Our CEO, Sai, shares his insights and reflections on how the crisis is a good opportunity for hotels looking to stay resilient through data and insights.

Travel as we know has been transformed – perhaps forever – because of the pandemic. Besides where, when and how we travel, the new question to ask now is what we can do when we travel. With international borders still largely closed and concerns over sanitation and social distancing still lingering, staycations have become a very popular travel activity and hotels now play a more integral part in the travel experience than ever before. This is a good opportunity for hotels looking to rebound from losses incurred during COVID-19 travel restrictions. 

However, post-pandemic guest expectations are very different and more demanding than they have ever been. Contactless services, more stringent safety protocols and a higher standard of operational excellence are the new basic essentials. To be adaptable and stay competitive, hotels need to create offerings that inspire trust and confidence in their ability to deliver what guests want. This requires extensive insights and new understanding on guests’ changing needs and behaviour, especially because this situation is unprecedented.

Automated artificial intelligence (AI) solutions, which collect in-room data to manage energy usage such as for heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems, are gaining popularity among hotels worldwide as part of their strategy to maximise energy efficiency and reduce costs during their recovery period. When juxtaposed against the pandemic’s timeline, the gathered data can also create insightful trends that help hotel decision-makers understand the changes in their guest behaviour and deliver guest-centric services and operational standards that best meet the new industry norms. 

What data can teach us

In Singapore, the changes in average hotel room dwell times showed that hotel guests have been spending significantly more time in their rooms since the pandemic hit its initial stride in March. Furthermore, these changes corresponded to the different phases of the Singapore stay-at-home orders – known locally as the circuit breaker.

According to the data collected by hotels using SensorFlow’s smart, wireless energy management solution, guests spent an average of 11 hours a day in their hotel rooms during the pre-circuit breaker period (January to March). However, when the circuit breaker began in April, the average dwell time in Singaporean hotels increased significantly to 14.1 hours by month’s end. It has remained high ever since – even through Phase 2 in June, when more activities were allowed and more businesses reopened. 

With these in-room insights on hand, hotels can even drill down further and determine the specific times that guests leave and return to their rooms. This granular data can then be extrapolated into property-wide trends, such as providing a daily overview of when the hotel is most occupied versus when it is the least occupied. Most importantly, these trends can be used by hotels to build customer profiles and understand the different behaviour of specific demographic segments of their hotel guests, increasing their ability to provide operational excellence and meet guest expectations.

How data can help hotels’ business continuity

Despite Singapore’s room occupancy rates now seeing a slight uptrend, the general consensus is that the hospitality sector will continue to face a slow recovery at least for the rest of the year. With the pandemic still ongoing, the current hotel trends during this period may be an indicator of the next normal for travel accommodation experiences, which is why hotels need to leverage data to make informed decisions on policy and strategy now. 

Insights on daily room occupancy trends enable hotels to effectively plan and optimally execute various types of operational functions and guest services. Housekeeping, HVAC maintenance schedules and large-scale system reworks can be scheduled for times with low room occupancy to minimise guest disruption. Meanwhile, in-room promotions can be set for hours where guests are mostly in residence to increase uptake rates and act as a secondary income stream.

Using data to build customer profiles also unlocks opportunities for hotels to tailor their offerings according to the room usage patterns and interests of different demographics. Travelling businessmen, for example, may spend less time in their rooms than honeymooners. Couples may enjoy spa treatment sessions, while families with children will appreciate kid-friendly activities.

Longer room dwell times naturally translate to increased HVAC usage, which also results in higher wear-and-tear on HVAC systems. Any HVAC system malfunction will also be more disruptive to guests as in-room comfort is more important than ever. With intelligent HVAC monitoring and predictive maintenance solutions, hotels can remotely monitor data on HVAC system usage and performance in real-time to minimise these disruptions and reduce maintenance costs without impacting the guests’ stay experience.

The Data-Driven Future

As an engineer, I believe that data always has the answer. Data is information, and information is what gives us the power to make better decisions. This is especially important for the hotel industry at a time where competition is fierce and resources are already scarce.

Hotel data collection and analysis has proven valuable in providing not only an insightful property-wide view of regular room occupancy trends, but also in enabling hotel management to monitor the effects of any changes that may result from external circumstances (e.g. a pandemic or seasonal weather) and/or internal changes (e.g. new HVAC system, new facilities or services). They can also leverage this data to forecast financial performances and operational resources for better planning and futureproofing.

The new normal is not about working harder, but working smarter. Not only can data and insights help a hotel cope with the multi-faceted challenges of COVID-19 in the short term, they can also make the property more resilient and adaptable to any unprecedented crises or situations in the future. With access to real data, hotels no longer need to fly blind – and that is a powerful advantage to have as we head into an exciting new normal.