The new guest experience 

As lockdown measures are eased, hoteliers are preparing for guests to re-enter the hotel space. But, despite getting the okay to reopen to the public, hotels are unlikely to operate in the same way they did before the pandemic. So, what can guests expect from the hotel experience as the industry rebuilds? Alex Love finds out.

Hotels have made great efforts to show that they mean business when it comes to hygiene, given the urgent need to restore confidence in a sector that’s been severely hit by Covid-19.

Social distancing, one-way systems, elevator restrictions and hand santiser stations will all become part of the ‘new normal’ as the hotel industry tries to get moving again. Rooms may be without mini bars and telephones for hygiene purposes. Occupied rooms are also expected to be spaced further apart where possible.

While Covid-19 continues to linger, the hotel experience is going to be more room-based than ever before. Food and drink will be provided straight to rooms or pickup points, with many hotels having shuttered restaurants and bars to curb the risk of virus transmission.

One of the biggest differences guests may notice is the that more rigorous cleaning protocols are being implemented. Rooms, lobbies and corridors will be cleaned more thoroughly than pre-pandemic, as regular cleaning has proven to be one of the most effective means of combating the coronavirus.

The pressure is on hotels to get it right; because if potential guests don’t trust the level of cleanliness, then they could stay away and deprive hotels of much-needed business.

Intensive cleaning protocols at hotels

In an attempt to reassure guests, several hotel chains have launched their own branded hygiene programmes and provided detailed explanations of what these involve. Schemes include Hilton CleanStay, Travelodge Protect+, and Motel One’s Hygiene Taskforce. Many hotels are also keen for the public to know that they’re using hospital-grade disinfectants for cleaning.

“Our new cleanliness practices and protocols should be immediately evident to the guest. They will see increased cleanings in our hotel public spaces, with particular attention paid to high-touch areas, and each hotel will have information available on the specific cleaning practices used in guest rooms between each guest,” says an IHG spokesperson.

The group says it is working with partners to create new “science-led protocols and service measures” across its properties.

New cleanliness practices and protocols should be immediately evident to the guest.

A Marriott International spokesperson also acknowledges that guests will notice a difference in the way its hotels operate and the emphasis on hygiene.

“We’re assessing every step of the stay experience to ensure guests have a safe environment they feel they can control through cleaning and distance. Our teams will still provide the level of hospitality we pride ourselves on, but our hotels will begin to look and operate differently.

“There’ll be sanitiser stations, social distance floor markers, restrictions on elevator use; buffets will make way for ‘grab and go’ options or contactless room service, some in-room furnishings will be removed, and there will be amenity cleaning kits and personal sanitisers available for guests,” a Marriott International spokesperson says.

No-touch measures

Hotel lobbies experience large amounts of foot traffic and are high-touch areas. Reception stations have traditionally involved lots of interaction between staff and guests. But in light of the coronavirus pandemic, exchanging credit cards for payment, getting guests to sign forms, and handing over room keys are all seen as opportunities for germs to spread. Avoiding contact is now recognised as the safest practice, with guests checking in and out and settling their bills online.

“We’re exploring the different ways we can use technology to minimise physical interaction when it comes to things like check-in or paying for items; and we’re also exploring solutions like UV technology and electrostatic sprayers that can help keep our hotels safe and clean,” adds an IHG spokesperson.

According to GlobalData travel and tourism analyst Ralph Hollister, these no-touch measures are expected to remain in-place for the long-term; and greater levels of automation technology could be introduced to aid this.

We’re exploring the different ways we can use technology to minimise physical interaction.

“The increased use of ‘no-touch technology’ in aspects of the industry such as airports, hotels and cruises may become permanent. Automation across the entire sector may become the new norm.

“The use of automation in the sector has been growing swiftly in recent years, but many more touchless options will be introduced due to Covid-19. Options will be introduced such as contactless fingerprints instead of room keys, or the use of iris and face recognition when checking in to a hotel,” he says.

Hollister also suggests that certifications could be awarded to hotels for cleaning protocols, in a similar way to hygiene ratings for restaurants and cafes.

“Quality labels may also be a permanent fixture; these are labels that will be awarded by official regulatory bodies that approve that an attraction, hotel or restaurant has taken the appropriate steps to ensure visitor safety in the 'new normal'. This kind of initiative is being emulated across the globe to instil confidence in domestic and international markets,” he adds.

Technology to improve hygiene in hotels

The coronavirus has accelerated the demand for technological hygiene solutions in hotels. The amount of these being used by hotels is only expected to increase in future.

UVC lighting is one technology being looked at for air sterilisation. For example, humanlumen’s UVC Air Purification Units draw in surrounding air and then hit it with a series of UVC radiation blasts, killing any viruses, mould or fungus that may be airborne. Treated air then exits the unit via a carbon filter.

Its manufacturer claims that one unit is capable of cleaning the air of 3,000 cubic square metres of an open-plan office, making it also suitable for hotels. UVC Air Purification Units don’t require any integration with existing systems; they can be plugged in and start operating right away. This may appeal to hotels seeking immediate air treatment systems.

The coronavirus can remain present on plastic for as long as 72 hours.

Another potential hazard for hotel guest is cross-contamination from room keycards made from plastic. As the coronavirus can remain present on plastic for as long as 72 hours, this could risk infecting multiple guests and staff if the keycards aren’t cleaned sufficiently. To combat this, US company Lodging Access Systems has the rights to manufacture keycards made from antibacterial plastic.

During manufacturing, antimicrobial agents are added to the plastic. Its manufacturer claims this will stop the transmission of 99.9% of bacteria. The technology is compatible with keycards that use both radio frequency ID systems and magnetic strips.

Alternatives to keycards are already being used. Advanced solutions include guests using fingerprint scanners to access their rooms at Hotel Alma Barcelona; while at Nine Zero in Boston, US, the doors to exclusive suites can be opened by a retinal scan.

A more realistic solution for widespread use is phone apps such as OpenKey. Guests can check-in and access rooms via smartphones, bypassing the traditional reception desk completely. This app is being used by guests at US chain Remington Hotels, several hotels in China, and at The East London Hotel in the UK.