November 24, 2020
If this pandemic has taught the hospitality industry anything, it’s the value of its staff. According to the American Hotel and Lodging Association, hotel occupancy across the US is around 50%, while urban areas are in the 20-40% range. With occupancy at all-time lows for hotels, restaurants, and venues, owners and operators are facing the difficult decision to lay off or furlough their most precious asset: their employees.
Approximately 4 out of every 10 hospitality jobs lost are due to the pandemic, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Major companies like Marriott, Hilton, and MGM Resorts have laid off thousands; many experts predict a return to pre-pandemic figures could be as far out as 2023. People are critical to the service industry, offering a human connection and personal touch that cannot be replaced. But when many businesses must fight to survive and are forced to lay off employees, they’re faced with a growing ‘staffing gap’ between employee resources and evolving customer expectations.
Rising Customer Demands, Decreasing Staff Levels
In this pandemic environment, ‘business as usual’ is anything but. Hotel and restaurant operators are in a state of constant evolution, staying on top of health and safety guidelines; creating and implementing new protocols; and learning, adapting, and tweaking products and services based on changing customer needs and feedback. The need to keep up with these increased demands, in conjunction with reduced staff, places immense stress on many businesses, making a focus on efficiency of the utmost importance.
To deliver this efficiency, operators have turned to technology. As we’ve discussed in previous posts, contactless solutions are a must-have for businesses in the hospitality space. Consumers have adapted nicely, growing more comfortable with it and often expecting a contactless experience at establishments they visit.
For example, hotels now offer completely contactless check-ins, venues have enabled mobile ordering direct to a spectator’s seat, and restaurants allow guests to view a menu, order, pay, and leave feedback, all via QR-code enabled technology. While consumer concerns may be the driver of this wave of adoption, businesses benefit directly from more efficient and streamlined operations. Much of this technology is low cost to implement, while delivering a more robust guest experience that will increase ROI down the line — a real win-win.
Technology in a Post-Pandemic World
What does this mean for the future of hospitality? Some fear it will herald the end of the personal touch; that hospitality will be overtaken by robots and that a sterile experience will reign supreme. Perhaps surprisingly as a tech founder and CEO, I don’t subscribe to that view. If I’ve learned anything in my years in this industry, it’s that nothing can replace the power of human connection.
Technology can help meet new needs by offering customers choice while placing health and safety at the forefront. A recent report by McKinsey predicted that businesses that find ways to use such technologies to ‘rebuild human experiences that existed before COVID-19’ will ultimately set themselves apart and gain customer loyalty.
Offering customers more choice can only bolster business. What’s more, by implementing technology now, owners and operators can lay the groundwork for gathering important insights and data that enable them to improve and grow their business in the future. Organizations must think about the bigger picture – imagine the possibilities for integrating with customer loyalty programs, personalizing service offerings, and creating ‘surprise and delight’ tactics based on what they know about their customers.
This year has taught us innumerable lessons. For the hospitality industry, it has shown us how to do more with less. While it may feel far off, business will return, and hiring will ramp up. The companies that use technology to improve efficiencies, better understand their customers through data, and ultimately offer them more choice will be those that reap the rewards well beyond the pandemic’s end.