Travel and tourism has been one of the sectors hardest hit by the global COVID-19 pandemic. As those of us in hospitality design and development try to understand the implications of the pandemic and the steps ahead of us, we’ve found that we’ve been more connected than ever to the community around us—seeking understanding together.
Recently, we connected with two organizations and publications—the Boutique Lifestyle Leaders Association and Design Insider—for webinars that explored efforts in the hospitality industry to support struggling communities, changes we foresee in hotel design going forward and—most importantly—encouraging signs for our industry in 2020 and beyond.
Where—in this newly dubbed Time of Uncertainty—can we look for a small dose of optimism?
On March 12, Chinese officials reported that the nation had passed its peak of new COVID-19 cases; less than a month later, China’s Purchasing Managers Index—a leading economic indicator—started to show evidence of a V-shaped recovery.
While this recovery is still a projection, Mainland China’s hospitality sector has already shown a marked improvement. Rising from a record low of 7.4% in February, daily occupancy rose to 31.8% by March 28, and 87% of hotels are again open for business—a welcome statistic to hotels in communities that are still sheltering in place and expecting to see their COVID-19 peaks in the coming days and weeks.
With new challenges come new ways of thinking, and many of those could lead to lasting improvements to our hotels. We’re currently seeing innovations—both in the technologies and procedures of hotel operations, and also in design and development processes—that will continue to shape our habits even after physical and economic recovery.
Hotel cleaning procedures are likely to experience a new level of commitment and attention, not only to assure guests that their accommodations are pristine, but also to keep hotel staff safe by limiting their exposure. The Westin Houston Medical Center has recently become the first hotel in the U.S. to utilize sanitizing robots to disinfect surfaces in both guest rooms and public areas. Already in use in hundreds of hospitals, these robots made by disinfecting services company Xenex may prompt both robotics and germicidal UV light to be integrated into hotel operations around the world.
Another innovation that may be here to stay is our remote connection and collaboration. We’ve been pleased to experience a smooth transition—both for us and for our clients—to this new way of conducting day-to-day business with video chats and a whole host of new technologies.
In this industry—where tactile experiences and personal relationships mean everything— conducting in-person site visits and meeting face to face have always been a priority. With that kind of travel currently unavailable, several of our active projects are adopting practices like remote model room reviews—where only the contractor is on site, streaming live video to the review’s participants. As hospitality designers, developers and brands look to streamline processes in the coming months and years, it’s possible that these numerous forms of innovation and efficiency—currently born of necessity—will become the preferred way of doing business.
At a time when all of us are in need of uplifting news, it’s been gratifying to see so many examples of empathy in our industry.
To provide resources in communities where supplies are languishing in the storage rooms of empty hotels, owners and operators are stepping up to donate toilet paper, shower caps and other products that can be used as personal protective equipment (PPE). In a Virginia suburb of Washington D.C., we’re inspired by the story of 7-year-old Zohaib Begg’s effort to coordinate with local hotels—resulting in the donation of over 6,000 pieces of PPE to local front-line healthcare workers.
Hotels have also found a way to be of service to healthcare workers who need to ensure the safety of their own families. Hilton and American Express have partnered for an initiative to donate up to 1 million hotel room nights to hospital staff and emergency responders who have been resorting to measures like sleeping in their cars in order to avoid coming in contact with family members and potentially infecting them. Here in Chicago, two hotels that were co-developed and are co-owned by The Gettys Group—Hotel Felix and Hotel Cass—have partnered with the City of Chicago in a similar effort, offering housing to those who have been diagnosed with COVID-19, but are asymptomatic and do not need to utilize strained hospital resources.
Update, April 17, 2020: Follow the registration link below to access a recording of this webcast.
We invite you to join Roger Hill and other leaders of hospitality in a discussion presented by Hospitality Design Magazine.
The event is free, but registration is required for this in-depth conversation on resiliency, decision-making, and teamwork in uncertain times.