Industry preparation must adapt following the COVID-19 outbreak

Following the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, tourism and hospitality industries have taken the lion's share of the economic impact. Prior to 2020, between 38-40 million Americans traveled each year, with 1.4 billion international tourists, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). Growth projections made by UNWTO estimated the number of tourist arrivals surpassing 1.5 billion by 2020.

The previously booming global tourism industry was a significant contributor to the growth of the hospitality industry before the coronavirus outbreak. After COVID-19 sent the world into quarantine, however, tourism worldwide has ground to a halt.

Travel and tourism have all seen unprecedented declines due to the lockdowns happening across the globe as we shelter in place. With air travel down significantly, tours, cruises and lodging have all been affected. In the first half of 2020, over 80% of the hotel rooms in the United States remain empty as occupancy rates have not risen in accordance with usual warm-weather trends. A recent study from Longwoods International found that 82% of travelers polled had changed their travel plans for the next six months.

As a result of these and other industry changes, jobless claims reached record highs in the U.S. in the second fiscal quarter of 2020, the largest spike in half a century. If the pandemic continues through the end of 2020, the World Travel and Tourism Council, the trade group representing major global travel companies, projects a global loss of 75 million jobs and $2.1 trillion in revenue.

Industry leaders are preparing for what comes next, to better insulate their businesses and accommodate the modern traveler's changing needs in a post-pandemic world.

The American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) has launched a "Stay Safe" initiative outlining a new enhancement of cleaning practices, social interactions and workplace regulations in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

"Every hotel guest and employee should know that their health and safety are our top priority," said Chip Rogers, President and CEO of AHLA. "Safe Stay represents a new level of focus for an industry already built on cleanliness. Hotels have always had rigorous standards for cleaning and safety. With Safe Stay we are enhancing these standards to help create peace of mind. When travel resumes, hotels will be ready to safely welcome back the traveling public."

The Safe Stay Advisory Council will work in conjunction with public health experts, scientists, and medical leaders to develop a series of best practices for the industry, including the following:

  • Enhanced cleaning standards throughout the hotel, including guest rooms, meeting spaces, common areas, and back-of-house spaces
  • Superior cleaning products with a greater concentration of bacteria-killing ingredients, in accordance with CDC guidelines
  • Social distancing practices and reducing person-to-person contact
  • Increased transparency throughout the guest journey

As the hospitality industry seeks out ways to raise occupancy rates to their previous numbers, it is essential that establishments provide verification of safe spaces and readily available information on top-level safety measures taken for their guests' protection. As new safety standards and laws come to pass as a result of COVID-19, compliance and evidence of steps taken will be essential.

The future of customer support in hospitality will likely shift dramatically toward personal safety and transparency, as well as increased, verifiable sanitization and disinfecting of both private and common areas. As businesses reemerge from quarantine, the steps they take will shape their competitive advantage in a post-pandemic world.