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Is it safe to rent an Airbnb, Vbro or vacation home right now?

With Memorial Day weekend fast approaching and summer nipping at its heels, renting a vacation home may seem like the perfect way to get a change of scenery while maintaining social distancing protocols. Alison Kwong, a spokesperson for booking site Vrbo confirms that, beginning in mid-April, they started to see more U.S. demand on its platform, especially for longer trips toward the end of summer.

Are vacation rentals safe?

While rental booking sites like Airbnb and Vrbo have set out to establish cleanliness guidelines, Dr. Andrew Janowski, instructor of pediatric infectious diseases at Washington University School of Medicine/St Louis Children’s Hospital, says the biggest and most under-appreciated weapon renters have against coronavirus is time.

“From the study that evaluated how long the virus persists on surfaces, we know the virus can be stable on some surfaces for up to three days,” Janowski explains. “The longer the home has been unoccupied, the better. I would be concerned there could be infectious virus if someone was in the home in the past day or two, but after about three days, I think the risk is exceedingly small.”

Dr. Thomas A. Russo, chief of the division of infectious diseases at the University at Buffalo Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, agrees. “The major mode of transmission of this virus is respiratory. If those respiratory infectious particles land on a high-touch area, and you then touch your eyes, your nose, or your mouth, etc., there’s a finite risk you could get infected. However, this virus has a half-life (meaning there is less and less of it over time). So, if you rent a house and, assuming the high-touch areas have been cleaned, the risk of getting the virus from the physical objects in the house is very low,” he says.

How can you make sure your rental is cleaned properly?

Online booker Vrbo recommends landlords allow 24 hours, while Airbnb recommends a CDC compliant cleaning protocol and asks landlords to agree to a minimum 24-hour buffer after a guest checks out. Hosts that can’t commit to the cleaning protocol can opt-in to a 72-hour booking buffer between stays.

Janowski recommends having an open conversation with the owner about when the last person was in the home, and perhaps, get that reassurance in writing. “The more recently someone has entered the home, the higher the risk.” Janowski explains. “This would be the one area I would push really hard if I was considering renting a home from someone.”

If the home was recently occupied by cleaners or a previous tenant, Janowski says it might make sense to delay your stay for a couple of days, even though the risk of staying in a rented home that had been entered by others recently was fairly small — and even smaller if it was recently cleaned. “The problem is that I wouldn’t know where those people had been in the home and what areas where cleaned.”

What should you clean when you get there?

Russo says it’s important to weigh your personal risk as well as the general risk of exposure. “If you’re in a high-risk group you might be more inclined to be extra cautious,” Russo says.

Shared areas

Some cleaning products work better than others at killing the viral particles of coronavirus — just make sure you use them safely. The CDC recommends cleaning and disinfecting “high-touch surfaces,” like tables, hard-backed chairs, doorknobs, light switches, phones, tablets, touch screens, remote controls, keyboards, handles, desks, toilets and sinks.

Cups and plates

Wash any plates, cups, or silverware (other than pre-wrapped plastic) with dish soap and hot water, and dry thoroughly before using.


Janowski says clean sheets are of very low risk to renters. “The lone risk to the renter would be whether the person making the bed coughed or sneezed on the sheets. One way to get around this is to talk to the owner and ask if you could get clean sheets from them and then you could make your own bed.”

Common areas

If you’re renting an apartment or condo in a complex, Janowski also recommends asking landlords about common areas in the building or neighborhood to get a handle on what’s open or closed, and how social distancing is practiced. “Everyone should still wash their hands after coming into contact with objects in common areas,” he says.


Janowski says pools are generally safe as the water would dilute out any viral particles that are shed into them. “The chlorine in the pool will also help to breakdown the virus so no additional cleaning is needed. My biggest concern isn’t the water, it’s the people around the water. People still need to practice good social distancing once you are out of the water in any shared pool areas,” he says.

Last but not least, don’t forget to wipe down the keys, says Janowski.

Should you quarantine when you get there?

Whether or not you should quarantine depends on if you’ve been exposed to someone with possible symptoms, or who tests positive. If you have, the CDC says you should quarantine at home. Assuming you’ve already been sheltering in place with your travel companions and everyone is in good health, social distancing on your journey — with a mask and using hand sanitizer — is vital.

What activities are safe when you get there?

Quiet, unpopulated hiking trails are one thing, crowded beaches are another.

“The greatest risk is what you decide to do on that vacation, and how many people you come in contact with and what part of the world you’re in,” Russo explains. “We can’t make risk go to zero, so you have to pick and choose your risk battles, what you deem is most important. Bring your mask, wear your sunglasses and practice good hand hygiene.”


Hospitality Financial Leadership – What Will the Post Pandemic Hotel World Look Like?

Having been around awhile I have seen the changes that have come as a result of major global events. The starkest example is our pre- and post-911 world. It showed us that the idea of getting on an airplane means we need to prove we do not have any threatening objects with us, like guns, knives and explosives and we need to prove we are who we say we are. We even must prove we’re not a threat and that we’re on the right security list.

Talk about a big change in the way we travel – not to mention the changes in technology and investment.

I think the other side of this pandemic is going to see some profound changes in the traveling world and the hotel business. In this piece, I am going to get my crystal ball out and make some predictions:

  1. Prove you are healthy. Right now, it seems that testing and determining who has had the virus, who has the antibodies, who has a fever, etc., is the path forward to re-opening our world. Will we need to be tested before we travel? Will we need to prove we have had the vaccine or antibodies before we get on a plane in the future? How will hotels receive guests? Will we all need proof we are healthy before we can interact with one another? I can see that this would be a possibility. What will that mean for hotels, restaurants and bars?
  2. Cleanliness scores. In the past two decades, we have seen the social media phenonium of service scores and customer ranking of our hotel world that has had a major impact on how we are perceived by the public. I think going forward that the same applies to our cleanliness. The brand and hotels that have the highest cleanliness scores will be in higher demand by the public. I see a boom in the way this information is collected and used.
  3. Cleaning methods. How we clean our rooms and facilities now is probably not what will work going forward. The public and our governments will demand higher and more transparent cleaning standards. The idea that the same cloth can be used to clean several surfaces in one room sends a chill down my back. Our industry must do better, and perceptions need to change. The brand and hotels with cleaner facilities win.
  4. Room certifications. Our guests will be demanding clean rooms. We need to come up with a way to guarantee that our rooms are germ-free. I recently saw a video where a hospital room was being sanitized by a UV robot. Will our rooms need the same level of sanitation and evidence of the same? Will customers expect this and will our facilities with such abilities be able to charge a premium?
  5. Healthy employees. We are already hearing that employers will need to ensure their employees are healthy before they are allowed back at work. Does this mean each day before we allow our staff to come inside our buildings that we need to screen them? How will we do this efficiently and what will it cost? Let’s face it, our biggest liability going forward might be what we currently hold as our biggest asset. Our people all go home each day to their unique environments and then they come back to our guests. How will we ensure they are germ-free?
  6. Touchless everything, like check-ins and guest room doors. Anything we can do to remove the need to touch surfaces like elevators, tv remotes, thermostats, etc. will be welcome enhancements that are going to separate the men from the boys when it comes to clients choosing where to stay.
  7. GOPPAR index. The focus will shift from REVPAR index to GOPPAR index. Owners will demand greater transparency and the only way this can be delivered is by comparing the performance of your hotel to a competitive set. Higher REVPAR must translate into higher profits. Right now, these comparisons are possible but, as an industry, we do not embrace this process. The future will demand more transparency and the hotels and brands that get in front of this will be rewarded. Read more about that here. We need a new champ.
  8. Financial leadership. Our business has always been about providing great service, having engaged colleagues and generating profit. The first one has always been visible, great service. Since the dawn of time that has been our mantra. Colleague engagement was a more recent phenomenon that our industry embraced in the last three-four decades. The future belongs to the hotels and brands that drive financial leadership skills into all areas of the operation. Having leaders that know how to manage their payroll and expenses and flex those against business levels will be paramount to success. Being the brand that develops its managers financially and creates great financial leadership bench strength will be rewarded handsomely.

I know I do not have a real crystal ball – just my limited view of our world. But one thing is for sure, this is our wake-up call and things are going to change BIG TIME.

Who will be ready to rise to the challenge – who leads the way?
I hope we can come together as an industry and meet these challenges.


Hospitality industry launches code of conduct to tackle recruitment crisis

Our Hospitality Commitment has been developed by People 1st International, employers and colleges to combat the key challenges around working hours and learning and development.

The intention is to highlight the diverse career opportunities across the sector and show that the industry is working together to be seen as an employer of choice.

Sandra Kelly, director of skills & policy at People 1st International, said: “Many large hospitality businesses are making fundamental changes to offer a different and better quality job experience. However, attempts to change the wider perception of the industry and to show that it is changing for the better can only be done if industry works together and commits to being an ‘employer of choice’, providing good quality training, work-life balance and support to their people.”

Sean Wheeler, chair of the People 1st International employer-led college accreditation board and former director of people development for Kimpton UK & Regent Hotels at InterContinental Hotels Group, added: “Our Hospitality Commitment is critical if we want to retain people in the industry. Work life balance, development and wellbeing support are basic needs that all people require today. These have to be part of the day-to-day ways of working if we want to ensure we retain talent today and for tomorrow.”

The five-red-AA-star, 300-bedroom Landmark London hotel is one of the first operators to sign up to Our Hospitality Commitment. 

Nicola Forshaw, director of human resources at the hotel, said: “We believe that Our Hospitality Commitment sits well with our beliefs and values. As an industry it is important that we show the diversity of roles and careers open to any future applicants, as well as giving existing team members the opportunity and tools to grow and develop. Hospitality is amazing – and we should shout about it!”

The Retreat Group, comprising three hotels in St Davids, Pembrokeshire – Twr y Felin Hotel, Roch Castle and Penrhiw Priory – is also a supporter of Our Hospitality Commitment. Paula Ellis, group general manager, said the initiative highlighted the positive and empowering culture in place across the company which has resulted in an annual staff turnover of just 6%.

“We are located in one of the most challenging geographical locations in the country – in the most westerly point of Wales, surrounded on three sides by the sea, so it is not easy to recruit staff. I therefore run the hotels as a Mother Hen, believing the carrot is stronger than the stick. Words like blame and fault are banned – instead we use support and help.”

Our Hospitality Commitment involves a voluntary code of conduct to help attract talent and retain current people. The key points which signatories will be expected to follow include: 

• A training/development plan in place for each employee.
• The availability of job rotation and cross training.
• A good work-life balance, involving the issuing of schedules and rosters in a timely manner, as well as allocating days off where requested according to the employee requirements.
• The approval or rejection of holidays in a timely manner.
• Treating staff with respect.
• The building of relationships with local schools, colleges and universities with the intention of promoting the hospitality industry as a reputable career choice.
• Ensuring third party safeguarding/employee assistance support is available to all .
• Ensuring mental health, human trafficking and modern slavery awareness is available to all.


Investing in the Guest Experience

Many will recall the 2017 brand crisis, which cost United Airlines $1.4 billion in value practically overnight after a passenger incident where injured while being forcibly removed from a fully boarded, sold-out flight went viral. This situation showcased the enormous impact of customer experience, and arguably there is no industry in which the experience holds more weight than hospitality. So, it comes as no surprise that the recent Hospitality Technology Sentiment Surveyrevealed an increase in IT investments into “Guest Experience” products, with 46.63% of respondents naming this category as the primary focus.

Hoteliers are in the business of curating exceptional experiences for a diverse portfolio of guests, across varied travel segments. Everything a hotelier does, from the aesthetic of a hotel property, the customer service standards, the amenities offered to guests, on-property experiences, room decor and upgrades, helps to piece together the guest experience. Modern guests crave a more intuitive experience, which not only lends itself to a deeper connection with their hotel of choice, but also provides a faster, more intelligent and convenient service model. Fortunately, with the use of cutting-edge, guest-centric technology, seamlessly personalizing the guest experience from pre to post-stay is entirely possible.

According to Kevin King, COO of Shiji, there is an industry-wide shift in focus to digital transformation which centers on continuously enhancing the guest experience, interactions, and converting guests into returning visitors and ambassadors to increase their lifetime value. Connie Rheams, Global Vice President, Global Accounts Sales at Oracle, echoed this opinion during a HITEC interview conducted by the Hospitality Net team, explaining that the technological investments which deliver the biggest ROI are always built around people.

As hoteliers actively seek out new technology and vendors who promise to deliver on enhanced guest engagement, what will act as the key differentiator? How can hoteliers remain ahead of emerging demands for personalization and knowing the guest on a deeper level?

Delving into the subject of the guest experience, Hospitality Technology Sentiment Survey respondents were asked to name the top technology-enabled features they will always use when staying at a hotel. Wi-Fi (80.51%), climate control (43.75%), and USB plugs (33.82%) were the most popular choices for this segment. When asked to detail the one technology that causes the most frustration when booking or staying at a hotel, respondents named slow booking process, poor Wi-Fi connection, non-functioning door-lock key cards, repeating details at check-in, and more.

Hoteliers should strive to provide guests with enhanced convenience, in tandem with technology that allows them to control their journey. Fortunately, mobile technologies and social media have introduced more options for customers to interact, creating new opportunities and challenges. When guests do not have the freedom to choose their preferred communication channel, it causes additional friction. With the utilization of self-service functionality across mobile devices and kiosks, guests can use technology to shape their unique journey across every touchpoint of their stay. Many guests are opting to bypass the front desk to check in and to access their room via smartphones. Others prefer texting with a virtual concierge to get the answers they need quickly while others enjoy the one-to-one interaction with hotel staff.

The survey also queried organizations about the allocation of budgets for IT projects, which are purely serving innovation or research without any immediate expectations in ROI or guest experience. There was a noticeable divide between suppliers and hoteliers. 61.98% of hoteliers said “no,” whereas 73.42% of suppliers said “yes”. This seems to imply that suppliers may be missing the mark when it comes to technology development and priorities. This also sometimes holds true for top management and IT, who are two independent divisions within hotel companies. They should be aligned, on both the business and IT side, for their guest experience vision. Both the teams should choose the technology solutions together, keeping in mind the end goal.

These insights and trends make it clear that the guest experience revolution is just beginning. More and more, hotel organizations rely on technology to understand guests, provide quicker resolutions, empower personalized interactions, and proactive engagement before, during and after the stay. Technology and open API connectivity between systems are critical components that should drive technology strategies. When asked if APIs are expected to gain greater traction versus standards organizations such as HTNG or OTA, 78.51% of hoteliers said yes, while 65.82% of suppliers said yes. From a vendor perspective, 67.09% indicated that they currently have an API available for their solution.

As far as 2020 and beyond? The world is changing, and the way hotels connect with their guests also needs to change. By improving the guest experience and empowering hotel staff with technology advancements that drive engagement instead of transactions, hotels will increase both loyalty and revenue. The trends point to seamless integrations, predictive analytics, personalization, robotics, automation, self-serve tools, digital applications and artificial intelligence as the technology priorities that will revolutionize guest experience in the hospitality industry for years to come. In the end, the hotels that show a deep understanding of their guests and are proactive in responding to their frustrations are set to win the guest experience race.


How augmented reality will help the hospitality industry

Augmented reality (AR) is being adopted as a tool to increase customer satisfaction and profitability across industries, including travel and hospitality. This fascinating technology superimposes useful data on top of the user’s environment in real time.

This integration of digital information provides a holistic experience that far supersedes any traditional standalone service we can offer today.

So, how does AR impact the hospitality industry?

The goal of any hospitality business is to enhance the customer experience. To this end, the industry has been a forerunner when it comes to adopting new technologies.

AR technology in hotels will transform the experience to one that aligns with the needs of the new generation of guests. The digital components of AR, like a live picture on various surfaces like TV or a minifridge, will add to the feeling of an infinite and yet connected space and add to a memorable experience.

Augmented reality smart glasses have hit the market, but for a regular hotel experience, guests can access AR through devices like tablets, smartphones, and headsets. These intelligent services and facilities will make guests feel hyper-connected, trendy, and right at home. Some of the popular uses of AR in the hospitality space include a guide to introduce guests to the hotel’s facilities; helping them find services in the hotel; amenities of the room; and information about lounges, parking areas, the fitness center, etc.

For international travel, AR will become a viable translator/interpreter, making it easy for international guests to communicate in foreign lands. This means traveles can easily find the various services they need with the help of smart AR devices.

AR is an excellent tool for maps and direction, too. All guests have to do is point their smart devices at the maps app, and they will be guided to their destination.

Augmented reality is also changing the way customers interact with brands and companies. It delivers immersive experiences through its many real-world applications that allow customers to get a different perspective of a brand. AR has the intrinsic ability to improve customer experience, which ultimately will lead to a healthy bottom-line.

Investing in a customized AR app is good for a hotel business. It will help deliver an excellent customer experience by offering the right information at the right time and place.

Some of the cool features that will help AR-driven hotel experiences stand out to include interactive hotel rooms, augmented environments that help guests explore the establishment, gamification of destination experiences, beacon technology to guide them, and virtual keys that get activated through proximity.

Businesses can integrate the app with their enterprise systems, CRMs, and maintenance systems to gain more insights about their customers and then use the knowledge to enhance their services. As an automated tool that is integrated with the maintenance systems, augmented reality can help boost productivity, efficiency, and decrease costs. As a preventive maintenance tool, it will help keep guests safe.


Tourism is bad for locals and the environment. How do we fix this?

Who doesn’t want a vacation right about now? Especially as the weather gets worse here in Connecticut, jetting away to somewhere livelier and warmer sounds nice. There’s just one problem: You have to be a tourist.  

The tourism industry is a world of contradictions. It is opulent for those at the top but often leaves the actual destinations destitute. It is beloved by the governments that prosper from it but is often reviled by actual citizens. It can give tourists a more worldly perspective but also contribute to a great deal of injustice. How do we reconcile these problems? 

Tourism has been around for a long time — the Seven Wonders of the World were tourist sites for the ancient Greeks and Romans. Historically, the rationale for all this travel has been “just don’t think about it too hard.” But just as technological advances have made travel more available for the average person, they have made us more aware of the state of the world. As it turns out, there is a large, dark underbelly to the glamor of tourism.  

At its best, the tourism industry allows funds to be redistributed from the wealthy visiting far-off places to the local communities in those places. However, this isn’t always the case. The interests of tourists are not always or even often in line with those of the residents.  This is especially true in places with unstable or corrupt governments. Perhaps infrastructure upgrades can be helpful to the region, but is it really fair to say that knick-knack shops are a route to actual economic progress? Or how about restaurants catering to tourists that are of little affordability or interest to the residents?  

Jobs near tourist destinations too often end up being low-paying and unfulfilling. So, while tourism can be helpful for development, it is not necessarily economically sustainable. This is especially true in the most vulnerable places, as nothing ruins a tourism industry like war or civil unrest.  

Unsustainable is often the word that comes up when discussing tourism’s environmental impact as well. Tourism can be done in a way that is not overly detrimental to the environment, but these ways are less fun and comfortable, or at least are perceived as so. There is no doubt that planes carting travellers all around the world at every moment is not the best for the environment, though. The pampering of much of the tourism industry also results in a lot of waste byproducts. These aren’t problems inherent to the tourism industry in particular, but consumerism as a whole is rampant there. 

The largest problem with tourism is the ethical grayness of the way in which the industry conducts itself. Ideally, tourism allows for the broadening of perspectives, the understanding of cultures other than your own. Is it successful in this? 

Well, that’s a loaded question. Many governments around the world are very careful to craft a specific image of themselves to tourists. North Korea is the most stark modern example of this, but every country does it to a certain extent. After all, if a country is making a lot of money off of tourism, keeping a good reputation is necessary to keep people coming. In this way, the industry will try to hide unsavory or unappealing aspects of destination locations. Alternatively, they may exploit poverty in the region to sell an entirely different image, known as “slum tourism.” 

Furthermore, what of the tourist attractions themselves? Part of the reason Britain is such a nice tourist destination is all the history there. And nowhere can you get a more worldly view of historical artifacts than the British Museum. The great irony here, though, is that most of the items there are not originally British! Instead, it is a collection of things taken from all around the world. While it is spectacular to see so much, it leaves an uneasy feeling. By going there and supporting British tourism, are we not complicit in centuries of oppression?  

Of course, it is impossible to completely quash all of these contradictions. At the end of the day, tourism involves non-residents contributing to the local and national economies. So, when it comes time to budget out this money, sometimes the interests of the tourism industry will run counter to the interests of the local people. At the very least, thoughts should be put into how you travel and visit other places. While we cannot fix all the inherent issues, we can at least hold ourselves accountable to act respectfully, open-mindedly and thoughtfully. We can hold tourist destinations accountable for putting the sustainability and well-being of their own residents first. 


The importance of encouraging young people into Northern Ireland’s hospitality industry

Young people in Northern Ireland should be encouraged into hospitality or the industry could face a major shortage, an expert has said.

Caitriona Lennox, Business Development Manager for Mount Charles, has spoken of the importance of showing young people that a wide range of varying and viable career paths exist within the industry.

She explained: “There’s a serious shortage. The hospitality sector at the moment sustains 60,000 jobs across Northern Ireland. There are shortages in the industry and we need to address this. 

“We need to be seriously thinking how we can attract people into the industry.”

Recent research shows that there will be 30,000 vacancies to fill by 2025, with a need to recruit an extra 2000 chefs. 

Mount Charles, a catering and services company, employs over 2500 people.

Their annual Big School Cook Off Competition, in association with SuperValu, is a project aimed at encouraging the next generation of chefs and hospitality figures. 
Now in its fourth year, it is open to all post primary school pupils across Northern Ireland and Donegal, aged between 11 and 14. 

In teams of two, they are challenged to submit a main course recipe idea that feeds two, focusing on locally sourced ingredients that can be bought on a budget of a tenner, or euro equivalent. 

The recipes will be shortlisted on Friday, November 22, one per county, and the winning team from each county will progress to cook their recipe for an esteemed panel of judges at the grand finale of the competition next March, in Belfast Met’s Titanic Quarter Campus. 

County finalists will also be invited to perform a cookery demonstration of their dish, at their local SuperValu store in January, ahead of the final.

Caitriona explained there a wide range of opportunities available in the industry. 
She said: “I think in years gone by there was a perception the hospitality industry meant long hours, working at weekends, low rates of pay and no work-life balance. 

“That may have been the case years ago. But because that may have been the case a lot of employers are now saying: ‘Come and work for us, we do offer a work-life balance, we can give you four days a week, we can give you high rates of pay and we realise you’ve got families at home and we can accommodate that’. 

“The industry is getting much better at realising that people have more in their life than just work.

“In terms of attracting young people into the industry, the reason why the Big School Cook Off attracts students from 11-14 is because that’s the age group we need to be ‘tapping into’.

“There’s no point going to students when they’re already in colleges and universities because they’ve already made their choices on where they’re going.

“We want to get them early and plant the seed about what the opportunities are. There is an endless amount of opportunity in the industry.” 

Head of Marketing for SuperValu, Brendan Gallen, told Belfast Live that the competition fits in with their overall vision. 

He explained: “At Supervalu we have a focus on Real Food and Real People. What that’s about is wholesome, tasty food, provided by the passionate families and colleagues that operate SuperValu stores across the province. We want to make food inspiring for customers, ensuring that they can get great quality food at great value and all under one roof, where we’re making it easier to eat well. 

“So for us, being part of the Big School Cook Off allows us to encourage young people and their families to get into cooking, develop their interest in cooking and really look at their food and their ingredients. How do they use it, where does it come from and how do I create wholesome food from it?

“The locality of food is really important to us. We’ve put so much focus on local suppliers and local ingredients so we supported the Big School Cook Off because it really encourages young people to learn about where their food is coming from. 

“We see ourselves as foodies so we like the idea that we’re helping inspire the next generation of foodies.” 

Brendan added that shopping habits have also changed, with a focus on local and fresh produce. 

He said: “We’ve seen the focus change. The ability to buy fresh fruit and veg and meat is such a big driver for the shopper. We really focus our efforts on that as shopping habits have now changed so that people are now shopping little and often. What’s driving that is that they want to buy food when it’s fresh, they want to cut down on food waste and they want to shop in a way that is convenient to them, supporting their community in the process.”


Hoteliers and Technology: Why Hospitality Expertise Doesn’t Stop at Hospitality

In any industry, standards of education help to ensure brands have access to the talent they need to continue moving the needle and growing their product or offering. Within hospitality, we realize a similar need — as the landscape continues to evolve, hotel brands and vendors alike rely on having access to qualified talent, especially in the realm of IT.  The hospitality industry, as we know, is enormous and subject to continued growth. Within our sector exists a wide variety of exciting careers and rewarding management positions that cover the full spectrum of the guest experience. However, as hospitality technology continues to advance and standards of guest care are increasingly influenced by digital mediums, we arrive at the question: Are hospitality programs offering enough of an IT education component?

The recent Hospitality Technology Sentiment Survey presented by HospitalityNet™ and HFTP addressed this topic specifically when it asked hoteliers if they are concerned about access to the talent they need to achieve current IT goals while innovating and enhancing guest service. According to the survey results from hoteliers, 26.45% are ‘somewhat concerned’ while 24.79% are ‘very concerned’. Suppliers, on the other hand, have a different take with 22.87% saying they are concerned and more than twice as many ‘somewhat concerned’ (57.85%). Only 25.32% cited they are ‘not concerned.’ This not only encourages us to consider the need for up-and-coming talent while continuing on the path to innovation but also speaks to the need for dedicated IT emphasis within the education system.

To dig into this topic further, I asked Lyle Worthington, Technology Executive and Consultant & Past President of HFTP Global, to elaborate on what he believes to be the potential role of hospitality schools and university programs in the field of IT education.

“I think a comprehensive technology track should be a core component of any Hospitality business degree,” explains Lyle. “Mind you, I don’t simply mean a one-week intensive course, or a few tech-focused lessons crammed into the middle of a Microsoft Office class. Rather, I think you need at least two full semester-long classes covering the many important concepts and theories of technology which are applicable to our industry. If you want to be a leader in any area of hospitality operations or management, you have to realize that the technology you use is absolutely critical to your success,” continued Lyle. “Almost every point in our customer’s journey is impacted in some way by technology, and each day they become less tolerant of even the slightest technical issue. The key is not to become an IT expert, per se, but to exhibit a baseline level of knowledge that allows you to make intelligent technology business decisions. You should understand IT architecture and feel comfortable working side-by-side with IT professionals and consultants. You must be able to cut through industry buzz words and hype to make informed decisions on what new technology to implement and, more importantly, why. Moreover, hoteliers should be able to properly manage their relationships with technology vendors, whilst contributing their operational expertise to their brand’s big-picture IT strategy.”

The survey also indicated that the majority of respondents (43.14%) are working with increased IT budgets for 2020, while only 21.57% are working with the same IT budget as last year. Further, when asked to compare the importance of their IT budget to the perceived importance of other departmental budgets, 65% said it is awarded equal or greater importance. Of course, with this increased capacity for technology, comes a subsequent increased demand for individuals who know what to do with it.

Lyle added, “It’s far too easy for hoteliers to claim, “But I’m not an IT person!” Well, you’re not a plumber either, but you understand the concept of a toilet well enough to make sure it is installed correctly and functioning. Technology is a part of our business that we can’t function without, so it is time to recognize that, at the end of the day, we are in the IT business.”

Ultimately, the role of any hospitality expert is two-fold. Whether a hotelier or a vendor, in order to provide the highest level of service while ensuring an effective operational model, you simply must have a thorough grasp of modern technology implications and priorities.


Smart Building Technology Is Gaining Ground in Hospitality

The president of hotel technology integrator Mode:Green, Bill Lally, has a unique vantage point over the smart building landscape. Serving the luxury hotel market in New York City and elsewhere, Lally cut his teeth in the music and audio recording business and later audiovisual services. 

“I honestly haven’t figured out if everybody else is smart enough to stay out of the hospitality market or is crazy not to do it,” Lally said. 

The market is challenging, especially at the top end, where guests who pay tens of thousands of dollars per night for a hotel room expect perfection. 

But the luxury market segment also provides a chance to deploy smart building technologies that become mainstream over time. 

There are three main drivers of the hospitality sector’s embrace of smart building technology, according to Lally. “One is guest experience, two is back-end efficiency and three is what energy code is mandated,” he said. 

Starting with the final item last, many states, municipalities and major cities in the United States have mandates designed to help minimize wasted energy in unoccupied hotel rooms. Such rules, the increasing costs of heating and cooling buildings, are convincing more hotel execs to take action. On one end of the spectrum, occupancy detection systems help shut off lights automatically and adjust temperatures when guests are away. “Within major markets — New York, Chicago and Florida, for instance — [this trend] is growing.” 

Such technologies were once found in primarily luxury properties, but, in many areas, are required by code for any major renovation or new build. 

The second megatrend helping propel the use of smart building technology in the hospitality sector is shifting consumer expectations. Thanks to the widespread use of streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Video, many hotels gave up on the premise they can provide movies guests couldn’t see at home. The new emerging model is for guests to bring their own devices to the hotel and use the hotel room’s infrastructure to make it an extension of their home. 

A parallel trend is growing interest in voice control in hotels. Roughly one-quarter of the U.S. public now owns at least one smart speaker. And a growing number of high-end hotels took notice. “We’re seeing voice control take off more and more, especially in the U.S. markets where the systems are primarily English-speaking,” Lally said. 

Also related to IoT is the gradual shift of high-end hotels to focus on guest experience as it extends across the property. “How do you take that experience outside the guest room so that the technology is enabling you to access room services across a resort-wide spectrum or even outside the resort?” Lally asked. 

The final theme driving interest in smart building technology in the hospitality sector relates to operational efficiency. One example is the hotel doorbell technology that supports electronic do not disturb functionality. In essence, they replace the plastic “Do Not Disturb” signs of yore. “There’s a fair amount in Vegas. We’re seeing loads of them in New York now,” Lally said.  

From a connected hotel perspective, the functionality gives housekeeping staff the potential to remotely see which rooms they can service, allowing them to come up with a data-driven game plan of which rooms to clean in what order. That can limit the amount of time staff spend traveling up and down elevators while allowing them to steer housekeeping goods where they are most needed. “Especially in the larger hotels where labor rates are extremely high and overhead is high, this is tremendously helpful,” Lally said.

One idea floating around is that the smart hotel and smart home industries will, to a certain extent, converge. For example, a guest with an Amazon Echo smart speaker, who prefers to set their thermostat at 72 degrees Fahrenheit and listens to 1950s-era jazz with dimmed lights, can walk into a hotel room and have that experience delivered. 

When asked about that general concept, Lally said that, while it is possible to deliver such experiences now, “it’s not being done in very great lengths right now.” 

For one thing, to provide such an experience requires a significant investment from the hotel and the ability to amass customer preferences in the hotel’s computer reservation system, rewards program database or customer relationship management software. 

“Getting [guest preference] information to translate into a room control system is complicated as far as being able to read those different categories or preferences and being able to translate that into the room itself,” Lally said. For one thing, there are security and compliance matters. Such systems would have to carefully gather customer preference data without storing voiceprints or a credit card number a guest might provide while on the phone with a bank. 

Still, the gap between hotels and the home will likely narrow in years to come. “I’d say things are definitely headed there. It’s what we’re all working toward,” Lally said. 

High-end hotel properties will likely be the first to move in this direction. “It’s a lot of work, and it’s not the cheapest work to do from the hotel or developer standpoint. So a lot of it will be adapted in the luxury market first,” Lally said. “But it will trickle down once the [systems have been] built to support those types of things. It’s somewhat of a dream right now, but I’d say it’s not that far off. And it’s certainly something that everybody in the industry is striving for.”


Mindfulness: Improving The Culture Of Service In The Hospitality Industry

The hospitality industry is all about service—serving the customer’s needs and creating a customer experience that creates loyalty. We want them to come back again and again, trusting that not only will we do right by them, but that we will provide what they want, even if they don’t know what that is yet.

It’s a tall order, but in my history in the hospitality industry, I have worked with some legendary human beings who truly found their joy in service, like the waiter who can read a table as they sit down and know who is in authority and who needs a little bit of extra attention to set them at ease. Or accurately predicting what on the menu will please each person and suggesting modifications is an art form. Knowing how to resolve an issue with the food, even if it’s not about the food at all, with grace and courtesy is an art form too. These men and women set the bar high for anyone in any sort of service role, be that customer service, retail or corporate sales. The job is about setting and exceeding expectations through careful attention to what the customer needs.

I’ve worked in service since I was a child, serving guests at my parent’s resort, then working pretty much every position in foodservice from dishwasher and busser to server, manager, pastry and chef de cuisine. I will always believe that everyone should work in the service industry at least once to truly learn what service and respect are. But that’s for another, likely much longer rant.

Hospitality staff often work under very high stress and physical pressure, day after day. Obviously, this can result in a less-than-perfect attitude when they run into a challenging customer or co-worker. It’s a volatile environment. Stress like this can cause a number of maladaptive behaviors. Substance abuse, depression, aggression and behavioral sublimation are easily recognized by those in the business. It’s also common for emotional exhaustion to result in employees exhibiting obvious, forced emotions, which further erodes mental health.

Stemming from this stress, we may see a drop in productivity, efficiency, chronic tardiness or failure to show for work. Turnover rates depend on the culture of the organization and the general feeling of the team. Of course, all of this also trickles into family relationships or dropping out of school and support programs.

Whether you work in hospitality, sales, customer service or support, the job is all about service, but if you don’t have good tools to cope with it and support from the employer, it can be a harrowing experience.

What to do?

Organizations can be overlooking simple ways to improve company culture and the wellbeing of the staff. Offering personal development services can dramatically improve the culture and wellbeing of the entire organization.

According to a study on work-related mental health and job performance, mindfulness-based intervention (MBI) can be effective when a trained instructor works with employees to be more mindful.

MBI is a secular (not based on religion), conscious discipline around how we pay attention to our life. It’s most simply described by Jon Kabat-Zinn as the intentional cultivation of moment-to-moment awareness. Simply stated: being aware of the present moment without judgment of self or others.

The practices of mindfulness have been shown to be transformational in a number of industries. Westin hotels, General Mills, Goldman Sachs, Google and Facebook all have programs to aid employee wellness that goes beyond the usual insurance plans and on-site gyms.

Famed Chef Eric Ripert, owner of Le Bernardin, credits meditation for his transformation from screaming and plate-throwing to express himself, to a happier, more productive and compassionate chef.

Making It Work

A single meditation class is not going to change the culture overnight. The trick to making mindfulness part of the culture is in repetition and, especially, knowing that top-level executives are committed to their own wellbeing too. However, that doesn’t mean it has to disrupt service or workflow.

Examples can be as simple as:

• Learning to take a breath before approaching a table to bring attention to the guest for this moment.

• Developing mindful listening skills to be more attentive to body language as well as what the customer is saying and to ask better questions.

• Switching from the traditional “smoke break” to a “sanity break,” a way to get out of the fray for a moment and recollect. Consider creating a quiet room where micro-breaks can be taken without disruption.

• Spending time with employees to talk about stress and the benefits of mindfulness and meditation as well as the physical effects of stress.

• Creating opportunities for employees to learn more through repeating classes on emotional intelligence and mindfulness to boost self-awareness, resilience and communication skills.

• Considering subscriptions to training programs to promote mental fitness in the workforce. Even if there is not an established program, employees can learn simple methods of staying focused, reducing stress and conflict and improving the wellbeing of the entire organization through the use of micro-practices they can do anywhere any time.

Many of these practices are simple to do and not at all disruptive of the flow of work. The key is to create an environment where these tools are supported and a trainer who understands the complexity of the service industry and can accommodate the sometimes chaotic workflow.

Rather than adopting a rigorous program, it’s often best to start small and demonstrate results. It’s wonderful to hear someone say they feel more grounded and find jobs that were once onerous now less so. Finding joy in simple tasks allows us to be happier throughout our day and our life.