With the onset of Covid-19 over the past 3 1/2 months, hotels have suffered huge losses in room bookings and are scrambling for ways to adjust. The ones that survive will have to change their strategies to meet the new reality of a socially-distanced and sanitized world. Many of these changes will be long lasting. We thought it would be interesting to look at trends that are beginning to take shape and make some forecasts about what a pet friendly hotel of the future might look like.
Hotel Trends Before COVID-19
Before the pandemic hit, many hotels were encouraging social gathering by putting a premium on guest interactions in public spaces, especially the hotel lobby. In an article by Hannah Sampson, The Washington Post reports that the emphasis before COVID was to reimagine the lobby a “social hub” where guests would want to gather with other guests and family to enjoy live music, food and drinks. Locals were also encouraged to be part of the mix by welcoming them off the street with direct access to the bar.
Some hotels, called microhotels, which includes brands like Marriott’s Moxy Hotels, took it a step further by reducing the size of hotel rooms to encourage lounging and social interaction in public spaces rather than in rooms. The bar also replaced the front desk as the place to check in. The smaller guestrooms enabled hotels to have more rooms (and therefore guests) while also creating a busy, almost party-like feel in the lobby.
The New Reality
When COVID hit, so did the brakes on this multi-year trend to encourage socializing in hotel lobbies. Suddenly, the opposite was required. However, instead of eliminating gatherings in public spaces, hotels, such as Marriott, opted to add signs and rearrange furniture to remind guests that COVID protocol needs to be followed. Overall, hotels are trying to find the right formula to stimulate interaction while keeping appropriate distance.
It’s a fine line, but many managers have found that guests feel more comfortable in a public space that highlights safety by having clearly posted notices, sanitation aids, and furniture placement as visual cues to help them maintain healthy behavior. Some hotels are giving higher visibility to their cleaning staff (who, in the past, would remain largely in the background) as a way of making guests feel more at ease.
How COVID Will Change Hotels Forever
While even the most ardent pessimists don’t believe that this current pandemic will last forever, there are steps being taken in the hospitality industry that will most likely remain permanent and change how we interact in hotels for the foreseeable future. Once the fear of spread subsides, hotel lobbies will likely revert to being a space for social interaction, but probably to a lesser degree. This is true, too, with regard to the use of swimming pools, spas, and fitness centers.
However, other practices being put in place will probably endure simply because they make good sense in any situation and enhance the guest experience by allowing for more independence and convenience. Old baked-in formalities such as front-desk check-in and check-out, as well as other extensive hotel employee/guest interactions will most likely stay at a minimum and be replaced by new and existing technologies.
The Hilton Honors app, for example, allows guests to select their room from a map of the hotel, check-in/check-out, open their door with their mobile phone, and have contactless entry during their stay. They also have a Connected Room platform that enables guests to avoid high-contact items like television remote controls and allows them to adjust lighting and room temperature without touching light switches or thermostats. Other hotels are implementing similar innovations that include motion and voice activation.
An article in Phys.org, suggests that these technologies will not only enhance efficiency, they will actually make us feel more at home. That’s because people already use many of these technologies in their daily lives. It’s just taken the hospitality industry a while to catch up.
Sri Beldona, a professor at the University of Delaware, points out that technologies like Amazon’s Alexa are available in nearly fifteen percent of American households but are pretty much non-existent in hotels. He also notes that it will be a difficult task to figure out which technologies will catch on. However, instead of hotels looking to other hotels for innovation, they should be looking to the American consumer to see what they have already adopted in their homes. That will allow hotels to bridge the existing technology gap with a fair amount of confidence.
The Pet Friendly Hotel of the Future
With all these new innovations taking place, what are the implications for pet friendly hotel market? First and foremost, the elimination of check-in and check-out procedures should make bringing a pet to a hotel a much easier undertaking. Being able to avoid a hotel lobby with your Retriever in tow takes a huge amount of hassle and anxiety out of traveling with your pet. Also, with people going directly to their rooms, there will be less interaction with non-pet-owning guests which is another huge concern of hotel management.
You might think the new cleanliness rules would make more hotels exclude pets. However, being optimists here at Petswelcome, we think just the opposite will occur. A lot of hotels refuse pets because of the extra cleaning involved. They just don’t want to deal with the hassle. Or, if they do, they pass the charge onto the guest. But now, with all the hyper-cleaning that is mandatory during COVID—and probably will be for a long time in the future— the extra cost and effort of cleaning will be required anyway. In our humble opinion, it’s a no-brainer, then, for open-minded hotels to broaden their customer base by welcoming people who travel with pets.
Finally, the growing use of technologies and the mindset it instills will also encourage hotels to enhance their services for pets. Perhaps they’ll add a pet friendly guide to their app that highlights all the nearby pet-friendly venues that are known only to locals. Or include discount coupons for local pet stores. Or guided walking tours for your and your pet. Maybe they will enhance “welcome baskets” with a simple Pawscout Smarter Pet Tag, or some other inexpensive tracker, that works with your phone’s bluetooth so that you can make sure you always know where your pet is during your stay. The possibilities are endless.
While COVID-19 has had devastating health and economic consequences, it has forced industries, especially those in the hospitality business, to rethink their core practices and adjust to the new reality. Tomorrow’s hotels will not be the same hotels we grew up with. In many ways they will be cleaner, more convenient, easier to navigate, and less geared for sociability than privacy. And when it comes to the pet friendly hotel of the future, we think there will be more of them since many of the roadblocks to bringing your best friend along will no longer be a factor.