Over a year ago one of our clients and a leader in the hospitality industry, Scott Hansen, guest wrote our first blog article offering his insights and predictions on how the Covid crisis would impact the hotel industry (see A Touchy Subject: How the Hospitality Industry Will Adapt Post COVID-19).
Since then, we’ve learned much more about how the pandemic impacts various industries. We asked Scott to sit down with us and offer his insights again with a year of experience to draw upon.
June 4, 2021
Van: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us Scott. I know you and the Marriott team are extremely busy these days, so I will keep this brief. A year ago, you guest wrote our first blog article when so much less was known about the pandemic and how it would impact our work and lives. Since we last spoke, how were you tasked with responding to the Covid crisis?
Scott: Thanks Van, it is good to speak with you again. What a year.
Not dissimilar to many industries – the COVID crisis was the single biggest disruptive factor to our business that our company has ever seen. There has not been one group within Marriott that has not had to react with new and creative approaches to addressing the multiple challenges we have faced and continue to face.
Within my area of oversight – there were really two immediate elements of execution that were offshoots of larger corporate objectives – cost savings and guest confidence. Within the former – I had to reach out to our vendor community to negotiate reduced pricing for services and payment terms to accommodate hotels with near zero cash flow. This effort was primarily around our TV product and content services. Secondarily – we disseminated a “Commitment to Clean” video to our TV platforms continuing messaging that reassured our guests of Marriot’s ability to ensure their safety in our hotels.
Van: What were some of the most difficult challenges you faced in leading your team through it?
Scott: Again- like many industries, this crisis was without precedent for Marriott. Some of the initial challenges in executing on near-term needs centered around basic logistics. Normally we would be able to get together in a room and work through action items but between the necessity for social distancing and the furlough of the majority of above property staff – coordination was not as optimal as desired.
Along with our internal efforts – the company was trying to keep up with changing information on the pandemic from the likes of CDC, NIH etc. in order to identify how best to address the legitimate fears our guests had around travel and our hotels. So lots to sort through in the early going.
I am sure there will be some Monday morning quarterbacking that takes place on this topic – but initial reaction is that we did the best we could with what we had (information and staff).
Van: When we last talked about this topic, you touched on some ways emerging guestroom technologies such as no-touch hygenic controls and newer automated cleaning solutions, may become more prominent. Looking back, how have those or other technologies entered the mainstream?
Scott: I did – yes. The challenge with these emerging technologies is that their adoption requires hotel investment – precisely at a time when investment dollars are hard to come by. Now I think we have different drivers for necessity. Touch-less technologies and eliminating the requirement to engage with ‘a human’ were initial ways thought to combat COVID. The CDC fairly quickly emerged and indicated that surface to surface spread was unlikely to be a significant contributor of COVID. Human to human spread however was a significant risk. The challenges that hotels were looking to address with combating the spread of COVID can also be leveraged to address what is a very challenging labor market for our hotels. There are efficiencies that can be derived from automation – either through the use of kiosks and or automated cleaning efforts that might be able to provide an elevated customer engagement approach for our more limited staff.
Van: What surprised you the most during COVID?
Scott: How quickly it was upon us and how dramatically our business was impacted. And I guess the duration. I never expected it to have this long of an impact.
Van: Have you noticed an increase in guest engagement with the Marriott Bonvoy™ app? If so, do you attribute any of that to a desire for lower touch interactions? Has anything stuck out about how guests interact with the app?
Scott: We have seen an increase in usage of the chat functionality as well as F and B ordering but I cannot definitively say if that is directly correlated to a behavioral shift due to COVID or other circumstances (i.e. restaurants have limited seating, hotels front desks busier – chat easier, etc.). Regardless – happy to see the adoption taking hold whichever the driver.
Van: What changes from Covid do you think are here to stay? Do you see any of them playing into existing trends in hospitality, such as increased personalization
Scott: If the COVID pandemic did anything, it undercut our trust and expectations – in general. We had never experienced anything of this magnitude and impact in our lifetimes. Those things that we had come to just ‘expect’ were no longer possible. Instilling that trust again in our company, our brand is really something we focused heavily on. Guests stay at our hotels because of their expectations of quality and consistency. These are high expectations to live up to – and proved to be more challenging in a time of crisis – but I think Marriott did extremely well in re-initiating this trust. Additional cleanliness protocols are here to stay. Mobile check-in, automated key, texting for assistance – all functions that were on the ascendancy prior to COVID – only proved their worth more so after.
I also think travel will come back – fully. While technology is my profession – it simply is not a pure substitute for human interaction. I know that sounds trite – but it is 100% true. Personal travel is already back, business travel is coming back and group travel will be back starting in Q4 of this year.
This crisis has made us more focused, efficient and competitive – but most of all more compassionate and ultimately more hospitable in every sense.