Travelers during peak pandemic months were mostly accepting of necessary changes in hotels, such as reductions to food-and-beverage offerings, housekeeping services and other amenities. But now hoteliers must deal with guests who expect a return to normal, even if it’s not yet economically viable.
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With average daily rates approaching or surpassing 2019 levels in many U.S. markets, guests have renewed expectations that hotel services and amenities are back in full, said speakers at the NYU International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference.
“It’s a really complex minefield for us to walk,” said Tony Capuano, CEO of Marriott International. “Guests are willing to pay [high rates], but their expectations are for the services and amenities they had prior to the pandemic. But our owners and franchisees have lost a lot in enterprise and asset values. We have to navigate this disconnect between customer expectations and the economic realities our owners are still facing.”
Demand and rate may have come back faster than operations can handle in some cases, speakers said.
“What guests expect now is radically different than what it was six months ago,” said Carlos Flores, president and CEO of Sonesta International Hotels Corp. “We had looked at our service offerings and operating standards and done things intentionally, like limit housekeeping. But now it’s a point of friction, with guests asking, ‘Why haven’t you come in and turned down the bed?’”
Jeff Wagoner, president and CEO of Outrigger Hospitality Group, said his company like others likely underestimated this return of guest expectations. Outrigger manages resort properties across Hawaii.
“We budgeted housekeeping at 70% [this year] because we thought consumers didn’t want it, then there was a 90% take rate,” he said. “Consumers are back, and they want those services, especially in a resort environment.”
Sloan Dean, CEO and president of third-party management company Remington Hotels, said fully opening back up helped head off the potential for negative feedback. Remington manages hotels for all major brand companies across the country.
“The pass we got last year with limited housekeeping and limited [food and beverage] is over,” he said. “If you’re not back to normal, you’re going to have very bad customer experiences.”