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New technology and cleaning protocols can certainly make guests feel safer when staying in a hotel but adding a human touch to guests’ stay is still a crucial aspect hoteliers cannot forget.

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When reading the headlines in lodging industry trade publications these days, nearly every new post seems to be about how a new app for guest communications is going to revolutionize the hotel industry in the post-COVID-19 era. Certainly, some of these tools might provide some level of comfort for some guests. For example, smartphone check-in might be preferred by guests who don’t want to have to stand in a line at registration. Apps for messaging in-house guests might add perceived value to guests who appreciate not having to touch a guestroom phone.

Yet most articles posted these days on this subject seem to frame an entirely new picture of a hotel experience, wherein guests no longer want any human contact and tech completely takes over.
Indeed, as I have always said, it is important for hotels to continue to innovate in offering tech-based solutions for enhancing the guest experience. However, it is just not possible for one hotel to “out-tech” the competition. Those who think that tech will provide the greatest long-term point of differentiation from the comp set are unknowingly headed down the road of commoditization, which is defined by Wikipedia as being “The process by which goods that have economic value are distinguishable in uniqueness or brand, end up becoming simple commodities in the eyes of the market or consumers.”

For years now, hotel brands have continued to copy one another in terms of amenities, services, décor, design of public spaces and, of course, guest loyalty programs. Automized revenue-management systems result in rates being at or close to the comp-set, and shared distribution channels such as online travel agencies and metasearch rates and terms in front of the consumer on the same screen.

What truly makes the difference to the consumers we call guests? The people part of course!
Of the many things that people are realizing during the current era of self-quarantining and social distancing, one that hits home for all is just how much we want and need human interactions, especially with strangers.

This should come as no surprise to anyone who has ever taken a psychology of class, as we all learned about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Yes, humans first and foremost need to have their physiological needs for food, clothing and shelter met, followed by safety and security, which justifies the industry’s obsession on cleaning and disinfection. But the next three levels on Maslow’s pyramid all have to do with human engagement: a sense of loving/belonging, then esteem, leading up to self-actualization.
Here in June 2020, most hotels are experiencing an unpredictable rebound in demand and staff with a skeleton crew. Many if not most of those who are on the schedule are working out of context and/or doing more than one job per shift. Everyone is adapting to new procedures for everything from registration to food service to housekeeping.

Yes, we need to focus on tech to help us reengineer guests’ experiences. But let us not obsess only on “process” and forget the most important differentiator for any hotel is its people. Here are some training tips:

  • If your staff is wearing facemasks, take a picture that shows the smiles behind their masks, then pin this to their uniforms.
  • For hotels where most guests are using smartphone or self-check-in, have front desk or other guest services staff stand in front of the desk so that they can greet guests, engage and welcome them as they enter and walk toward the elevator.
  • Whenever possible, take a moment to truly engage with guests and their stories. Whether chatting from 6 feet away in the lobby, speaking on the phones or standing (at a safe distance) from them in the restaurant, check on them personally. “How are your travels going” or “What brings you to town at this time?” are still great conversation starters. Now, more than ever, those who are still traveling are very likely to have a story behind their plans.
  • Engage others in the guest’s party, especially children, the elderly and pets, as they come and go during their stay.
  • Leave personalized notes and messages just to check on guests, especially those who are staying over.

Doug Kennedy is president of the Kennedy Training Network, Inc. Contact him at doug@kennedytrainingnetwork.com

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Headline: Hospitality delivered by humans will prevail

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