How NOT to let contactless protocols destroy the experience of your hotel, b&b, lodge or hostel
The word alone is uninspiring. Taken in relation to hospitality, it goes against everything we hold dear to the industry.
I work with small, independent hotels, b&bs, lodges and hostels, not with large chains or corporate hotels. In my online community and during recent research, the contactless topic has come up again and again.
It is time to address the issue in direct relation to a) those small independents who make up the bulk of the accommodation offer the world over; and b) in terms of sustainability (I will get to that one later on).
Just an aside before I get started. My blog posts are designed to be as concise and on topic as possible. While I agree that much of the vast amount of information available online right now is fundamental to the success and continuity of any business, let’s not forget that small accommodation providers are looking for resources specific to them.
They do not have a management team who can do this research for them. The owner or manager is doing everything, probably even their own social media and general marketing too. If they are able to employ someone who cleans, then they manage that person, and are collating information and creating protocols to assure that their business complies with the new rules.
Practices that apply to larger hotels are everywhere, this is not for them, just as their protocols cannot be applied to the small independents. However, for those who create blanket standards at national industry level, please, I invite you to read on.
Let’s go straight to a snapshot image of a 2019 check in. B&B owner opens the door, greets with a handshake, invites guests into their reception, hands over a pen to complete registration, followed by a remote control, a key, and an information sheet. Breakfast is a delicious buffet while chatting to the guest at the next table. Cleaning is daily and thorough. The glasses on the bathroom sink are put through the dishwasher. Bed linen is washed on a hot cycle. Rubbish bins are sprayed clean. All surfaces as wiped, and the room is ventilated.
Fast forward to 2020. Now a question mark lies behind every action that was previously taken for granted. How do I give them the key? How can I provide a full delicious breakfast? How do I break down barriers and get to know my guests when they have to stand 2 metres away from me?
We all wish that the word “contactless” had not entered our daily lives, not least because, no matter how much I try, I cannot disassociate contactless with emptiness and coldness. Is it possible to continue to offer that warmth that lies at the heart of the hospitality industry despite the challenges we currently face? I believe so.
Taking away everything in a room that can be touched seems so futile. Why? Because the door handles, the light switches, the taps, and the toilet flush remain. Of course, these are points of high contact and yes, they need to be cleaned and disinfected appropriately. Yes, this will take longer than it always did, but this information has already been absorbed and accepted. There is no getting around the absolute necessity to clean, disinfect, record, and take time to publish about the new, intense hygiene protocols that are in place.
I was horrified, totally horrified, to read suggestions from a top hospitality body, that water bottles should replace water glasses, and single use soaps should replace the dispenser. Before our world was rocked by the pandemic, the phrase “single use” was pretty much antiquated.
What happened to our environmental concerns, to our sustainability policies, to our collective consciousness? We are better than that. Let’s not let this beat us.
In a webinar I attended back in May, the host asked the participants an interesting question. What do you fear the most? The multi-choice answers included “Another Pandemic”, “Terrorist Attack”, “Environmental Collapse”, “Climate Change”, among others.
Almost everyone voted for “Environmental Collapse”. That would lead us into a daily reality where we do not have access to food supplies like we have today. I do not intend to belittle our current crisis, but at least now we are not worried that we cannot buy ingredients for our next meal. We need to think more about that.
I cannot seriously believe that we would allow ourselves to lose decades of progress in environmental awareness, just because we fear someone might not choose to stay at our hotel because we continue to offer water glasses at the side of the sink.
I am not advocating zero change; I am just appealing to reason. Yes, to taking all unnecessary printed information out of bedrooms, it can be sent by sent digitally in one of many formats. Yes, to de-cluttering our receptions, a what-to-do-in-our-area board can be created which can be photographed and sent to all guests. Yes, to eliminating the buffet breakfast in favour of offering to-go bags, or a choice of two options delivered to your door in a hamper. Yes, to social distancing and mask wearing and washing hands for the duration of Happy Birthday. Yes, to all of that. But let's be reasonable.
As ever, this discussion is multi-faceted and involves the decisions and actions of three sets of people:
1) The hotelier
2) The traveller
3) Industry associations
Above all else, the hotelier has a responsibility to sell peace of mind. I have been saying this right from the start. Maybe now is the time to double down on that messaging and double up on the places where it is published. If every hotelier personally assured their guests that everything is being cleaned and disinfected as it should be, then more trust is built, and vulnerability is reduced. Lives are dependent on the recovery of small businesses, so why would a hotel owner lie, or skimp on, essential hygiene protocols when they are fully aware that their future depends on their compliance?
Then the traveller. Anyone who chooses to travel in this pandemic recovery stage has a responsibility for their actions. If you are not comfortable using that glass by the sink, then carry your own water bottle, but if you receive the information from the accommodation provider, via email, SMS or WhatsApp, that this and more has been done with your safety in mind, you should be able to rest easy knowing that the hottest dishwasher cycle (as it probably always did) continues to do its job.
And to the industry bodies responsible for the creation of standards to ensure compliance. This is an appeal to be reasonable. Do not tie the small hotelier hands so tight that they cannot continue to offer the fundamental affection that their service is known for. Do not fall into the trap that, by ensuring strict compliance to keep travellers safe, you actually precipitate the destruction of the industry by taking away all the things that people seek. Put simply, don’t take the coffee beans out of the coffee.
So, of course the question remains… what do you do if the industry standard in your country is so restrictive that you are forced to eliminate the details that created that home from home feel?
Communication. Constant communication. Be present, anticipate questions, reassure, and repeat. Our collective psyche is a little bruised. Take more time than you ever did to be there for your potential guests at every stage of their buying journey, from research to post-stay.
This might not sound like ground-breaking stuff but knowing that these actions can make all the difference will generate that extra confidence required to stand firm. If you confidently communicate your awareness of the restrictions, and most of all, your actions to comply, then that warmth and relationship building will never be lost. Tell everyone how well your soap dispensers are sanitised. Explain that you prefer this extra work a thousand times over, rather than switching to single use soaps. Don’t be afraid to voice your ethics and to show your conscience.
You might not be able to shake your guests’ hand, but you can still gain their trust. And this will ultimately allow for that wonderful interaction unique to the hospitality industry where wonderful memories are created when someone chooses your accommodation offer as the place to take that long yearned for break from their daily grind.
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