Omicron put a giant dent in many holiday season travel plans and also in many hotels’ revenue forecasts. What we ponder entering 2022 is whether this is the last scare for COVID-19 or if new variants will continue to plague our industry for years to come.
The saddest part is that no one really knows. The vaccines help to decrease viral spread and the severity of infections – boosters more so, with the latest data showing heightened efficacy against the latest, highly contagious variant. And now we will soon have pills that can be taken to further increase traveler confidence. All these efforts may still not be enough for another mutation to occur and dominate the airwaves as it spreads across the globe.
All this amounts to a prolonged sense of fear, while for others all the new burdens of travel – tests before flights, forms, wearing masks and so on – add far more to the equation than simply looking for a deal or comparing different hotels.
While it may not be the ideal situation, we have to now accept that COVID-19 will continue to disrupt our normal activities in a variety of ways and that we must plan for the unexpected. Also, consider that many travelers are gradually becoming numb to the incessant reporting on the matter, as well as exceedingly confident given the increase in vaccine and booster numbers. Travel will return; it’s just annoying to have to wait and constantly be putting out fires along the way.
What can you do, though? Accepting that the virus is here to stay means that safety will be top of mind for many guests and that you must do your best to assuage concerns while still doing so in as automated a way as possible. This can include but is not limited to:
- Clear website and prearrival email safety communications
- All manner of ‘cleanliness theater’ to show that you are taking this seriously
- Contactless check-in and check-out as well as mobile keys, concierge and ordering systems
- Air purification systems (and mentioning these as they are often out of sight)
- Handwashing stations and phone cleaning stations
- Entrance temperature (or vaccination) status checkpoints
- Encouraging guests to compliment your efforts for third-party reviews
This is perhaps an obvious first step. Next consider what you can do to better accommodate some of the other shifts from the pandemic that we’re seeing in the workplace – ones that were heretofore thought to be temporary but are likely permanent. Think remote work opportunities for managers as well as better incentives for frontline staff (where the prospect of possible exposure and constantly wearing PPE has driven many away from the industry).
Every hotelier wants it to be 2019 again, but as two of the greatest songwriters of all time once said, “You can’t always get what you want.” COVID-19 is here to stay and hopefully so is your hotel; find a way to make it work.