earn benefits and improve the guest experience. This same formula can be extended to improve the health and safety of guests. To use a comparison to the airline screening process after 9/11, guests comply with removing shoes, extra carry-on luggage screenings and going through x-ray machines in order to be cleared for boarding. If guests do not want to participate in this process, they can choose not to fly. The same approach may well extend to more hospitality industries in a post COVID-19 world. As guests check-in at a hotel, for example, they rightly expect to be safe. Safety, we have now learned dramatically, is tied to improved health protocols. As part of this hospitality community, they are opting in to provide information to keep the entire community healthy and safe during their stay.
We are not fortune tellers, but we are citizens in these same communities. Our work in various markets within hospitality leads us to believe change must come and it must come soon. All industries, but especially hospitality, must demonstrate through proactive change their desire, willingness and capability to increase the safety of their experience for their guests and staff. Only then can this vital segment of our economies and our lives start again.
We have no doubt that we, as a hospitality community and a global economy, will get back to crowded pool decks, bustling conferences at our favorite hotels and busy restaurants filled with happy guests at every table and on every barstool. Concert venues will re-open and crowds of listeners will once again fill the air with chants for an encore. The lights and sounds of casinos and sports arenas will absolutely dazzle us once again. It may look a little different in our post-outbreak society, but the implementation of technology will make these global grand re-openings safer for all of us.