As various countries in continental Europe start easing restrictions, we are beginning to get a clearer idea of the practical steps business are having to take to comply with continued regulations.
NH Hotel Group has recently launched its "Feel Safe at NH" protocols, which includes no fewer than 700 changes to its operating standards. These are designed to protect the health and safety of its staff, suppliers and customers, but the formal roll-out of such a comprehensive package of measures will no doubt also be designed to give customers confidence that it's safe to return. The big question is whether they'll want to?
Although the position continues to evolve, it's likely that safety concerns and quarantine requirements for travellers will mean reduced travel for some time, with a knock-on effect on demand for hotel accommodation.
Many organisations may now completely rethink their travel strategy. The past few months have shown that businesses can operate effectively with staff working remotely and that physical interaction on often costly business trips may not be as necessary as once thought.
For those leisure travellers who do decide to escape for a holiday as soon as regulations permit, continued social distancing concerns may mean that rather than urban city breaks (which mean mingling with crowds of people) they opt for self catering options in rural settings.
All these factors are going to prove challenging for hoteliers and it makes sense that they do all they can to offer their customers comfort. This is likely to include new and very visible standards of hygiene being demonstrated in hotels. Communal areas such as spas and restaurants may be closed or their use carefully monitored and managed. The supply of welcome but often unnecessary luxuries (complimentary toiletries, stationary etc.) will probably also be phased out due to concerns about cross contamination.
Hotel restaurants will have to introduce measures similar to those being considered by other businesses like pubs - significantly reduced customer numbers, the installation of physical barriers in certain areas, and new signage to remind people about social distancing protocols.
All of these changes will have a cost implication and ultimately further reduce RevPAR (revenue per available room) when some leading hotel chains have already seen drops in excess of 50% in recent months.
Even if these measures are implemented and any risk mitigated, the impact on guest experience is going to be phenomenal and that is where I think the key issue could lie - particularly for leisure travellers.
Many people choose hotels (rather than self catering accommodation) because they are a destination in their own right. Opulent, historic buildings, restaurants and bars on site, luxurious leisure facilities and attentive staff who offer a personal service. Will guests really want to use a spa if they are required to change in their room and are overwhelmed by the smell of disinfectant from the deep cleaning of their treatment room after the previous client? Is the key, social element of enjoying dinner in a restaurant not diminished by the restaurant being at only 30% its usual capacity and food served by staff wearing face masks?
It may well be that these types of measures become our "new normal", in the same way as queuing to enter supermarkets, or seeing people out for a stroll in PPE, and travellers may come to accept these as part of the hotel experience. What's clear is that as with so many challenges seen by the industry in recent years, whether the rise of on-line booking sites, or competition from Airbnb, it is likely to be the larger hotel chains, rather than smaller independent businesses which will be able to adapt more quickly and successfully to survive.