For years, we’ve been told hotels have to offer a social experience to guests. How does that fare in the era of COVID-19?
Hotel industry executives have spent years telling us that no matter how the industry changes to adapt to business and guest needs, it is vital to maintain the human touch to service.
Keeping hospitality hospitable has been seen as paramount, and increasingly industry watchers have talked about turning hotels into social experiences rather than commoditized beds.
That paradigm seems to have been turned on its head with the industry now focused on telling guests it can offer a safe and sanitized box to sleep in, and looking for mechanisms to help those guests stay away from other people.
The question becomes, how do these opposing forces meet?
My colleague Dana Miller recently reported on measures hotels are taking to accommodate social distancing, such as signage to direct guests through the check-in process without getting too close and glass barriers to avoid contact.
These changes are clearly to address the immediate need of curbing the spread of COVID-19, but don’t meet the need to create a place people want to be.
I honestly don’t have an answer to this question, but I find it interesting. How does the hotel industry find a way to be separate together? How do we help people be social yet isolated?
My fear is the most elegant answers to these questions might not be found until it’s too late in the process, or hoteliers will be too reluctant to make investments in drastic redesigns and wholesale changes that might ultimately prove moot if a vaccine or other countermeasures are made widely available.
Obviously there are going to be some major changes to accommodate profitability and liability concerns, such as keeping people further apart during meals once group business returns and reducing housekeeping during a guest’s stay, but none of that does anything in terms of creating a desirable experience.
If this entire experience has taught us anything, it’s that people want to find a way to be social with others. Virtual happy hours have become an actual thing as people seek a return of social interaction through sheer force of will. I imagine the enterprising hotelier who quickly finds ways to make socializing safe again will see some considerable financial benefit.
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