By Hasnain Noorani

The COVID-19 crisis toppled our daily lives at a dizzying speed. Travel squealed to a halt, Schools, stores, restaurants, and entertainment venues shut.

Sports leagues suspended their seasons and hotels emptied. Billions of people found themselves under lockdown, working from home or suddenly out of work.

Months of self-isolation total and partial lockdown. In many cases, significant spending constraints quickly and dramatically changed how consumers behave.

And in a world facing ongoing economic pressures, many of these behavioural changes are likely to endure. It’s normal for people to adjust spending in times of social or economic uncertainty.

COVID-19 lockdowns have seen Kenyans work, shop, socialize, and entertain themselves online more than ever, some for the very first time.

This is only increasing their comfort with digital technologies and experiences, but their appetite for them as well. With some counties being locked as a block and others restrictions eased, many will be open to new experiences like touchless payments, app-based services, augmented or virtual reality, and more.

For hospitality organizations, this should be seen as an invitation to innovate and invest in digital technology.

While travel restrictions are beginning to ease in parts of the world, it could still take time for the travel and tourism sector to regain its former strength.

Domestic tourists here in Kenya are expected to spend much less time on holiday. This will require many hospitality establishments to redirect their efforts to understand and engage with this new domestic, short-trip traveller.

Trust will be crucial
Trust will play a pivotal role in enabling organizations to recover and rebuild in the near term, and thrive in the long term.

Allowing businesses to reopen may represent a return to some degree of normality but local travellers need to be able to trust that hospitality establishments are taking sufficient actions to protect their health.

Every hospitality-sector business will need to actively engage with consumers and communicate the steps they’re taking to keep customers and employees safe and demonstrate how they’re living up to those commitments at every point of interaction.

Companies that adapt their offerings to reflect changing preferences and behaviours demonstrate their desire to listen, understand, and respond to their customers.

In the near term, this can help deepen consumer trust in the organization, fostering the kind of bond that can drive future growth and success. Consumers will remember the brands that paid attention and “took care” of them during these times.

Maintaining and building trust will be essential for businesses of all sizes, but larger hospitality organizations are likely to have an advantage given their greater capability not only to invest in trust building improvements but also to ensure consumers know about the measures taken.

COVID-19’s impact on the customer experience in the hospitality sector is undeniable. Its impact on operational realities can’t be understated either.

And with the road to recovery likely to be a bumpy one, as the world deals with the ebb and flow of all this, organizations that can maintain operational agility stand to be better able to navigate the uncertainties ahead.

The writer Hasnain Noorani, is the PrideInn Group Managing Director.