Although the hospitality industry is beginning to see signs of life after a historic pandemic, it’s clear that there will be no “going back to normal.” There remains the challenge of overcoming the traveler’s real and profound uneasiness about health and wellness. While there is significant pent-up demand for travel, the real winners in the post-pandemic period will be hoteliers who can reimagine their properties to support a guest journey that reinforces health and wellbeing through every step.
In this article, we’ll analyze the prototypical guest journey in search of new ways to re-engage guests and rebuild trust. We’ll start by breaking the hotel into discrete zones of activity and identifying potential touchpoints. Next, we’ll look closer at the key spaces along the guest journey, including entry, public spaces, food and beverage, the guestrooms and back-of-house areas. Throughout, we’ll identify ways hotels can adapt to make guests feel safe and remain healthy.
Understanding the Guest Journey
No hospitality space exists in a vacuum. Each one is part of a continuum of experiences that stretches from the home, office or airport, to the guestroom, on and off property, and back.
Arrival at the hotel involves a one- or two-phase entry sequence with multiple potential touchpoints, including vehicles, valets and doors. Once in the lobby, the guest may meet a porter, front-desk clerk, concierge and other guests. Circulating through the property, there are various lobby amenities, meeting spaces, food and beverage options, and other touchpoints.
Throughout, there are handrails, door handles and elevator buttons to contend with. In the guestroom, everything is a touchpoint—the windows, walls, floors, ceiling, every finished surface and piece of furniture and equipment. Beyond that, we must consider the entire range of activities a guest participates in during their stay, inside and outside the hotel.
Every step in this journey must be considered in terms of infection control while still retaining everything that is warm, comfortable and stylish about the hospitality experience.
Most infection opportunities occur after the guest checks into the hotel. For this reason, it is important to control the introduction of pathogens at the earliest possible touchpoint. The sooner high-risk individuals are assessed, the less risky each touchpoint within the hotel becomes.
As hotels are increasingly responsible for health screening and testing, the idea of a “wellness concierge” has emerged. With the right hospitality touch, wellness screening offers an opportunity to show personal service and slow the guest experience to a more leisurely pace. Hotels may consider creating a wellness lounge prior to check-in to offer guests a private and comfortable environment for screening.
High Tech, Low Touch
Technology will play a variety of important roles in the new guest journey. Automatic door openers, mobile key cards and voice-command elevator interfaces are already widely used and will become ubiquitous. Room-service robots and electronic baggage handling may replace their in-person equivalents, and much information exchange will occur electronically. Valet parking likely will be replaced by an increased reliance on ride-share apps.
We have already seen big changes in how surface materials are specified. Furniture, fixtures and equipment are being updated to include more antimicrobial, self-cleaning, non-porous and dust-free options. Manufacturers will be pushed to implement resiliency and infection-control testing for countertops, flooring and wallcoverings, and these products will need to be bleach-cleanable while still feeling hospitality-centric. UV-C lighting may become a standard feature of many spaces for the purposes of decontamination.
Controlling airborne pathogens will be a top concern going forward, leading to new ways of thinking about architecture and engineering for hospitality.