Last week, Marriott announced that it will sanitize all keys and spray all rooms to give guests greater confidence when staying at its properties. That won't be enough. The future of travel depends on using technology and transparency to put customers at ease. It means allowing guests to use keyless entry, avoiding check-in lines in the lobby, and getting reports on hotel cleanliness.
At the same time, travelers' preferences in the near term are changing. They are opting for locations with less human interaction and more controlled environments to meet the needs of social distancing and contained visits. In the longer term, travelers will expect that their hotel and overall experience addresses their safety concerns beyond the spraying of disinfectant.
Just as September 11th changed the way we enter and interact in airports, this pandemic will change how we meet and stay in shared spaces like hotels and restaurants. Once we are able to travel again, the hospitality industry will begin its transformation as well. At Domio, which is an apartment-hotel brand that caters to group travelers, we already have.
As people worldwide are asked to keep their social distance, the hospitality industry needs to consider the spaces they offer guests. For example, the average hotel room size (330 square feet) has shrunk in recent years with the advent of micro-hotels. In contrast, our apartment-style spaces offer more room to move around, as well as washers and dryers for guests to immediately clean their belongings if needed. We also hope our apartment-style spaces can provide the needed respite from the confines of customers' homes.
The startup economy and the growth of companies such as WeWork has put a focus on sharing: shared co-working spaces, shared restaurant facilities. In hotels, there's been a proliferation of lobby vendors and shops in the past decade. All of that sharing is at now at odds with customer safety. While the hotel lobby was once a place of mingling, it will likely become a place to mitigate human interaction and limit exposure. The general manager of the Four Seasons Hotel in New York City, a hotel known for elaborate human connection, said it well, "We now have almost no touch points in the entire hotel, which is completely against a hotel's nature of being hands-on ... We used to be known for the human touch--but now we're all about no touch at all."
The Four Seasons is currently housing medical workers as they work the frontlines.
What Happens Next: The Importance of Guest Confidence in Hotel Rooms
Once restrictions are lifted, we are expecting that travelers will opt for more drivable locations, where guests can control how and when they arrive. At check-in, guests will do so with keyless entry and without the front desk. They'll be checking their phones to see how recently a space was cleaned and disinfected.
Cleaning services will be more thorough and less frequent, to avoid overwhelming guests with too many onsite staff. At Domio, we are using a 100-point checklist, built with the Centers for Disease Control's and World Health Organization's guidance in mind. We expect that this will be the new normal: Rooms will come with ratings, just like restaurants, and guests will be able to check for up-to-the-minute sanitation details.
In hospitality, we have always put the safety of our guests and our staff first. This pandemic has opened up a whole new world of precautions to consider. I expect hotels and airlines to be required to offer guests face masks and hand sanitizer, while some might even go beyond that, offering multi-surface cleaner and disinfectant wipes, so that customers can safely and confidently disinfect items during their stays.
From a staff perspective, we've had to build a new coding system to prevent cross-contamination, and designed a new method of room cleaning to minimize exposure and maximize sanitation. For instance, all room attendants disinfect equipment, wash hands, and don new cleaning attire before entering each room. We've also built a new coding system for all of our cleaning supplies: red cloths signify high-risk areas and green cloths signify food-preparation areas.
Thinking About the Next Six to Nine Months
As an industry, we need to help our guests feel safe, confident, and comfortable as they move around the world. We're already seeing encouraging signs from the travel and tourism industry: no more middle seats, and the movement away from breakfast buffets--let's be honest, sometimes we weren't sure how clean they were anyway. Instead, guests will look for prepackaged foods or sanitized grocery delivery. Indeed, delivery has been at the forefront of this new normal, and in the near future guests can expect that hotels will coordinate directly with delivery providers to establish sanitation standards and protocols.
As an industry, travel has a lot to reckon with, but we know that Americans, and tourists globally, are getting antsy. Earth Day posts flooded Instagram this month, showcasing our global wanderlust. We want to travel, but we need to make sure it is safe.
While I hate to see people canceling plans, I am encouraged by friends discussing the first place they'll visit once this pandemic subsides. Little by little, as states and nations reopen, we will all start to take steps to get out and travel. Trust and confidence is the only way that the industry can move forward, so that travelers can enjoy the places they long to see.
Jay Roberts is the CEO and founder of Domio, a leading apartment-hotel brand catering to group travelers with a foundation in technology and hospitality.