Six Lessons From Summer Travel All CEOs Should Pay Attention To Now

The U.S. hospitality industry is a great example of how not to resume business post-pandemic—at least, not if you want to keep your customers.

Editor’s Note: Customer experience expert Lior Arussy will be among the speakers at our Nov. 3-4 Leadership Conference in Denver. With a half-day keynote session by Jim Collins, it promises to be an event to remember. Join us!

Have you been out on the road lately? If so, you’ve probably noticed something has changed. And not for the better.

The recent Wall Street Journal article Hotel Guests Are Back, but the Workers Aren’t describes the 16% decline in hotel employees between June 2019 and 2022. But, in my experience traveling this summer, the hospitality industry is missing far more than just employees, something far more core—something we all need to be wary of losing, as well: Heart.

In the last three weeks I have stayed in nine hotels scattered across seven states and two countries. I stayed in high-end and low-end hotels. Some hotels were part of large chains such as Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt. Some were independent operators.

The thing they all had in common is best summed up in one word: “No”.

No room cleaning, no lounges, no upgrades, no breakfasts, no coffee machines in the rooms, no follow up on requests, no special benefits for loyalty, no keeping promises, and the list goes on. The service can be best described as efficient indifference.

When asked in one of the hotels “I am a Bonvoy Gold member for life, what do I get for that?” the employee’s reply was “Besides some extra points, pretty much nothing, sir.” When I missed—by five minutes—a “grab and go” breakfast consisting of Nature Valley granola bars I was told that they could not provide me with any. At another hotel I was asked if I am interested in room cleaning. I thought it was a given for a $350-a-night hotel, apparently it was not anymore.

It seems like the post pandemic onboarding process for hotel employees was focused on how to avoid providing service and how to say “No” to customers quickly and efficiently. I felt bad for many of these “No” employees.

Lessons From A Pandemic Hangover

The simple act of hospitality was missing; the heart was missing, replaced by indifferent efficient traffic management. Welcoming, smiling, making eye contact, thanking you for the choosing the hotel or for your loyalty, making you feel at home was no longer part of the service. Occasionally, an employee showed some humanity, but it was clearly a personal choice and not part of an organizational approach to hospitality, as was demonstrated by the rest of the indifferent colleagues. Hotels became merely transactional sleeping operations. The heart was gone.

I recognize that the pandemic brought with it a great financial pressure to the hotel industry, but this indifferent approach to enthusiastically “back to travel” summer guests is the wrong way to rebuild. It’s more of a cautionary tale—a don’t-do-this case study—for the rest of us. Here are six things I took away from my summer on the road:

1. Heart and purpose are everything now. Start with your heart, lead with your purpose. Many of your customers (and employees) have had time to rethink their priorities and purpose. It’s time to show them that you are more than a mere vendor, but a true partner that understands their life challenges and aspirations. Convey that message to all employees.

2. Customer standards have been upgraded, they are not going back. Covid-19 required many adjustments such as hygiene and cleanliness. Your customers are now expecting those standards moving forward. You cannot compromise the flexibility, humanity and cleanliness standards you demonstrated during Covid-19. Do not attempt to retreat from the high standards demonstrated during the pandemic. You might dare to think about taking them a step higher.

3. Ask for a grace period, don’t enforce it. If you are still in recovery mode, and need to compromise certain services, be proactively communicating about it. Don’t create surprises no one wants. Customers want to feel that the bad period is behind them. If you keep them there, be honest and open about it. The only surprises customers can tolerate now are the good ones. Refrain from less-services, last minute surprises—or ask for permission.

4. Humanity is a critical feature, don’t lose it. Just bringing staff back without upgrading emotional engagement will be a mistake. We are all affected emotionally by the pandemic (whether we are willing to admit it or not) and your post pandemic service needs to include a heavy dosage of human empathy and emotional consideration. Just as you have upgraded facilities, the customer experience ought to be upgraded as well. Bring back the heart. It is time to demonstrate that your humanity during Covid-19 was not an accident but rather an integral part of your DNA.

5. Be alert and anticipate—things are still vulnerable. Recession or not, customers are on alert and may change their minds rather quickly. Be there two steps ahead of them. Adapt your organization to be change-resilient and develop the capacity to adapt fast to unexpected situations. It’s the new normal. The change resilient will win.

6. Treat employees like customers. The great resignation of 2021 with an estimated 47 million Americans leaving their jobs was a reminder that today’s employees are looking for purpose and meaning in what they do. They will seek an employer who is human, empathetic, purpose driven and transparent. None of them is willing to serve as nay-sayers as they have done in the past. They want to understand the why and drive decisions and actions that are purposeful. Rethink how you onboard them to the new post-pandemic world. Respecting and treating employees as customers (assuming you treat your customers well, of course) is your new normal.

It’s time to reimagine the post-Covid 19 customer experience in hotels—and everywhere else. The customers have changed, the employees are more demanding and the welcome for both ought to be better—far better.


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