Consumers are eager to get out and travel; however, they aren’t racing to travel abroad or go anywhere long-distance. According to a global hospitality recovery study from Skift and Oracle Hospitality, today’s consumers are more willing to go on more frequent trips within driving distance rather than embark on longer, more elaborate, and international ones. According to the study, almost 50 percent of travelers see themselves taking local trips within driving distance in the next six to 12 months, far outpacing 26 percent who foresee international trip, in no small part due to travel restrictions.
As more consumers flock to “drive-to” destinations, smaller market and independent hotels have an opportunity to innovate and adapt to provide fresh experiences that draw these travelers back on a more frequent basis. In preparation, they must first address this shift in demand by using technology to become more efficient and proactive in their response to growing customer demands and expectations.
Below are a few suggestions on how small market and independent hotels can propel their industry forward under the current conditions:
Leverage Contactless and Low-Touch Solutions
With consumers being more willing to take more frequent local trips, small market and independent hotels are in a unique position to attract these new travelers. As such, it’s imperative that these hotels market themselves as being high-value, low-contact establishments. Today, guests are seeking exceptional cleanliness and social distancing during their stays, and contactless and low-touch technologies achieve this while empowering hotels to still deliver best-in-class service that meets guests’ expectations.
According to the global study from Skift and Oracle, consumers stated that contactless payments, digital room keys, and digital messaging services were among the top changes that would make them feel more comfortable staying in a hotel. With contactless payment solutions, hotels can enable quick and easy customer transactions and convenient accessibility through mobile wallets, reducing card and cash exchanges from person-to-person. Digital room keys not only significantly reduce staff and customer interactions but also increase convenience, while digital messaging services safely provide guests with real-time information and support without in-person contact to mitigate safety risks.
Innovate and Adapt
Small market and independent hotels are one of the most impacted groups in the hospitality industry since they do not have the corporate support and mass communication across multiple markets that larger hotel chains do. These properties need to differentiate themselves and deliver a safe and exceptional guest experience efficiently.
To deliver this level of service, hotels will need to innovate, and reimagining the guest experience will be key to this innovation. Hotel operators can get creative with their guest service offerings. As people continue to work from home, small market and independent hotels can provide space that accommodates remote work. A remote work offering could include high-speed internet connectivity, a spa for lunch breaks, an assortment of meal options each day, safe activities for kids, and an avant-garde work environment such as a garden, pool, or patio setting.
Small market and independent hotels can provide self-service technology and tools that let guests skip the front desk after a long drive. Seventy percent of consumers agreed or strongly agreed they’d be more willing to stay at hotel that implemented self-service technology, with 23 percent citing self-service check-in via kiosk as a change that would increase their comfort, according to the Skift and Oracle report. Providing self-service options provides convenience and confidence in safety while also capturing guest data that can better inform real-time decision-making.
Move to the Cloud
There is no doubt that technology will play a critical role in the recovery process across the entire industry. It’s at the epicenter of operational efficiency and serves as the gateway to exceptional guest experiences, especially digital and virtual engagement. It’s the primary enabler for touchless operations. The technological changes and upgrades hotels make now will be a major factor in the rebuilding of consumer confidence in travel and hospitality.
One of the most cost-effective ways for small market and independent hotels to accelerate recovery and implement innovative technologies is by leveraging cloud technologies. Moving property management and point-of-sale systems to the cloud will help lower costs, reduce time-to-market for new services, empower staff with new capabilities, quicken reporting, and facilitate more informed decision making.
Front-desk staff can be untethered and empowered with access to real-time information so they can check guests in, assign rooms, enable guest services, and check guests out wherever there is internet connectivity. In addition, the cloud enables hoteliers to innovate faster by easily integrating with hotel systems and infrastructure such as accounts receivable, accounts payable, payment gateways, hotel industry applications, and property infrastructure devices.
Ultimately, the rise in drive-to travel is here to stay, and small market and independent hotels need to start planning and adjusting now to meet guest expectations. Finding and accommodating the unique needs of “drive-to” guests will be indispensable. With the holiday season approaching and people looking to make use of their end-of-year paid time off, small market and independent hotels will be ideal candidates for these travelers. And with contactless and low-touch solutions, the right technology foundation, and unique services and offerings, this hotel segment is poised to propel the industry forward.