Revamping protocols and technology: Hotel industry is looking to reboot in the new normal
Hotel industry is continuously working on the damage control plans and building contingency plans to reduce the brunt caused by the coronavirus crisis. To resume business continuity and consumer safety while re-opening, various hotel chains have transformed their service protocols for guests.
Anushruti Singh August 8, 2020
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Hotel industry has yet not recovered from the adverse impact of pandemic, but it is all set to serve customers again with stringent safety norms. So far, the hotels which are out of containment zone can reopen in a phased manner. To resume their businesses safely, they should follow a strict five-pointer Standardized Operating Protocols (SOPs) suggested by the government.
Hotel owners and operators are therefore strategizing to make up for the losses incurred and are anticipating a healthy rebound. According to Hotel Association of India, Indian Hotel industry contributes 9 per cent to India’s GDP employing around 4.5 crore people and providing livelihood to 16 crore people. An estimation of HVS and Anarock states that India’s hotel industry is likely to face a business loss of Rs 90,000 crore in 2020.
Along with this, occupancy in top cities has reached rock bottom during April owing to low demand. As per HVS-Anarock research overview, occupancy levels dipped 81 per cent in April from the previous year. Re-opening of domestic flight operations in May also did no good to occupancy levels. The levels were still low with a decline of 76.7 per cent compared y-o-y.
Seeing the level of the impact, leading hotel operators are apprehensive about an easy recovery of Revenue per Available Room or RevPAR. As per the JLL survey of 15 leading hotel operators, only 20 per cent of the operators will bounce back to RevPAR levels of 2019 within 6 to 12 months.
Whilst, 60 per cent of them say that their portfolio will be similar to levels of 2019 between 13 and 24 months. Interestingly, luxury hotel operators are expecting a slower recovery. Some of them are expecting that their portfolio may take more than two years to reach performance levels of 2019.
In such circumstances, hotel operators can gain back customer’s confidence only by ensuring implementation of government guidelines and steps of detailed SOP stringently. To understand the stance of renowned hotel brands about how they are enforcing their protocols now, SME Futures spoke to several industry experts to gain insights.
Revamping Protocols into Concrete Action Plans
Industry is continuously working on the damage control plans and building contingency plans to reduce the brunt caused by the crisis. To resume business continuity and consumer safety while re-opening, various hotel chains have transformed their service protocols for guests. According to the HVS-Anarock General Manager’s Sentiment Survey 2020, upscale business properties are likely to open soon.
The world’s largest hotel brand, Marriott International has implemented We Care in India, a plan that prescribes new standard operating procedures for its staff and guests. According to the chain, their new COVID action plan will ensure protocols, procedures, processes and operations to instill a heightened sense of safety, security, and comfort with a focus on business.
Neeraj Govil, Senior Vice-President—South Asia at Marriot International in a statement tells, “The pandemic has prompted changes in hotel operations altering everything from how guests check-in, check-out, and dine-in to how rooms are cleaned. Social distancing will have a prompt place in our plans for at least a foreseeable future. Through We Care, we will be implementing certain changes to adapt to the new normal.”
He expects hotels moving from aesthetically clean to clinically clean, making sanitisation and hygiene inevitable to ensure safety of associates and guests. The Oberoi Group has also has unveiled an enhanced health and safety programme at its hotels in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. The group has collaborated with Bureau Veritas, a company involved in laboratory testing, inspection, and certification services to validate and review the programme.
On a similar note, Holiday Inn has also transformed their protocols. Sarad Upadhyay, General Manager for Holiday Inn Mumbai International Airport asserts that his chain is 100 per cent prepared to receive guests. Being a subsidiary of InterContinental Hotels Group, the chain is following stringent sanitation procedures across all their hotels. Upadhyay informs, “Internally, we call it the IHG Way of Clean.”
He further tells, “Considering the new travel norms and expectations, we are enhancing the experience for our guests by redefining the IHG® Way of Clean operating procedures and guidelines. This programme is a vision for our hotels to be known as relentlessly focused on the cleanliness, sanitation, and appearance of our hotels.”
IHG Way of Clean involves deep cleaning in guest rooms and public spaces with hospital-grade disinfectants putting us ahead of the curve. Elaborating further on the programme, Upadhyay says, “To expand and further strengthen programme standards, we have been working with Ecolab and Diversey. They provide more efficient and higher-grade cleanliness solutions that can keep our guests and hotel colleagues safe.”
Holiday Inn Mumbai has also issued new protocols and best practices that it has implemented through training.
Premium luxury brand hotel, ITC Royal Bengal has introduced contactless protocols for which special training programmes have been arranged. According to an official of the top ITC Hotel, social distancing in room allocation would be implemented as the number of domestic flights increase.
The hotel has re-engineered guest experiences with zero or low engagement, contactless payments at the outlets, and safe distancing protocols, the official has told in a statement. Moreover, mandatory temperature check has been enforced for all chefs and F&B associates. This is along with strict regulatory checks of all ingredients and frequent disinfecting of kitchen areas and equipments.
Sarovar Hotels & Resorts which manages 90 hotels in 55 destinations across India and overseas has also adopted new safety measures. According to the brand, they are following norms of thermal screening on arrivals and checkouts, frequent sanitization of public areas, lifts, lobby, rooms and vehicles after each journey. The hotel has asked its staff to wear all safety gears while servicing and has introduced contactless dining for its guests. Also, no water service from jugs or glass bottles will be available for guests on any table.
Other players in the sector such as Vista Rooms, a boutique holiday home rental brand has also implemented reformed SoPs to ensure safety of guests. The organisation has introduced series of measures under Vista Assurance programme to offer gratifying and safe holidaying experiences to its patrons. They have also restricted number of guests at their properties to adhere with the social distancing norms.
Elaborating on the changed service protocols, Pranav Maheshwari says, “We have implemented a mandatory 24-hour window between consecutive bookings. Introduced as part of its ‘Safety Assure’ program, the move will provide the Vista Rooms service staff adequate time to extensively sanitise managed properties and to ensure maximum safety and hygiene.”
Vista Rooms has also focussed on facilitating seamless contact tracing. Their support staff has been equipped with Aarogya Setu app for contact tracing. He adds, “A checklist for guests as well as staff members before and after arrivals is provided. It includes an option for guests to cook their meals if they want to. These measures have improved our guest experience, and delivered unparalleled peace of mind to them.”
On the other hand, restaurant chain operator SJI Hospitality and Food Pvt are in the process of implementing revised SOPs. According to Jaasjyot Surri, CEO and Co-founder of the restaurant chain, the revised service protocols will include reduced human interaction with guests during ordering and service of food and beverages.
Surri reclaims, “There is an enhanced focus on the use of face masks and gloves for the team. The kitchen teams use a face shield as an added measure. This has also been implemented for the food delivery services that we are catering to. The enhanced usage of sanitizers and frequent washing of hands has become a practice with a greater frequency more than ever.”
Technology to Boost Safer Business
Technology has become an indispensable aspect of hospitality sector as it gradually steps towards recovery. Industry experts now know that how willingness of consumers to travel depends upon caveats of hotels regarding hygiene and technology. Therefore, critical changes in protocols have given a boost to implementation of IT infrastructure in hotels and resorts.
Solutions such as contactless payment apps, digital messaging, and digital room keys activated by smart phones are some of the top changes that hotels have implemented. According to a survey by Oracle Hospitality, 70 per cent of the hotels already have adopted or are planning to implement contactless technology for check-in, food ordering, concierge services etc. Along with this, 90 per cent of them are planning to increase frequency of cleaning of facilities, disinfecting surfaces, and training of staff on sanitation procedures.
Technological solutions in the form of self-service tools help guests to skip front desk. The Oracle survey further states that 70 per cent of the respondent consumers prefer to stay at a hotel that has implemented these kinds of services. Among these, 23 per cent of customers wanted self-service check-in through a kiosk as that would increase their safety.
Apart from this, QR codes have also become very popular IT solution lately. It has replaced hotel menus, in-room compendiums, and expanded room services options. Holiday Inn across their properties is leveraging the benefit of QR codes. Upadhyay comments, “We have QR codes for menus in the restaurant and rooms; for hotel information and safety precautions; and for the hotel’s My Stay Program which is a short quick digital directory with all information about the hotel.”
Holiday Inn has further collaborated with Ecolab and Diversey – both being leaders in hygiene and cleaning technologies. Similarly, other restaurants are also implementing QR codes rampantly for all kind of contactless operations. The National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI) has partnered with Gurgaon-based O2O commerce platform, Dotpe to launch a digital ordering solution for restaurants in order to ensure minimal human touch.
International digital menu firm, My Menu provides a QR code solution in the form of digital tablet platform where ordering can be done through guest’s mobile. Nandos, Wagamama, Carluccio’s and Accor Hotels have already implemented this QR solution. Another cloud-based restaurant tech platform, POSist is providing dashboard solution. The platform also provides wi-fi ordering and digital postpaid ordering solutions to hotels and restaurants.
Using this dashboard, restaurants will be able to generate QR code to a table number. This QR code will be displayed on the table where a guest is seated. Once the guest scans the QR code and enters his or her mobile number, the menu will appear on their mobile browser. Thereafter, they can select items and place the order in a seamless way through it.
According to SJI’s Jaasjyot Surri, QR codes are the most popular IT tool while placing orders for dine-in customers. He opines, “We are also working towards creating an environment where a guest only has one server coming to the table to deliver the food and do clearance of consumed food. This will really help where guests are looking for minimum interaction.”
New Normal Infers Retrained Employees
The longevity of a hotel’s business in post-covid era will be determined by its ability to survive during the course of this downturn. Readiness for recovery is a herculean task but Indian hoteliers are now resilient to lay the foundation for a strong comeback. According to experts, such a situation necessitates the re-training of staff working in this stressful time.
Most of hotel operators have designed their in-house training programmes to re-train their staff. This becomes necessary when most of the hotel companies are working with skeletal staff which is covering front desk, housekeeping, restaurant, security, and maintenance. Along with this, reopening of hotels with new normal involves training of staff to adhere to new safety protocols.
Upadhyay of Holiday Inn comments, “Training program is necessary as it enables our colleagues and partners to adhere to the strict cleaning and disinfecting protocols that we have set. Our top priority is to give guests full safety, convenience, and assurance. All our housekeeping and non-housekeeping colleagues have hence undergone a detailed training program to understand the underlying principles and the vision of IHG.”
Surri of SJI tells that restaurant chains should maintain the highest standards of safety and sanitisation by adhering to the compliance of revised SoPs in order to survive. He adds, “The teams are undergoing training towards maintaining enhanced social distancing and implementation of the revised SOPs to serve guests more efficiently and safely.”
On the similar note, Vista Rooms management is conducting staff trainings in four phases which cover hygiene and safety protocols extensively. Maheshwari informs, “We conducted trainings in four phases during COVID-19. These trainings covered soft skills to processes and technologies. We also conducted surprised audit and tests to ensure that all training processes are implemented stringently.”
Way Ahead for Hoteliers
So far, the wrath of pandemic has led to a demand decline of 90 per cent approximately for the tourism sector. According to the data of HAI, the hotel industry has been hit massively with around 75 per cent of output decline in Q1 FY21 versus Q4 FY20. The sector although has reopened with stringent protocols but the revival still seems to be an uphill task.
The main concern for the hotel industry is non-uniform implementation of SoP guidelines. The apex body HAI has already taken this into consideration and has suggested some remedies to the Government of India. According to the association, guidelines are not uniform in all states and union territories. Also, only some states have permitted hotels to re-commence their operations but the guidelines for operations such as guest rooms, banquets, or dining still vary for different regions.
For overcoming the challenge, HAI wants all states to allow reopening of hotels after implementing SoPs stringently. This can incur heavy revenue loss for hoteliers as they are already constrained in reviving their businesses. In addition to this, the body has suggested government that all gourmet hotels should be allowed to offer their full services.
Moving forward, things will look different in post COVID-19 era for both hoteliers and guests. Considering this, hotel operators are enthusiastically embracing new and improved standards of safety by adopting reformed business policies and technology and digitalising touch points with contactless technology. These standards were perhaps considered a luxury earlier which only gourmet hotels could afford but now these have become indispensable even for smaller restaurants.