The Blackburn Inn
The economic and public health fallout surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic has devastated the hospitality and travel industries — but signs of recovery are already beginning to emerge. In this series of articles, we will explore how a number of forward thinking hotels are utilizing mobile and contactless technology to create a guest experience that is more personalized, hygienic, and seamless.
Nestled in the picturesque Shenandoah Valley outside of Staunton, Virginia, The Blackburn Inn and Conference Center is built in the Administration Building of the historic Old Western State Hospital. In June of 2018, The Blackburn officially opened as Virginia’s newest, luxury boutique hotel, combining high technology with exceptional service and classic Jeffersonian architecture.
Although the coronavirus pandemic forced The Blackburn Inn to close its doors for over two months, it reopened in late May with significantly enhanced cleaning standards and a newly personalized guest journey. Richard Smith, the General Manager of The Blackburn Inn, points out that post-COVID, “people will have the desire to travel, but the challenge will be to maintain the same level of service in an environment that emphasizes cleanliness and social distancing. Guests will be looking for more ways to go contactless, as well as confirmation that guest rooms are properly sanitized.”
The Blackburn Inn’s new COVID-readiness policies are based on the AHLA’s SafeStay program, and include elevated cleaning procedures for guest rooms, elevators, and other high-traffic public areas, physical distancing policies in the lobby, meeting and convention space and the back-of-the-house, and extensive COVID-19 training, self-testing and PPE for all Blackburn employees. The Blackburn Inn also provides detailed communication to guests of their new booking, hygiene, social distancing, and check-in processes, including physical signage around the property, and digital reminders on their webpage and guest-facing emails. They also built a sanitary barrier around their front desk, and removed some extraneous furniture from the lobby to enable social distancing.
A major component of their cleanliness program is a revamped contactless check-in process. Prior to the COVID pandemic, The Blackburn Inn’s front desk was oriented around a traditional, concierge-style of check-in that focused on high-touch personal interactions. Now, this process is digitized using a Mobile PMS and guest-facing mobile check-in system combined with contactless digital key technology.
As Richard explains, “The Blackburn Inn has utilized StayNTouch’s online (mobile) check-in system to contact the guest prior to arrival to securely confirm guest information and process the pre-arrival. The guest is then conveniently provided their mobile key through email or text message with directions on how to use OpenKey. StayNTouch has also allowed us to utilize Online Check-Out (including monetized late check-out), saving our guests time and providing a full Contactless Stay.”
Richard also notes that sending pre-check-in emails was critical to promoting customer engagement with the contactless key platform:
“With the COVID-19 health emergency, I made it a priority to change the OpenKey (digital key) setup and enhance mobile communications to make the service more accessible to our guests. We switched strategies, and included instructions on how to use the OpenKey system in our automatic pre-check-in emails sent through the StayNTouch platform.”
The result of this contactless check-in approach was an immediate increase in mobile check-in adoption by guests. In the first weekend of their switch to a contactless check-in, they delivered 26 digital keys to 24 guests, who wound up opening 40 doors. Richard described OpenKey’s integration with StayNTouch as “99% seamless,” which saved their guests time, and allowed for a fully contactless stay.
The “new normal” of the post-COVID recovery will involve enhanced cleanliness procedures and policies promoting social distancing. But The Blackburn Inn’s reopening experience shows us you can create a hygienic and contactless guest experience, while also improving communication, personalization, and convenience.