International travel amidst the ongoing pandemic is stressful. If you haven’t gone through the process, let’s first summarize some additional steps so that you can empathize with guests arriving at your door:
- Traveler needs to get a costly antigen or PCR test specific to the destination country
- Traveler has to fill out COVID-19 safety forms to enter destination country
- Traveler must wear mask for entire duration of time in airport and on flight
- Traveler has to present all COVID-19 documentation before security and at gate
- Traveler must arrange another antigen or PCR test prior to return flight
This is on top of all the other security measures, early mornings and jet lag as well as the constant risk of viral spread that serves as a backdrop throughout one’s journey. It can all be quite agitating, and guests will bring this prickly mood to your door. You don’t want these guests to unconsciously transfer the emotional state of mind associated with navigating air travel amidst an ongoing pandemic onto your hotel, lest it set a bad tone for the rest of the stay.
Hence, first impressions are now immensely important for alleviating stress, boosting satisfaction, getting those five-star TripAdvisor reviews and building brand loyalty. In hotel parlance, we call this a ‘sense of arrival’ – often a subcategorization of ‘sense of place’ – to describe the overall mood and positive sentiments that your brand creates for arriving visitors.
This can be a more elaborate gesture such as an interior makeover to make the lobby a more inviting space or the presence of welcome refreshments. Music billowing from a nearby lobby bar creates a certain feeling while a fountain with running water echoing through a cavernous, marble-clad space creates something else entirely.
Specific to COVID-19 sanitization concerns, you can add something that will also exude a sense of calm and empathy like a state-of-the-art UV-C mobile phone cleaner near the check-in desk. As well, the presence of long lines at check-in can be quite irksome given how much trouble your guests have likely gone through to get to you; the last thing they want is to wait once more.
Moving to the guestroom, small but meaningful arrival gifts, complimentary themed snacks and handwritten notes delivered in a ‘surprise and delight’ manner are also a viable option to the broader goal of creating a fantastic first impression and imbuing a strong sense of arrival. You can even go the route of arranging for transportation from the airport. But oftentimes something as simple as a bellhop opening the front door or greeting a guest by name can make all the difference.
Resorts have long exceled at this sense of arrival but, given the context nowadays, all hotels should give some thoughts about devoting some budget for 2022 to upgrading the guest experience in this manner. Making a great first impression need not be elaborate or require an expensive renovation, though. Each property is different and thus each property needs a different, but still creative, solution as well as one that can be done cheaply and effectively amidst tight staffing concerns.