Redesigning hotels to welcome back guests

Hotels focus on safety for guests eager to travel after COVID-19 lockdowns

May 27, 2020

(Photo by NOEL CELIS/AFP via Getty Images)

Plexiglas shields at check-in counters and buffet lines, sealed hotel rooms, bar seats one meter apart: Welcome to the new hotel experience.

These are just some of the efforts hotel groups are introducing to create a robust system around health and hygiene in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Bangkok-based hospitality group Onyx, luxury chain Anantara Resorts, and Hong Kong’s Ovolo Group have all recently announced revamped measures. Global hotel groups such as Hyatt, Marriott, Four Seasons and Hilton have announced similar safety measures – incorporating electrostatic sprayers to sanitise surfaces, partnering with disinfectant companies, and enlisting the help of health care experts  to design new guidelines and protocols.

With people aching to start traveling again after months of lockdown amid COVID-19, the aim is to create an environment that prioritizes safety and bolsters confidence levels of hotel guests.

“The hospitality industry is going through a transformational change and the effects of the pandemic are accelerating its evolution,” says Alex Sigeda, Vice President, Strategic Advisory & Asset Management, JLL Hotels & Hospitality Asia Pacific. “At the top of the agenda for many hotel owners and operators is giving travellers the reassurance of guest safety and strict hygiene standards by securing professional certifications and independent accreditations.”

Design for new normal

Given the Asia Pacific region was first to experience the effects of the coronavirus, there are signs that it will be also among first to re-emerge.

Travel within China has already picked up, with the five-day May Day holiday period seeing 115 million domestic trips. Korea-based Asiana Air and Korean Air recently resumed the frequency of their domestic flights. Vietnam has recently eased its social distancing measures and reopened the country to domestic tourism. Thailand is gradually easing its lockdown restrictions.

For hotels, this has increased the urgency around rethinking existing operations, such as buffet lines, check-in and check-out processes, and the layouts of lobbies, function rooms and guestrooms. Menu design, seating arrangements and queue management systems are also being reviewed as part of the increased focus on sanitisation and contamination prevention. Meeting packages and events programs are being revised to accommodate safety requirements around meals and social distancing, while additional IT requirements are being considered to allow for increase in remote conferencing.

Hotels in Asia are at the front end of assessing how to cater to travellers emerging from lockdowns with new sets of protocols and expectations. Hong Kong’s Marco Polo Prince Hotel, which is currently undergoing renovations, is enlarging its club lounge by 30 percent for more space and privacy while the size of its conference and events space will be adjusted for smaller parties.

“Beyond adding more floor space and clever spatial design to prevent congestion and address social distancing, we could potentially see hotels increasing the number of elevators to prevent overcrowding,” says Sigeda. “On reviewing current load management and elevator efficiencies, some hotels could potentially consider activating service lifts for guest usage during peak periods.”

In addition to the increased focus on space utilisation and functionality of hotel’s hardware, Sigeda says, equal consideration is being given to the softer design touches. Furnishing and surface materials used in hotels and restaurants are being reconsidered in favour of those that are antimicrobial, such as cork, that are easy to clean and sanitise.

Boon for technology

Various hotels are increasing their investment in technology in order to create a seamless, contactless stay. While mobile check-ins and digital key cards have already been popular across many hotels, the pandemic has increased their relevance.

Korean online travel unicorn Yanolja revealed that demand for its self-service kiosks launched last November more than doubled since COVID-19 broke. CEO Jong Yoon Kim told reporters at a South Korean travel conference the company is working on a solution that allows accommodation providers to allow guests to check in with simply a QR code.

Robots developed by Softbank Robotics debuted in Tokyo hotels used to house mild COVID-19 patients earlier this month. Besides providing services such as delivering key necessities and picking up meals for those quarantined in their rooms, the robots are also programmed to interact and “cheer patients on.”

In addition to robots getting a boost, Sigeda says hotels might look into technologies ranging from smart-disinfectant closets to germs-detecting ultraviolet scans to sanitise guestrooms to contact tracing check-in systems. Facial recognition, artificial intelligence and other similar technologies are also bound to make a more prominent stay in the hospitality space.

“We expect data to become more important in the day-to-day operations, especially in hotel restaurants and facilities popular with events and conferences. Hotels could further adopt available technology in the fields of building and space management to ensure better ventilation, air and water quality, monitor humidity levels, and control number of people in common areas to prevent densification,” he adds.

While the industry is stalled at the moment, there is no doubt the travellers will return eventually. “And when they do, the guest experience will need to seamlessly address the new normal,” says Sigeda. “More privacy, more security and more safety assurances will become among the basic expectations from the travellers.”