By Simon Francis, Technology Writer
These are challenging times for the hospitality sector - especially smaller businesses. For small and boutique hotels, success in a difficult year hinges on new business thinking. Hit by the double whammy of lower visitor numbers and the costs of rigorous Covid-19 control measures, many hotels are fighting for their survival.
So, some hotels are getting creative, reimagining their businesses, seeking out new opportunities and adapting their facilities for a changed world. We’ve already seen how hotels have hired out empty rooms as ‘day use offices’ and have invested heavily in new cleaning regimes to make guests feel safe. But there are many more examples of hospitality businesses thinking outside the box.
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Ace Hotels is one of a number of operators who have launched a gift certificate program to enable guests to ‘pay now, stay later’ . With the added incentive of discounted rates, no expiry dates and donations to the Ace Family Fund (which provides relief for furloughed hotel employees), the certificates can create revenue up front and avoid booking cancellations.
Thinking outside the box
An initiative called ‘Buy Now, Stay Later’  offers a twist on this gift certificate idea, selling treasury-style hotel bonds for $100 that mature to be worth $150 after 60 days. The value of the purchased bond can then be used towards a future stay in the hotel where you bought it. The program includes hotels all around the world, from the Ink 48 Hotel in New York to the Hotel Lungarno Vespucci 50 in Florence, Italy.
Elsewhere, new partner programs such as Radisson Individuals  offer strong opportunities, leveraging the power of Radisson’s brand to reach a bigger audience and increase business.
Not all hotels can link up with larger chains, but there’s still an advantage in numbers. By joining or creating such a scheme, hotels can pool their promotional resources, again reaching the widest and most sympathetic audience.
Focusing on unique offerings
There are other innovative ways to fill or sell rooms. Booking.com’s ‘America Is For Everyone’ project, for example, sought to “rediscover the incredible diversity and amazing mosaic of international cultures that has made America all of what it is today.”  Guests could schedule custom-designed and safety-first stays in “10 eclectic accommodations”, enjoying authentic meals, historical tours and cultural experiences.
Chosen hotels included the Hampton Inn in Silver Spring, Maryland, which is rich in Ethiopian culture, food and art; the Bavarian Inn Lodge in Frankenmuth, Michigan, which celebrates the area’s German roots with Bavarian-style architecture (including a 35-bell carillon Glockenspiel) and authentic German cuisine; plus the Auld Holland Inn in Oak Harbor, Washington, where guests can walk among the Dutch-named streets and snap selfies in front of iconic windmills.
New uses for hotel rooms
The Covid-19 era has added a bunch of new words to our global vocabulary, such as ‘social distancing’, ‘social bubbles’, and ‘covidiot’. Another is the ‘vertical concert’. It’s an idea pioneered by Ukrainian rock band O.Torvald, who played on a rooftop across from an audience watching from the balconies of the Bratislava Hotel in Kiev. With traditional venues unable to host concerts, the vertical concert connects bands to their fans and provides hotels with a new way to boost room occupancy.
As well, as thinking of new ways to fill rooms, hotels are getting creative with the other services they provide. At the The Fullerton Hotel Sydney, the management tasked their food and beverage team to “craft new menus and culinary concepts that could be available through delivery and takeaway.”  While the Stadt hotel in Sweden has converted some of its rooms into individual pop-up restaurants , allowing diners a safely isolated experience.
Creativity is key to hotel innovation
Creativity is key for hotels looking to ride out the pandemic, and there may yet be more innovations to come. As long ago as 2014, Swedish hotel chain Scandic offered Scandic to Go, where a self-contained hotel room could be delivered to a location customers chose - the campaign created a 20% uplift in conventional bookings . Few hotels could deliver a room, but any hotel could deliver part of their guest experience - freshly laundered towels, beauty products or breakfast - to customers missing out.
At the Historic Smithton Inn in Ephrata, Pennsylvania, the closure of local liquor stores prompted the owners to set up an e-commerce website to sell wine, as well as branded sheets, candles and soaps. “We were still making less money than before the shutdown, but I was busy,” innkeeper Rebecca Gallagher told MarketWatch . “It helped my stomach from being queasy. I felt like I was doing something.”
Post-pandemic (and that time is coming), creativity and a willingness to innovate will remain essential for hospitality businesses seeking to thrive in a changed world. And it has changed. For some people, dramatically so. It's why hotels, big and small, are realizing that they need to change with it. Unable to offer a pre-coronavirus experience, they are turning to new, safe and fun experiences that fit the so-called ‘new normal’. By repurposing space, thinking creatively, and offering flexible services to suit emerging demands, every hotel can reposition itself for a brighter future.
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