two people doing rooftop yoga at hyatt hotel
Hyatt is looking to attract and ease the minds of guests by focusing on overall wellbeing, from in-room guided meditation to rooftop yoga. — Hyatt

While few businesses have escaped the sales-wrecking wrath of COVID-19, the pandemic has hit the hospitality sector particularly hard.

As of June 24, nearly six out of 10 open hotel rooms sat empty across the U.S., with 2020 poised to be the worst year on record for hotel occupancy, reports the American Hotel & Lodging Association.

But sunny signals are starting to peek through the gloomy forecasts. As hotels and resorts gingerly reopen and consumers cautiously dip theirs toes into traveling again, hotel demand and occupancy rates having been ticking upwards, albeit slowly, each week, according to hotel data tracking firm STR.

Hyatt, Sandals Resorts and boutique hotel chain citizenM are now betting on touch-free technology and new hygiene protocols to do the heavy lifting of wooing guests back to their properties by making pandemic-changed, socially-distance-minded consumers feel safe. They’re also exploring new ways to uncork fresh revenue streams and enhance the guest experience, from providing virtual meditation and rooftop yoga to offering ad hoc coworking spaces to businesses that have shuttered their offices for good.

Now more than ever, privacy is considered the new luxury. With health and safety being top of mind, it's our top priority.

Maggie Rivera, senior vice president of brand strategy, Sandals Resorts

Hyatt: Appointing ‘hygiene leaders’ and serving ‘holistic wellbeing’ via tech

Hyatt knows all too well that as the consumer psyche has radically changed, it too must change, in order to restore trust and recoup business.

“We understand that as guests are ready to travel again, they’ll return to our hotels with new expectations,” Mark Vondrasek, Hyatt’s chief commercial officer, told CO—.

To that end, the hotel chain in June introduced its Global Care & Cleanliness Commitment, promising new procedures and protocols designed to “enhance our business and operational practices during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond,” Vondrasek said.

The program examines and reimagines the entire hotel experience — from health and hygiene to food and beverage safety to technology, and “even how spaces are designed and used” — which is what makes the program unique, he said. “We are taking decisive actions appointing hygiene and wellbeing leaders at every property, and working closely with medical and industry professionals from Cleveland Clinic, American Airlines, [architecture firm] Gensler and more to make sure guests feel confident returning to our properties.”

Beyond implementing new cleaning protocols, Hyatt is also looking to soothe guests by stoking “a more holistic sense of wellbeing,” he said. The hotel chain debuted guided meditation on its app and via in-room TVs by way of an exclusive collaboration with buzzy mediation app Headspace. It’s also offering rooftop yoga in select hotels, as its “lobbies, bars, restaurants and communal areas [take on] a new look and feel in an effort to strike the right balance between connection and space,” Vondrasek said.

 sandals employee cleaning bathtub
Sandals' safety plan, called Sandals Platinum Protocols of Cleanliness, includes a “triple-check” cleaning system that spans all points of guest contact across 18 key touchpoints. — Sandals

Sandals Resorts: Recognizing that ‘privacy is the new luxury’

Sandals’ sprawling, honeymoon-geared luxury resort experience “has already been designed for privacy and intimacy for two people in love,” Maggie Rivera, senior vice president of brand strategy, told CO—. “Now more than ever, privacy is considered the new luxury,” she said. “With health and safety being top of mind, it's our top priority.”

Like Hyatt, Sandals is rolling out a branded safety plan, calling it Sandals Platinum Protocols of Cleanliness, which is an enhanced version of its existing regimen. It includes a “triple-check” cleaning system that spans all points of guest contact across 18 key touchpoints, “starting from the moment [visitors] touch down at airport lounges through the entirety of the Caribbean resort experience,” Rivera said.

Vacationers can now opt to check in ahead of time from home or in their hotel room, skipping physical interactions at the front desk altogether.

In the guest rooms, new hygiene measures include the use of hospital-grade disinfectants; electrical aerosol sprayers for advanced cleaning; UV-LED lighting equipment to inspect cleanliness; and air duct sanitization upon each guest arrival and departure.

Staff will undergo temperature checks and specialized training on precautionary sanitation protocols aimed at ensuring their health during both work hours and personal time, she said. Sandals’ vendors and suppliers will be held to new cleanliness protocols, too.

“We are ready to welcome guests back by providing them with the utmost confidence,” Rivera said.

Reopening strategies

These three hospitality brands are utilizing various strategies to attract customers to return to their hotels. Read on for more ways companies are preparing for reopening.

 person holding phone with citizenM app open
The citizenM app on guests’ personal phones now makes their entire hotel experience touch-free, from check-in to lighting preferences to food ordering. — citizenM

CitizenM: An app that remote controls the entire hotel experience, touch-free

For citizenM, the affordable luxury, self-service hotel chain, “sales vanished” soon after the pandemic hit, as occupancy rates plunged from 90% to “in the single digits,” Robin Chadha, chief marketing officer, told CO—.

Nonetheless, the Dutch-based hotel group, which has seen its occupancy rates start to rebound, opted to retain its entire workforce, both in its offices and its 20 hotels around the world, which served as temporary homes for essential workers.

Drawing conclusions from hospitality industry reports and its “gut instincts on how bad it’s going to be” — (Chadha doesn’t expect citizenM to restore 2019’s sales levels until 2023 or 2024, which is in line with hospitality industry estimates) — it quickly decided: “Now is the time to fast-track … projects we were working on,” identifying 17 projects, some-tech related and some not, he said.

In doing so, Chadha realized that its boutique hotels are already “accidentally pandemic-proof,” he said. Indeed, citizenM’s do-it-yourself model and barebones staff offer guests tech-enabled conveniences from self-service check-in to guest-personalized “smart rooms.”

But revamping the business to meet the demands of the new normal would take more work. “One of the things we struggled with is that the guest today doesn’t want to touch anything,” he said. “What else do we have to do to be contactless?”

The answer? Make the citizenM app on guests’ personal phones effectively the touch-free remote control for their entire hotel experience, Chadha said.

The tech changes came quickly.

Guests previously checked in at citizenM’s hotel kiosks; now they can do so on its app. Visitors used to control their rooms — from the lighting to windows and blinds — via hotel provided “MoodPads,” essentially souped-up iPads. That’s now all controllable via the app, as is food and beverage ordering.

Housekeeping is now optional for guests who prefer to keep staff out of their rooms, while social-distancing signage and routing messages pepper citizenM’s hotel interiors, Chadha said.

To jump-start new business, citizenM is tapping into the work-from-home movement that’s accelerated amid the crisis. It’s talking to businesses about inking deals for ad hoc workspaces where employees can work and gather for meetings on an as-needed basis. “We’re looking at corporate subscription now. Many companies don’t need expensive office space” anymore, he said.

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