The DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel at Ricoh Arena is one of the busiest in the region due to the hundreds of events held at the venue every year, but as we prepare to emerge from one of the most challenging 12 months in history, the hotel’s Deputy Manager, Patryk Wildangier, previews what the ‘new normal’ could look like for hotels, and how the pandemic has not only affected his work role, but changed his own life for the better - including learning how to cook!
After months of uncertainty, the news that normal life could resume from 21 June – subject to conditions – was the morale boost that the whole country needed. It will be back to normal for many people in their daily lives, but for certain sectors such as hospitality, the world that we are going to come back to won’t be the same as it once was.
The main change I expect to see in hotels is more guests opting for a digital experience rather than face-to-face when checking in and out – particularly as we go through a period of re-building consumer confidence. Hilton Hotels already offer a mobile check-in service where guests can skip the check-in and check-out process and do it all by themselves on their mobile device, with the key being accessed via Bluetooth. This has become the norm within the airline industry, and it is likely to follow suit for hotels, too.
This is a shame in one sense, because one of the reasons why I chose hospitality as my career is the social aspect of the job, where no day goes by without speaking to multiple people – from people on weekend breaks to business guests who come to stay at our hotel.
There was an initial period where I was helping to run the hotel from my home by managing and accommodating guest requests - whilst this was surreal, it reminded just how agile we can be as an organisation. That said, the need for face-to-face interaction within hotels is still going to be required, just to a lesser degree, and we are likely to see further growth in virtual interaction too.
Another change I see post-Covid is the famous all-you-can-eat buffet; but fear not, as I think the changes will only be minor to ensure this much-loved experience lives on. The hotel breakfast buffet is often the highlight of our guests’ stay – it is a perfect way to start a new day, where you meet other residents of the hotel, and mix all your favourite foods on one plate – for a conference or exhibition, it’s a networking paradise – as we have seen first-hand!
At the beginning of the pandemic, hotels experimented with different ways of delivering breakfast to guests – from grab-and-go bags, to strictly room service and a la carte-only breakfasts. However, rather than putting an end to buffets, I believe we will see some subtle changes made, including a one-way system, non-packaged food being cling film wrapped, and hot items being plated by a server – all of which seems sensible for the time being.
Whilst our hotel has been closed to the general public since 23 March 2020, we have been fortunate to be able to have players and staff from elite sporting events who have stayed with us during their events at Ricoh Arena. It was refreshing to be able to get back to work for those events, and have guests staying with us once again. Since October, we have opened and closed our doors four times and provided accommodation for six different social bubble groups, which has given us an opportunity to utilise the Hilton CleanStay Room Seal, which indicates that a room has not been accessed since being thoroughly cleaned and disinfected - this is set to become another permanent change moving forward.
Attention to detail around hygiene - and communicating this to customers - is going to be critical in helping to rebuild hotel guests’ confidence. Hilton has its own CleanStay programme - which communicates to customers how we are adapting our cleaning practices across the check-in process, guest rooms and for food and beverage - which underlines that we are ready to welcome guests back.
Lockdown has been a life changing experience for me. I used to live a very fast paced lifestyle, with social activities filling my free time. I entered 2020 with a New Year’s resolution to travel to a different place at least once a month – I managed to keep it up until March, and then it all stopped.
Staying at home has made me re-prioritise certain parts of my life. I have learned to cook, I became vegetarian to support the global eco crisis, but most of all, I learned not to worry about things out of my control – and to flip them around and look for positives in everything I do.