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An inhospitable environment? The hospitality experience post-lockdown

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An inhospitable environment? The hospitality experience post-lockdown

Written by

Alison Richings, Wayfinding Design Director, Endpoint and San-San Chan, Managing Director - Europe, Latitude Agency

As lockdown begins to lift here in the UK, the hospitality industry can begin to capitalise on some much-needed summer footfall – albeit with some obvious (and not-so-obvious) restrictions in place.

But, as in so many industries, many questions remain. Is this the end of breakfast buffets? What about indoor gyms and swimming pools? And – at the luxury end of the spectrum – what about spa treatments and concierge services?

These are some of the short and longer-term issues hospitality faces as companies look to rebuild customer confidence and offer the best possible experience – issues we’ve been discussing internally at Endpoint, as well as with clients, and with our friends at hospitality branding agency, Latitude.

Here are some shared thoughts on what the future may hold for the hospitality experience.

Compromise: The Price of Open Doors

As of 4 July, pubs, bars, restaurants, and hotels across Britain can once again open their doors – and an influx of customers is anticipated.

In the short term, there’s no doubt that we’ll continue to see businesses making efforts to protect themselves and customers – such installing perspex screens, insisting on card-only payments, and doing their utmost to maintain social distancing. But just how long will these be observed?

There’s also been talk of needing to ‘sign in’ to bars and restaurants – enabling owners to inform customers should an outbreak of coronavirus stem from an interaction on their particular premises. Given the additional effort required – not to mention the fact that this is unlikely to happen during busy service periods – practices like this are sure to fail.

However, it might be that in such scenarios table service is the answer here – to prevent thirsty customers edging for elbow room at the bar for example. In hotels, this would also be preferable to banning open breakfast buffets altogether. But this could also mean that either less customers can be served (and therefore takings would be down) or more staff would need to be employed. Possibly both.

From a wayfinding perspective, as we’ve seen in shops and supermarkets, directional signage indicating one-way systems and spacing points can easily be installed. This is the ‘perceived safety’ we see happening front-of-house everywhere.

While from a messaging perspective these assets may be somewhat crass or overly instructional, the fact is, they work. Like wearing face masks, it’s pretty much universally accepted that these are the general compromises we need to make for integrating back into real life.

Balancing Safety With Luxury

However, when it comes to more luxury establishments – given the decor, interiors, and high quality surroundings and experiences that 5 star hotels offer – a chain of floor stickers and laminated public service warnings about coughing and personal hygiene isn’t in keeping with the overall brand standards.

Quality, tact, and the right tone of voice needed to be deployed – everywhere from signage to collateral – to match the expectations of their high-paying clientele .

For example, efforts to reduce the risk of infection can be presented in a unique way – such as presenting guests with a care package on arrival; containing a handwoven face mask and natural antibacterial oils from the hotel spa – essentially something the addresses concerns but with in a way that reflects the brand experience and how staff interact with guests.

Reopening is also an ideal time for many hotels to really consider how and why they do things and whether the services they offer are now obsolete in the ‘New Normal’. It’s also an opportunity to try out new ideas too. It may be that luxury hotels look to improve the in-room dining experience, or place more emphasis on digital services and entertainment.

In the event that the hotel gym or pool may be out of use for some time, there could be an opportunity to provide interactive exercise experiences – which again is something that could continue post-lockdown.

Tiered or Premium services could also be another way forward too – although in a luxury environment this may be more divisive.

Reviewing Hospitality Wayfinding

But what about wayfinding, navigation, and signage? Can they too be elevated to match a premium guest experience and prioritise safety, hygiene, and social distancing in a way that doesn’t patronise their customers?

Crime scene tape and ‘No Entry!’ signs are out. So what’s the alternative? From a messaging perspective, the tone of voice used needs to be consistent. This is just as important in a budget hotel chain as a bijou boutique collection. The way in which warnings and guidelines are communicated need to be consistent.

From a physical signage standpoint, if we’re thinking longer term, there are numerous materials that could be used to deliver the desired effect too. The use of copper, for example – an antibacterial metal – could be ideal for creating navigational signage or a wayfinding system, and would also be safe to touch.

Olfactory and sonic branding could also work as non-physical touchpoints. Frankincense, lavender, and other types of scents associated with freshness and cleanliness could be a consideration too.

In this sense, it’s important that the hospitality brand experience covers both the physical and emotional spaces – being respectful of the ongoing situation, staying true to the brand identity, but ultimately maintaining the best guest experience possible given the circumstances.

Staying Authentic In A Time Of Uncertainty

All things considered, we don’t know how long it will be before the world returns to ‘business as usual’ – or even if it will at all. The easiest thing for hospitality businesses to do is to blindly follow the guidance without a second thought.

But, in order to stay competitive and retain customer confidence, they ultimately need to show that they’re doing everything they can to create the experience customers deserve. Reassurance and authenticity are more important than ever.

Here at Endpoint, our leisure and hospitality sector experience are extensive. As well as implementing built environment graphics and wayfinding design for the Four Seasons, we also work very closely with specialist hospitality branding agency, Latitude, on wayfinding and design projects.

Latitude’s team has worked on branding projects for some of the world’s biggest, best-known, and exclusive hotel brands – including Hyatt, Marriott, Four Seasons, IHG, Raffles, and many others.

For more information on how the hospitality sector is adapting, contact Alison at london@weareendpoint.com.