In times of uncertainty, travelers seek out the comforts independent hotels are known to provide: intuitive service, personal relationships and thoughtful hospitality.
There’s no doubt the coronavirus pandemic has severely impacted boutique hotels. With no handbook to guide hoteliers through this unprecedented time, it’s become evident that choosing when and how to reopen isn’t a cut-and-dry process.
While it will be a challenging road ahead, boutique hotels have an inherent advantage as they welcome visitors back. Thanks to their smaller size and independent nature, boutique properties will leverage what they do best—personalized service. By further engaging guests, the hope is to put their minds at ease when they decide to travel again.
Personalized, engaging service
Enhanced cleaning protocols isn’t innovative or an added benefit—it’s baseline and expected. What we’re asking ourselves is: “Beyond cleaning measures, how can we make guests feel even more comfortable and relaxed during these times?”
This is where personalized service comes in. Instead of overwhelming a guest with rules and mandates, we’re thinking about how this “new normal” provides an opportunity for us to further engage our guests and help them feel at home. Those who are more apprehensive to travel will actively seek out an experience that strikes a balance between safety and a thoughtful, personalized hotel experience.
As independent hoteliers reevaluate service ahead of reopening, we’re considering how a guest can check in and feel safe, not solely by signage or markers, but by sensing it. Casual conversations and creating a feeling of “normalcy” will go a long way in breaking down the anxiety that most people are feeling.
The trust factor
Smaller, independent hotels have the benefit of knowing many of their guests on a more personal level. In this new world we’re living in, trust and relationships will likely drive consumer decisions more than any other factor.
Keep in mind that this trust factor comes with high guest expectations. We’re aiming to be transparent in how we’re planning to meet our guests’ needs. Examples of this are updated safety policies included in a reservation email, a verbal rundown of policies upon check-in and a phone number provided upon arrival for guests to text for direct, personal access to a hotel staff member.
Connection to local community
Whether located on collegiate campuses, nestled in a third-tier city or an adaptive reuse project, boutique hotels were developed as an extension of the local community.
As drivable destinations gain in popularity, we are using this time to strengthen relationships with existing local partners or connect with new ones, creating a special, community-oriented package, inclusive of tickets for a local outdoor walking tour and private (socially distant) museum tour. We’re even thinking about ways to integrate contactless welcome amenities, such as individually wrapped cookies from a local bakery and other similar ideas.
As coronavirus continues to alter how we work, socialize and live our lives, we’re continuing to lean into the core principles we were founded on—providing thoughtful, personalized and gracious service. There’s only so much about this pandemic that we can control, and hospitality is one of those elements. The bigger the smile and the more human the interaction, the more comfortable and memorable the boutique hotel experience will be.
Paul McGowan is the founder and president of Hospitality 3 LLC, a Manhattan-based real estate development firm, established in 2003.
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