Businesses around the world have had to adapt models and processes at a record-breaking pace in response to the unprecedented challenges faced by the COVID-19 pandemic. We have started to see some of the biggest hotel brands such as Hilton, Marriott and Hyatt announce new efforts to consult with experts and implement new ways of keeping guests safe. But all hotels, regardless of number of properties owned, will need to implement these types of changes.
Hotel operations will have to adapt and change, in both the short and long term. Managers need to start thinking now about the strategies that can be executed across all departments of their hotels to help reduce costs and ensure employee and guest safety. Here are some key areas of focus that will be essential in order for hotels to survive in the ‘new normal.’
- Optimize your cleaning schedule and teams
Cleaning protocols in hotels will inevitably change, as cleaning requirements will become more specific and frequent in a post COVID-19 world. Therefore, it will be prudent to hibernate any room deemed as superfluous for an extensive period of time, which may involve closing or shutting down multiple floors or sections at a time and opening them only once demand picks up. You can smartly manage preventive cleaning in hibernating rooms such as dusting and running taps so that you are offsetting the need for a deep-clean when hibernation is finally over.
In the early months it will be crucial to monitor cleaning times as demands fluctuates. Review your daily arrivals and communicate with your Front Office so that they allocate all arrivals on quiet days to give housekeeping managers tighter control over cleaning sequences and man hours.
Look at areas of your housekeeping process which can be reduced. For example, pre-crisis as the world looked to tackle climate change, we saw hotels embrace ‘green’ options when it came to room cleaning, which was also met with enthusiasm by guests who preferred less interruptions to their stay. In the post-crisis world, this may become the new normal as daily services such as replenishing towels and changing bed sheets may be deemed as non-essential and either not offered or could be offered only after certain number of nights or at an additional cost. Reducing stayover cleans in a hotel with an average length of stay of 2 nights will reduce the daily number of rooms for cleaning by 50%.
- Embrace technology and automation to evaluate the success of new processes
In the first few months of recovery there may be an oversupply of room attendants. Insight and flexibility are key when it comes to judging staffing levels at the early stages, and this may mean you might not be able to bring back some full-time employees until occupancies start to steady. As processes are adapted, new and existing employees will need to be onboarded and will require training, which can be expensive. Embrace technology to help reduce costs by automating some of these processes and standards, so that managers can constantly evaluate the effectiveness of new processes.
Housekeeping is often the single-largest controllable expense in a hotel operation and the use of technology together with new procedures has the potential to reduce labor cost by more than 50%. Machine learning and AI enables managers to establish time-based cleaning plans and time budgets for every room attendant, so that they can monitor progress and easily spot where things may not be working as efficiently.
Hotels who previously relied on a paper-pencil operation for scheduling and housekeeping will find this hard to justify in a post-COVID world. It will be more essential than ever that hotels run a lean operation and the environment of the new world will mean requirements will constantly change and need daily, nearly hourly analysis and monitoring. These kinds of reliable real-time analytics can only be achieved through technology and cloud-based solutions to avoid any errors. Predictive clean time technology, instant communications amongst teams and flexible and transparent staff schedules will become the essential tools for managers to run the kind of operations they need to survive in the early stages of recovery.
We can’t know what exactly lies ahead for hotels, but what we do know is that it will be different, and we will have to adapt. Hotel managers will have to reassess everything they know to define a new and better way of doing things. By working together as an industry and embracing the tools available to us I truly believe hotels will bounce back. We have faced challenges before and I’m sure we will face more challenges ahead, but by defining new processes now we will be better prepared than ever to face the future.
Katherine Grass is CEO of Optii Solutions. With more than 20 years in the IT and travel industry, Katherine is a Venture Partner for Thayer Ventures, a travel-tech focused venture capital firm with deep ties to the hotel industry and lead investor for Optii Solutions. Katherine has also held senior executive roles within travel technology company, Amadeus IT Group, where she worked as a leader in corporate strategy for six years before she went on to found Amadeus Ventures and work as global head of innovation for the organization.