As the industry recovers from the effects of COVID-19, the challenges independent owners and operators face have been exacerbated.
Coronavirus has ushered in a new “contactless” guest experience, including arrival, check-in and room access. Because new processes and technologies can often open up new vulnerabilities, there is a heightened sensitivity around keeping guests’ Personally Identifiable Information out of the wrong hands.
But independent hotels that don’t have access to brand resources – such as loyalty programs, mobile apps and other guest-facing technology – must find alternative ways to compete with their branded brethren in the new normal of guest-facing operations.
To get some property-level perspective, we recently spoke with Stacy Warner, director of sales and marketing at Eat.Drink.Sleep, an ownership and management company with a portfolio of seven high-design, F&B-driven independent hotels in California and Arizona.
Q: How were the Eat.Drink.Sleep hotels affected by coronavirus, and are they recovering?
Warner: A handful of our hotels stayed open for the essential travelers, but business was abysmal. Thankfully, they’re all open now with San Diego leadership recently permitting us to welcome leisure business again.
We did have to decrease our staff size, but we made the decision early on to keep a significant amount of staff on property. They were there to answer calls and provide as much information as they could. We didn’t want someone who booked a wedding to not be able to talk to someone on property for two months. Now that we’re opening back up, we’re really glad we made that investment and we are in a much better place. We were able to avoid a lot of messes.
Q: Who oversees technology decisions at the organization?
Warner: We’re pretty fluid with how things happen. A lot of the technology decisions stem from me, but sometimes we get owners who come to us and suggest applications that they’ve used elsewhere. That was the case with Canary, but it can go in both directions.
Q: What led you to respond to COVID with more modern technology solutions?
Warner: From the get go, we wanted guests to know that we’re taking this seriously, so we were looking at pretty much all the technology and other ways to keep them safe, from electromagnetic sprayers to foggers in the rooms.
But, just as importantly, we also wanted to show our staff how seriously we’re taking COVID-19 because they’re on the frontlines, and if we’re going to ask them to learn new ways to safely take care of our guests, it’s on us to give them all the possible tools.
Q: What specific tools have you implemented?
Warner: We started with moving our credit card authorizations into a more secure environment. It was pretty much a no-brainer. Email is not a compliant way to communicate guest information, so we were getting it over fax, which was even wonkier. We felt this dual pressure to keep our guests’ information safe as it was communicated to us, as well as keep it in a secure place in case we need to access it later.
At the front desk, we put the plexiglass up for guests who wanted that option, but now we’re using Contactless Check-in. We looked at a lot of solutions, and we were not in a situation where we could launch a mobile key and ask our owners to make that kind of investment. Most brands accomplish that through their app, but for an independent it’s tough to ask guests to download an app at each hotel they stay at. Contactless Check-in is not a very complicated product, it just lays on top of what you already have, and it works really well.
Q. As you open back up, how quickly were you able to get Contactless Check-in from Canary up and running?
We talked about it on Wednesday, and we were rolling it out on Monday. I was asking myself, “Is this real?” They were very flexible with terms and you appreciate that when you’re a small company.
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