Hotels have always been clean — standards were already very high and have continued to rise over the years. However, the outbreak of Covid-19 inevitably led to a review of these standards, and new expectations have now been established. WHO shared its guidelines for the accommodation sector, while major hotel brands created their own criteria and governments and industry associations set new benchmarks. Larger brands have formed partnerships with experts in hygiene, including Hilton with Lysol and IHG with Ecolab and Diversey.

Of course, the main reason for raising the cleaning standards was to prevent the spread of coronavirus but, almost as importantly for hoteliers, there was a need to restore the confidence of guests as well as employees.

Both groups needed to trust that the environment they were entering was clean and safe. Maybe the most obvious indicator was the temperature check for anyone setting foot in the hotel environment, but there was always a lot more going on. Although temperature checks seem easy enough, staff needed to be trained to handle people who were not keen to have their temperature taken and, crucially, respond appropriately if an unfavourable result was delivered.

Less contact but more engagement was the name of the game. Communication was the panacea – isn’t that true of almost everything in life? Maintaining trust and creating new loyalties were paramount. Minimising the number of things that guests physically touched kept everyone happy. Technology had to be an enabler and an effective yet subtle support tool – nothing new there, perhaps, but never has the focus been so acute.

New routines had to be put in place everywhere, from crude one-way systems to socially distanced queuing options. Again, the reasons were twofold: not only to protect the safety of guests, visitors and staff, but also to reassure them that everyone cared.

Switched on

There is a whole other article to be written from the viewpoint of housekeepers about various sprays and their effectiveness, air quality and circulation – but we are concerned with enhanced digital engagement as a result of the pandemic.

At HOSPA’s annual conference last year, delegates were asked if they had relied more heavily on technology during the pandemic. A staggering 80% said they had, and the vast majority cited automating what had previously been a manual process as the main advantage of this.

“New routines had to be put in place everywhere… Not only to protect the safety of guests, visitors and staff, but also to reassure them that everyone cared.”


HOSPA delegates that said they relied more heavily on technology during the pandemic.


Easy and cost-effective options like QR codes made a massive comeback when hotels reopened after the initial lockdown period, and this is only likely to continue. I believe there were two reasons for this. First, the more obvious benefit of reducing touchpoints and allowing guests to use their own device – often as simple as their mobile phone – to read guest directories, view menus, place orders and make payments, among others. The second reason for the comeback was the simplicity of reading a QR code.

When they were first introduced, users needed special apps to read the code, but now smartphones allow users to move the camera over the QR code to open the appropriate page. These quick wins enabled hotel managers to remain agile and rapidly meet new guest demands.

More difficult decisions were those that involved larger amounts of expenditure – especially at a time when income was already typically not meeting outgoings. Investment in technology always has to add value, but the spotlight shone brighter than usual during the pandemic.

While shrewd IT directors were able to make snap decisions to accelerate some plans that were already in place, others were not so lucky. Online check-in and check-out became vital, and fortunately many hotels already had these systems up and running for some time. The same goes for digital key cards – and if these innovations were in the planning stage, it was really a no-brainer to hasten their delivery.

However, not all decisions were as simple, and some pressing short-term needs had to be met in order for hotels to reopen. In many cases, management teams were forced to make quick decisions while not losing sight of commercial wisdom. During lockdown periods, owners and operators with multiple hotels in close proximity to each other were able to consolidate all their demand into fewer properties, thereby only opening a reduced number of locations and maximising efficiency by limiting the number of staff at work. The sharing of guest data across multiple properties had never been so important, and for some this meant enhancing current systems to allow for the transfer of reservations and enquiries from one hotel to the next.

Working from home added another new dimension to automation. It goes without saying that some roles cannot be completed effectively from anywhere other than the hotel, but other office-based roles blossomed with new-found efficiency.

“The best solution seems to be to give guests a choice. Some may prefer to have a fully digital experience, from booking through to checkout, while others will always appreciate the personal interaction.”

Entire back-office processes were reviewed and optimised in the wake of the pandemic. Finance teams were able to take advantage of a reduction in the number of transactions being processed, allowing them to take a more holistic view of operations.

Make the best of it

Meanwhile, revenue management demands were often unrecognisable. Brands that had previously benefitted from cherry-picking the best of the international business travel market had to flip their mindset into generating any demand they could find. It has been a testing time, but hopefully some aspects have had positive long-term effects.

As most people working in hospitality are positive by nature, they have endeavoured to remain optimistic and take advantage of the lull in normal business to take a step back and review day-to-day activity.

Many HOSPA members are from the technology community and many are from finance. In the UK market, IT departments can enhance their internal sales process by educating finance teams about their ability to claim R&D tax credits from HMRC. Similar opportunities may also be available in other countries, and it is worth investigating.

Lastly, now there is more technology in place across the hotel industry and this trend is likely to last, it is still important not to lose sight of the human touch in hospitality. The best solution seems to be to give guests a choice. Some may prefer to have a fully digital experience, from booking through to check-out, while others will always appreciate the personal interaction.

There is no way to predict what guests will choose – it depends on so many ephemeral factors: the time of day, the guest’s mood and, naturally, the reason behind their visit to your hotel. And don’t underestimate the guest’s desire to engage with new platforms – it is all too easy to assume it is only digital-savvy millennials that are keen to adopt new tech, but it’s most definitely not as simple as that!

The most important takeaways, therefore, are to play the long game with any investments in IT; look into any tax breaks; think commercially; don’t use technology for the sake of it; and don’t gather and save data unless you actually want to make use of the information.