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Our second panel discussion focused on the staff at hotels, how their roles have changed and how technology can play a role in alleviating some of their current pressure points. The experienced panel, moderated by our CRO Deborah Pevenstein, included Erik Tengen, Co-Founder of Oaky, Lauren Constable VP of Operations at Loews Hotels & Co and Katherine Grass CEO of Optii. Below we’ve summarized some of the key takeaways from that discussion.

Guest expectations are increasing whilst hotels need to reduce costs

The pandemic has brought new challenges when it comes to the guest experience, as hotels not only need to provide a relevant and exceptional experience, but they now also need to ensure they are incorporating ordinances and CDC guidelines. Lauren highlighted that at Loews the challenge today is finding the right balance between safety and service. In Europe, one of Oaky’s clients sent out a survey to all of their VIP guests to understand their expectations in the new normal. Safety was very important, but the results showed guest expectations have increased as they want transparency of safety changes, yet they also want the same experience they are already used to.

Erik said, “The need to maximize revenue for every guest is even more important. In order to achieve this, hotels need to ask themselves 3 questions. Who are my guests? This has probably changed in the pandemic. What is it that they want and how do they want to purchase it? And finally, at what point in the journey does it make sense for us to offer each of our services? The answer for every property is different as the guest needs are different.”

Technology has helped to alleviate pressure points in operations

Technology has been key in creating transparency and efficiency for hotel operations. Hotels want to be able to personalize a guest experience and the hesitation pre-pandemic was that technology may make service appear cold to guests. However, the new world order delivered by the pandemic has highlighted that technology can be used to actually improve the guest experience by reducing guest contact. It has also irrefutably shown how necessary technology is to not only helping to achieve true personalization of a guest experience but also to reduce costs and inefficiencies in the back office and those previously hidden departments like housekeeping. Hotels wants technology to lift
the administrative burden so staff can focus on the time where the guest is in front of them. We need to use the time now to make a change, look at new technology and retire the old so when business comes back, we’re ready.

Katherine Grass commented, “There is huge volatility in where we are right now. Occupancy is fluctuating and we’ve seen a fundamental shift to leisure travel. It has made typical business hotels shift their thinking. All of this change really puts pressure on the solutions to deliver efficiencies, structure, operations in this drastically changing environment. That is where we have seen the biggest opportunity to alleviate these pressure points. But it is key to think about longevity with all technology solutions.”

What changes are here to stay?

The panelists all agreed that the increased communication and transparency will continue to be a requirement as guest expectations can be managed pre-arrival with email or text communication, information can be provided on the hotel’s safety protocols. Whether it’s about safety, cleaning, staff wellbeing etc. people want to know the procedures in place and the integrity of how they are adhered to.

Erik said, “Being a founder of a tech company in this crisis, we need to look into how we can innovate but be as cash efficient as possible. Contactless tech is here to stay, and I think solutions like QR codes that we thought we would never need, have proven to be invaluable as a result of the pandemic.

We wanted to end the discussion on this final thought from Lauren, to highlight the truly Herculean effort of everyone in the hospitality industry getting through this pandemic.

“Everybody is pitching in. There is no ‘role’ anymore as it is all hands-on deck and everyone trying to support wherever they can. Just one piece of feedback from a recent guest who was able to have an experience fulfilled in a socially distanced manner thanks to one of our front desk agents, sums up the last year for me, “you allowed me the opportunity to escape real life. No one wanted this pandemic to happen but it’s amazing to see the leadership, teamwork and innovation that is coming out of it and that’s what we have to focus on.”

Read the insights of our final panel discussion, "Hotel risks and rewards in 2021: Optimizing profitability".