The challenges that lie ahead are not insurmountable, says Optii Solutions chief executive Katherine Grass

Covid-19 has forced businesses from all industries to pivot, adopting new models and processes faster than ever before.

Nowhere has this been more keenly felt than the hospitality sector where every aspect of revenue generation and operating procedure has been challenged.

Running a hotel post-pandemic and getting establishments back on their feet is going to require sophisticated customer relations coupled with a precise understanding of hotel economics and operations to develop successful strategies going forwards.

Front and centre of the sector’s capacity to rebuild will be its ability to reassure potential guests that hotels are safe to visit.

Hotels large and small are now releasing cleaning protocols to publicly commit to increased standards of hygiene.

These new protocols will inevitably increase the time and money spent on housekeeping as staff are required to spend more time on each room. Communal areas will require additional attention too as handrails, lifts and reception areas will also need regular sanitation.

The type of traveller hotels accommodate is also expected to change, at least initially. The industry expectation is that it will be the leisure sector that revives first, a long time before the business travel sector is expected to re-emerge.

Leisure rooms inherently take longer to clean than business traveller rooms so this shift in market segmentation alone will also drive up cleaning costs.

Additionally, hotels are carefully considering the supply of in-room amenities such as irons, hairdryers and additional pillows.

Most will now mandate amenity kits be supplied to guests upon check-in and further items normally found in rooms will only be supplied to guests who request them from room service.  This will put further pressure on service staff to fulfil requests efficiently.

The overall payroll cost of the additional cleaning time alone we estimate to be around £50,000 per annum for a 250-bed hotel running at 60% occupancy.

Hotels could also require one additional full-time housekeeper as well as an additional member of the service team to cope with the increased cleaning and room service demands.

More staff will be needed on top of this if specialist cleaning equipment is deployed.

Calculating trade-offs and efficiencies

Hotels have to adapt quickly to the different way of doing things that will address the requirements of running a hotel in a post-pandemic world.

They need to use all the data they have to drive efficiencies and learn where they can make trade-offs, bringing in new business models and processes to adapt to the ‘new normal’.

For example, one big step to offsetting these increased costs is removing stayover cleans for guests and not cleaning on a daily basis if guests stay more than one night.

This not only saves housekeeping time but, in many cases, will actually match the guest preferences as people potentially don’t want someone coming in touching their belongings when they are there for two to three nights.

Our assessments show that cutting out 75% of stayover cleans, based on 60% occupancy of the same 250-room hotel, could save around £88,000 per annum.

Ancillary services such as additional deep cleans or stayover cleans could also be offered by hotels to generate new revenue.

Introducing new technology such as machine learning and AI could also play a key part in delivering new approaches to cleaning and room service.

Establishing time-based cleaning plans and effective monitoring systems will be important in ensuring room attendants have enough time to follow the post-pandemic cleaning procedures and are implementing them properly.

Housekeeping and service delivery is the single-largest controllable expense in a hotel operation so optimising it has a big impact on the bottom line.

Carefully monitoring occupancy rates and only regularly sanitising ‘live’ rooms that are likely to be needed will also improve efficiencies.

Hibernating any room deemed superfluous for an extensive period, which may even involve closing or shutting down multiple floors or sections at a time and opening them only once demand picks up, will help manage costs.

It is impossible to know exactly what the future will look like for every different type of hotel, but what we do know is that it will be different from what has gone before and will require a rethink of the way things are done.

The name of the game will be constantly monitoring and understanding what is working for guests and reflecting that efficiently in the services delivered.

The challenges that lie ahead are not insurmountable and if we work steadily together as an industry, sensitively and carefully serving guests, we will rebuild consumer confidence to travel, constructing better, tighter organisations on the way.