As the hospitality and tourism environment has been thoroughly changed in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the role of guest relations in the hotel experience has seen a need for change and adapt to this new environment.
In a world still tackling the pandemic, the question arises of how does an industry built on human connection fit into a world that has come to largely discourage close human interaction? The adaption to a new world of guest relations was passionately discussed in this Thoughts on Thursday Session.
Led with a presentation by Angelo Vassallo, Food and Beverage Manager for Fairmont Rey Juan Carlos, this sessions looked at the culture surrounding a new hospitality experience and the role of technology in an adapted guest relations environment.
You can watch a summary of this session on the video below:
In addition, session attendees discussed the rise and relevance of the Airbnb model and the expectations of guests in a post-Covid world, attempting to find a solution to the question of what tomorrow’s guest relations may look like.
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New Guest Profiles and New Behaviours – The Importance of Adaptation
Angelo started the session with a presentation on the importance of adapting guest relation practices to reflect a changed tourism experience. He placed emphasis on key guest profiles that he sees value in hotels considering, which were:
- Digital nomads
- Local Communities
- Luxury Consumers
- Domestic travellers
He spoke of factors such as providing an attractive atmosphere for digital nomads and the vitality of focusing on a local and domestic market during a time in which international travel has been drastically reduced. Another area that Angelo placed a particular emphasis on was the importance of safety for guests in a world facing a pandemic. This factor he stated was of particular importance to the luxury market.
Angelo: “They are focusing on something different to what they were before, of course their safety is something of a priority… in some cases they are developing a sort of isolationist mindset.”
As well as considering and targeting these guest areas, Angelo also spoke of the benefit of adopting new hospitality behaviours. These new behaviours, he suggested, should be grounded in four key themes.
- Becoming more digital – Embracing digital technology can assist in streamlining services and facilitates a new avenue for guest experiences and hotel activities.
- Be the solution for the guest – As restrictions are placed on communities and travellers, Angelo stated that it is up to hotel teams to think outside of the box and find creative solutions for consumers.
- Be present – As information is constantly changing and consumers may be more hesitant when travelling, being in contact with guests creates trust and assurance for customers.
- Humanize your team – The benefits of promoting flexibility and creating communities. Angelo gave an example of how opening the pool for the local community helped to foster trust between the community and the establishment, which developed a community that had a greater desire to explore other hotel facilities.
Fostering a New Hotel Culture and Promoting Relevance in the Community
Following Angelo’s presentation, James Lemon, CEO and Founder of The Growth Works, raised the question of how you implement and encourage this new culture and environment of guest relations in the staff body and if this was something that was often met with resistance?
Angelo explained the importance of speaking to staff. Through open communication staff could better understand that the current situation was not normal and therefore hotels require new practises to properly function. This switch in mindset not only provides staff with the necessary tools to combat the current situation but creates the opportunity to re-examine practices and find methods that operations could function better, both now and in the future.
Remaining relevant in the market was another area that was discussed. James spoke of the role of hotels offering coworking spaces, although these may not always be as profitable as room revenues, he stated that they played an important part in maintaining relevance and familiarity within the community.
Angelo agreed that maintaining relevance was important as travellers’ numbers were low, however he suggested doing this through other methods, including food and beverage activities and finding alternative revenue opportunities. As an example, he referenced a recent example of his property hosting a football team. Angelo emphasised the importance of empowering staff to make decisions regarding areas of pricing and guest relations to create a seamless and competitive service for consumers.
Andrew Wheal, Director at Mews Systems, queried how these guest relation principals could be adopted by smaller properties who may not have their own guest relations departments, to which Angelo stated that, while different properties should tailor their practices to their specific area and market, at the end of the day the relationship itself held the most importance.
Angelo: “I think that guest relation attitude should change from property to property depending on the business model that you are following but at the end of the day it is the relation itself that counts”
The Role of Technology – Communication in a Contactless World
As the role of technology has become greater in a world that is increasingly becoming contactless, how this fits into an industry grounded on human interaction was discussed.
Angelo spoke of technology applications that have been adopted into his establishment, with strategies such as QR codes for menus and digital applications that can help guest to communicate with housekeeping teams. He stated that these have had a largely positive response, he spoke of the digital menus as a particular example, sharing how this system allows staff to better update menus, integrate information and provides a streamlined service for guests across many generations.
James also highlighted the importance of technology in communication, allowing both staff and guest to better communicate and solve problems that arise. Andrew however posed the question of whether this integration of technology can become intrusive.
While Angelo explained that gathering guest information through technology allows hotels to better understand their guests and from this make an informed judgement on how this information is used, Martin Kubler, a consultant, mentor and lecturer in the hospitality sector, suggested that the role of technology had a limit in an industry that thrived on human interaction.
Martin: “In the end what really makes guests relations is personality, is human interactions and that is what guests are looking for and what guests are coming back to hotels for.”
However, session attendee Laura, suggested that the integration of technology helped to facilitate this level of human connection, creating a way for guests to feel acknowledged and valued during their stay.
The Rise of Airbnb – An Experienced Based Service
In discussing Airbnb based models and how they facilitate guest relations, James shared that in many ways these facilities were more equipped to deal with the current climate as many of their check in operations and services are already more technology based and promote contactless communication.
A part of this Airbnb model is also the inclusion of experience based incentives. This hospitality model that promotes experiences as well as accommodation was something that James thought the hotel sector could learn from. On the other hand, Martin suggested that hotels hold a valuable place in the market running on their current model, stating that they provide more stability for first time visitors.
Martin: “In terms of Airbnb there is a lot of stuff that Airbnb can’t really do. The joy of Airbnb is that you have a very localized experience but you don’t always want that experience. If I’m going to a destination I’ve never been to before I would probably rather book into a hotel than Airbnb.”
Guests in a Post-Covid world – A More Understanding Consumer
In this Thoughts on Thursday session the question was asked as to whether this modified guest relations environment has negatively impacted consumer satisfaction.
While both James and Angelo agreed that there may be an impact with so many areas of hotels altered or closed, guests are largely more tolerant in the current environment, understanding and appreciating these changes in operations in the interests of public safety.
Anish suggested that the way guest satisfactions is measured and understood needs to be adapted to the current environments. Changing guest priorities has a deep impact on the guest experience and satisfaction levels and guest relation should adapt to this change, with safety and hygiene now a priority for many consumers.
Angelo conveyed that in the end, despite new operations or new barriers between staff and consumers, it is the genuine personalized service and building of relationships that is important. For hospitality staff facing a new world of guest relations, creatively finding solutions to challenges and providing the best service possible is what matters.
Angelo: “In the end, if a guest has a request there is always a way to satisfy it, even in a Covid world.”
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