A trio of hotel owner/operators acknowledged some momentum in recent months with occupancies ticking up in select markets, while they also emphasized the increasing importance of technology within hospitality as the expectations of both guests and associates are heightened.
Speaking during BITAC Operations Virtual Connect 2021 earlier this week, the executives weighed in on current conditions during a panel entitled “Emerging Trends In Hospitality,” which was moderated by Paul Bennie, director, business development, ProfitSword.
Bennie began by pointing out that occupancy levels have continued to rise throughout the industry for the past couple of months. To a man, the panelists acknowledged the momentum and offered some color.
According to Martin Hanson, President, Schulte Boutique & Lifestyle, “I think what we’re enjoying is the optimism from the recovery. Vaccinations are coming out so we’re anticipating the summer months and that sense of wanting to return to normal. We saw a little of that boost last year during the summer in some of the destination markets, but I think we’re starting to see that trend upwards when it comes to occupancy,” he said.
Joseph Klam, chief accounting officer, Highgate Hotels, had a similar observation. “We’ve had a tremendous first quarter in some of our markets. Others like New York City are still very soft, but we are looking at our forecast to be a lot better than we budgeted,” he said, further adding that the company is expecting “some kind of stabilization in Q4 and the first quarter of next year.”
Michael Stano, SVP, technology, Crescent Hotels & Resorts, reinforced the point while acknowledging some of the challenges.
“We’ve certainly had some of our properties and resorts actually do well through the pandemic. What we’ve learned as an organization and we are looking at very strongly is volatility in all marketplaces has become the new norm. We simply need to find ways to be as agile and flexible as possible on every front,” he said.
Meanwhile, the continued evolution of technology took center stage as the panelists addressed some of the key issues surrounding it.
Stano, for example, elaborated on the importance of understanding guest preferences and behavior while discussing some of today’s challenges.
“We’re witnessing a complete collapse of trust between the consumer companies like Google, and the government, etc., and privacy lobbyists are coming in very hard. Probably by the end of this year you’re going to see privacy laws that are going to potentially encumber our ability to offer [certain] conveniences. So we need to find ways that we’re still able to offer a delightful and customized experience,” he said.
“It’s really got be permission based when you market to them and start to build that relationship,” noted Hanson. He also stressed the importance of internally leveraging personal devices, such as an iPad or Android phones.
“It’s finding ways to use that guest communication device and integrate it to our systems to help communicate and know and understand more about guests. It’s critical as we go forward because you’ve got to build trust with them,” he said.
Klam also noted that personal devices are a key area of focus for the company.
“We are also adapting technology to be utilized with personal phones, whether it is opening your room or trying to access something in the hotel. Those are the type of items we are always seeking or looking at new opportunities to enhance the guest experience,” he said.
Hanson insisted they are looking at simplifying every element of the hotel experience through technology, including room service.
“We made it hard over the years. GrubHub showed everybody; this is how you do it. We must follow their lead,” he said.
Hanson further weighed in on the impact of virtual meetings, such as Microsoft Teams or Zoom, throughout the industry.
“I think people have learned to embrace virtual meetings, but there’s still that personalization when it comes to meeting with corporate customers and especially on the social side of things. The one thing that we’ve seen through this pandemic is the transient small groups, whether its weddings or social, have been resilient,” he said.
Hanson added, “people do not want to be stuck inside their cubicle for the rest of their life on a video call. I think that goes against human nature. I think you’re going to still have some quick hybrid or digital meetings. Corporate travel may not come back to what it should be, but we’ll see kind of a trend back to a hybrid solution,” he said.
Klam noted it has also been a game changer internally.
“We’ve allowed many of our associates, based in our corporate office and in many of our hotels, to work from home. Having a tool like Teams or Zoom has upped our productivity…For our team members anyone who wants to work from home has the ability to do that, we’re not going to force anybody to come back. We still are maintaining very decent efficiency and productivity levels and we absolutely love it,” he said.
Stano, for his part, emphasized the importance of transparency and honesty with associates amid the latest technology upgrades and platforms.
“At the end of day organizational intelligence is going to be important. We want to allow people to know what they need to know in real time. Understanding these newer generations work differently using social networking or other forums to keep communication live and relevant in real time is going to make all the difference in the world,” he said.
“We’ve allowed many of our associates, based in our corporate office and in many of our hotels, to work from home. Having a tool like Teams or Zoom has upped our productivity…For our team members anyone who wants to work from home has the ability to do that, we’re not going to force anybody to come back. We still are maintaining very decent efficiency and productivity levels and we absolutely love it,”