Three Tips for Winning Over Guests in 2021

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The year 2020 was unlike any year the world could have imagined, and it was one of the most devastating years for the hospitality industry. Travel restrictions, stay-at-home orders, and concerns around COVID-19 have led to $481 billion in cumulative losses for the U.S. travel industry.

Now, hoteliers find themselves needing a plan to win back guests when they are ready to start traveling again. Over a year into the pandemic, the most pressing safety changes have been made, but local regulations and recommendations are still evolving, and hotel companies must remain alert and flexible in their COVID-19 response. Budgets will likely remain stretched at least through the end of the year. Additionally, hotels need to prepare for a potential resumption of travel later this year, as more people receive vaccinations and become more comfortable with traveling again.

How do hoteliers build on what worked in 2020 to reassure and capture guests in 2021? Here are some critical steps for hoteliers to take this year.

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Double Down on Customer Transparency

Many guests are looking to hotel brands to take the lead when it comes to safety and are watching for specifics when considering where to book. Hoteliers should start telling customers from the first touchpoint how they are working to keep them safe. From guest acquisition to check in and in-room signage, communicate a consistent message reiterating what guests can expect during their stay.

By the time guests get to their room, hotel staff should ensure they’ve had multiple touchpoints explaining the company’s COVID protocols and policies, not just with words but also graphics, to ensure the hotel’s commitment to safety and cleanliness are communicated to its guests. Those touchpoints can be used as an opportunity to communicate and set expectations about what is expected from the hotel, its staff, and its guests. The last thing a hotelier wants is for guests to get to their hotel and be surprised about its safety policies and procedures. At that point, it’s too late, and the hotel has missed an opportunity to prepare guests for their stays.

There’s also been a rise of guests having cleanliness as their top priority. Where these guests may have once been more concerned about loyalty points or specific amenities, they are now more concerned about safety, health, and cleanliness when considering a hotel. Hoteliers should embrace this shift, think like hotel guests, and consider what matters most to them. When hoteliers are open about health and safety policies from the very beginning, it will not only make current guests feel more comfortable, it will also plant the seed of positive experiences when widespread leisure travel resumes.

Being open and genuine about brand expectations now may lead some guests to reconsider their stay, if, for example, guests are looking for open on-site restaurants or fitness rooms without limited capacity and a hotel isn’t currently offering these options. However, in the long-term, honesty will build loyalty with the guests who look for a brand that delivers on its brand promise.

Rethink Safety and Build Culture Around Quality

Early in the pandemic, most hoteliers implemented the most visible changes to safety and compliance. Hand sanitizer stations, face masks, and contactless check-in now greet travelers at their destination.

While those are certainly important, it’s the more lasting changes that can help build a reputation for safety. Implementing the mindset that quality is a culture and not a checklist helps all employees focus on meeting quality and safety standards. This should not just be done to meet company standards but because it’s what guests want and need.

This shift in mindset is critical to deal with the changes that COVID-19 necessitated, and the focus should be on safety for guests and staff rather than simply ticking a box on a safety checklist. When associates feel confident and safe, they display that confidence in their day-to-day jobs. And when they’re making safety a priority, it makes the guests feel confident and safe.

Use Data to Measure Results and Inform Decisions

Now more than ever, hoteliers should be relying on data to measure customer sentiment and measure the effectiveness of operational changes. Working with providers to see what parts of a product or platform could be used more fully, or in different ways, can bring about some great efficiency without the need for additional investment. Likewise, finding ways to tie data from different tools together can give a broader insight into the overall guest experience.

Consider implementing a guest experience scorecard, where different dimensions of guest experience are tracked—everything from QA scores to cleanliness to net promoter scores and service recovery. Hoteliers can take a 360-degree view of their brand’s customer experience by tying that data together.

Hoteliers may consider doing more with their existing process by increasing the frequency of self-assessments. Savvy hotels are using their existing quality software to supplement annual or third-party audits with more frequent assessments by their operations teams. This lets them maintain visibility not just at the property level but across a regional portfolio and the entire brand.

It’s easy to think that the industry will eventually get back to normal, but it’s likely that the travel industry will be dealing with changing expectations and variable guest comfort levels for years to come. Hotels can be a place of confidence and stability as people travel, regardless of the current environment, as long as a culture of safety and quality through consistent and open communications is created.

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Michael Kuenne is the Senior Vice President – Chief Customer Experience Officer at Extended Stay America and is part of the organization’s leadership team with responsibility for Quality Assurance, Guest Relations & Brand Reputation, Brand Standards, Brand Programs, Training, and Enterprise Procurement. Previously, Kuenne held multiple leadership positions in the company’s Technology, Operations, and Human Capital organizations. As President of RizePoint, Kari Hensien is championing a new continuous quality initiative. Since travel and interpersonal interactions have been devastated by COVID-19, it’s been challenging for businesses to obtain regular third-party audits, which are integral to access and analyze key data and ensure safety compliance across the enterprise. Hensien is facilitating an increased self-assessment auditing model, where businesses and their locations can use RizePoint’s digital platform themselves, resulting in more frequent audits and broader visibility during the pandemic and beyond. Hensien can be reached at kari.hensien@rizepoint.com