Kelsey Wilson

From June to September 2020, Innovation Lighthouse worked with 4 hotels in the Netherlands to help them find more social and sustainable alternatives to meet new hygiene standards and challenges brought on by COVID-19. Kelsey is our project lead at Innovation Lighthouse. She grew up in a small town near San Diego, California, where people have a deep love for the ocean & the environment. Sustainability is in her blood, too. She is a lover of all things psychology and has a passion for studying human behavior, which played a key role in the Sustainable Reopening Project.

Change Behavior by 'Going EAST'

Interview by Martin Sanchez Locreille

MSL   How did the idea for the Reopening project come about?

KW   We already gained experience with guest behavior from our Sustainable Stays project focusing on making hotel stays more sustainable with a twist: figuring out how to get guests to behave more sustainably.


So, during the first lockdown in the Netherlands, we sat down with our team to discuss how our skills could help the hotel sector. We saw a huge opportunity to do what we do best: use innovation and testing to help hotels truly understand what guests want during this period of uncertainty. We wanted to take the guesswork out by testing and measuring different solutions to reduce extra waste and  make guests feel more comfortable during this period. Flash forward to June - we received  external funding for the project and hit the ground running with 4 hotels in the Netherlands.

MSL   How did Innovation Lighthouse identify the specific challenges facing hotels, and how did you plan to tackle these challenges?

KW   At the start of every project we do at Innovation Lighthouse, we find want to fully understand the challenges before we present solutions - to make sure we're headed in the right direction. 


We did this 2 ways: first, a challenge definition workshop with all 4 hotels and then a first baseline survey period with 100+ guests at the 4 hotels. From this, we had a more well-informed position to start suggesting solutions. 


We started with suggesting 2-4 solutions to each hotel. A lot of things came down to process and communication (to staff and guests) - from reducing plastic packaging waste to smarter communication based on behavioral science. Once we identified these and the hotels saw that they were feasible to implement, we came up with an implementation plan, monitored these for a few weeks, then did surveys after that to see how guest responses were with the more social & sustainable solutions.

"We wanted to take the guesswork out by testing and measuring different solutions to reduce extra waste and make guests feel more comfortable during this period."


MSL   What is the connection between sustainability and COVID-19 within the context of your project?


KW   We noticed that a lot of extra plastic was being implemented because of increased sanitation concerns due to COVID-19. Our partners at Travel Without Plastic are huge advocates for changing processes over products - we love that too. 


We found in the surveys that guests expect two things during the current situation: proper cleaning (meaning visible & actually clean) and communications about policies. This does NOT mean wrapping the tv remote in plastic or handing out gloves to every guest. As well, we found on the surveys that guests are still very interested in sustainability, and want to hear about what the hotel is doing about it. That’s a great opportunity for hotels.


MSL   What were a few of the most interesting findings from your teams’ efforts throughout the project?


It turns out there were some unexpected expectations from hotel guests. For instance, at The Student Hotel Amsterdam, they had this beautifully produced video playing in the lobby 24/7 showing all the steps TSH is taking to keep guests safe. We found out that guests wanted not only visual communication (video) but also verbal reassurance (such as staff telling them in-person what they are doing). It’s a simple intervention, but TSH improved their guest comfort scores for staff behavior by 10% with just increasing staff verbal communication at check-in. 

As we do behavioral research in other projects, it didn’t come as a huge surprise that the location is important for hotel guests wanting to see information about policies. We see that behavioral change is often motivated when the ‘nudge’ or ‘message’ is put right at the site of where the behavior can be modified. For instance, if you want to have guests use the 3L vs. 6L toilet flush, putting a nudge on each of the knobs is the best way to do that. The parallel here is that guests want to see information about COVID-19 measures in the rooms. This is likely when they are having thoughts or questions about cleaning policies, and putting the messages in the room can help alleviate those concerns and reassure guests.

MSL   Were there any major challenges that forced you to adapt or change course?


KW   The different regulations throughout the project surely posed a challenge. The second survey period took place in September and it was difficult to get enough guest surveys due to the second wave in short reach - so the hotels didn’t have incredibly high occupancy. The hotels and our team were dedicated to the project and put in extra time to make sure we could deliver what we had promised: data-driven feedback and well-informed advice of how to be more social and sustainable during these challenging times. I think we can be proud that we were able to do that.

IL-2 (1).jpg

MSL   How can hotels in the wider community benefit from these findings?


KW   We just recently presented in a webinar hosted by Green Key International alongside a great presentation by Travel Without Plastic on how to reduce plastic waste and still meet sanitation standards. As practical advice, we came up with 4 key lessons learned, all of which focus on communication. 


We recommend when changing behavior, to focus on this acronym - “Go EAST!” - meaning when you want to change behavior, make it Easy, Attractive, Social & Timely. More on the webinar, check it out!

MSL   How will Innovation Lighthouse continue to engage with the hospitality industry going forward?


KW   With our founding partner The Student Hotel, we will keep searching for ways to make hotel stays more sustainable. It was a great opportunity to work with 3 new hotels like QO, Meininger, and Stayokay - and we are really looking forward to seeing how we can continue to help hotels through challenging times.