Hotel sign lit up in the night sky
PHOTO: Marten Bjork

The pandemic hit the hotel industry hard in 2020 as people cut back or entirely eliminated travel plans and huge profit generators like trade shows and conferences fizzled out.

The American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) predicts that 56% of consumers will return to traveling this year, but expects business customers to hold off longer, leaving half of hotel rooms unfilled.

Some hotels are taking proactive steps in response to lure customers back and bolster occupancy levels.

Capitalizing on Royal Connections

One example is the Drake Hotel in Chicago, which has hosted the rich and famous over the years, including Princess Diana in her only visit to the city. The hotel is currently offering 100 days of $100 rooms as well as a contest for those who wish to spend a night in the Princess Diana Suite.

In addition to Princess Diana, the Drake has hosted celebrities from Walt Disney to Winston Churchill.

Separate from the anniversary celebration, the hotel introduced the “Crowing Lady Package,” offering two-night stays in the same 1,500-square foot suite the princess slept in almost 25 years ago.

“We felt it was a timely alignment to bring forth our unique history with the royal family and Princess Diana’s stay with us during her visit to Chicago in 1996,” said Damien McArdle, hotel general manager, in a media statement.

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Cleanliness and Hygiene Near Top of Customer's Concerns

When selecting a hotel, enhanced cleaning and hygiene practices rank as guests’ number two priority, behind price, according to AHLA.

Hotels are going to great lengths to go beyond their normal cleaning regimens to ensure guests are as safe as possible during their stays.

Hotels understand the necessity of assuring the public they have taken new safety precautions. Live! Casino & Hotel Philadelphia has a Play It Safe enhanced health and sanitation campaign. Atlantic City's Resorts Casino Hotel is also running a Play Safe, Work Safe campaign to welcome back guests and team members when state laws allow.

These and a handful of other hotels have installed bi-polar indoor (BPI) air quality technology in their HVAC systems, which has tested more than 99.9% effective in neutralizing COVID-19.

Both have rigorously promoted their new safety initiatives through press releases and customer outreach.

“Resorts’ Play Safe, Work Safe plan to responsibly welcome back guests and team members after its closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Mark Giannantonio, Resorts Casino and Hotel president and CEO said in a statement about the air filtration installation. “Tests performed by Microchem Laboratory confirmed that the presence of coronavirus was reduced by 99.92 percent within 30 minutes of exposure to AtmosAir’s bi-polar ion technology. [It] will provide, research shows, the best air quality technology available today.”

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Use Tech to Give Customers Peace of Mind

Closely related to the idea of enhanced cleanliness and hygiene is a high tech environment which offers clients a contactless experience, said Emir Dukic, CEO of Rabbu.

“Contact-free capabilities have replaced lavish experiences and loyalty perks; peace of mind is the new traveler luxury," Dukic said. “CX in the lodging sector is quickly elevating through the powers of smart technology; already, many operations are able to offer intuitive booking platforms, online check-ins, virtual identity verification and instant hands-free access control. For guests to have a contactless path from their car to their room is the new customer standard. Hoteliers that have invested in smart technology have positioned themselves well for the short term and long term, post-COVID demand.”

Dukic added that the need for high-end tech doesn’t end when the guest reaches their room. Much of the current demand in the lodging market right now is coming from working professionals. Craving new scenery, remote workers are engaging in more local travel, short-term rentals and flexible stays. They want a space where they can stay safe, productive and inspired as they face another stretch of at-home workdays. So fast internet speeds, office space and proper infrastructure for the remote workday top their requirements.

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Rethink What the Hotel Experience Is

“For an industry with low-profit margins even without a global pandemic, it's crucial to draw back guests as quickly and safely as possible,” said Luca Zambello, co-founder and CEO of Jurny. “We are seeing a lot of hotel owners step out of their comfort zones and embrace innovative new solutions to entice guests, while complying with social distancing measures."

Marketing promotions are changing rapidly, Zambello added. A number of hotels are adjusting their offerings to cater to new audiences, including stay-cationers and the new work-from-home crowd. Owners are deploying marketing promotions to appeal to this group, including monthly subscription services to give guests access to rooms, workspaces and facilities for a standard fee.

“Owners are rethinking amenities,” Zambello said. “Since most hotel operators were forced to close common areas like pools, spas, gyms, and even breakfast areas, part of appealing to both new and returning guests is adjusting amenities. Some hotels are incorporating fitness equipment into each room in place of a gym and/or sending personalized breakfast deliveries as an alternative to the traditional continental breakfast, while others are completely redesigning rooms to include kitchenettes to accommodate guests staying longer.”