The COVID-19 pandemic has turned the travel industry upside down, leaving hoteliers to rethink and reinvent numerous aspects of operations, while awaiting a hopeful return to “normalcy.” Although we may not be collectively out of the woods just yet, the industry has already learned some valuable lessons on how to navigate these challenging times.
by Jason Emanis
As part of our “SHR Soundbites” podcast series, I spoke with leading hoteliers regarding the state of operations at their properties, how they’ve been spending the downtime, and what they’ve discovered during the crisis. They offered the following five key recommendations:
1. Be flexible and helpful.
“At our boutique properties, we have an opportunity to be a little more nimble and have some flexibility to really cater to the one person who calls and needs something special and different. That’s one place we can really excel. We can be the office for that person who does want to go home to work, but needs a place to concentrate; or we can be that extended-stay hotel for somebody who might be a caregiver of somebody who was exposed to COVID. It’s a whole different dynamic and market segment that we’re working with, and our flexibility has really been a way of helping to take care of those in need.”
– Becky Rogers, VP of Operations, IDM Hospitality Management
2. Keep in touch with your customers, from afar.
“The island of Curacao went on a very strict lockdown where the citizens could only leave to go to the grocery store twice a week, so we couldn’t get people to the island or to the resort. So we did have to shift some things, but all in all it's really just about trying to network and prepare the resort for when it does open, because at some point, it will open. At some point people will get on the planes and have their vacation and we want to have that communication, that conversation with our guests, while we’re in this pandemic phase. We’ve been doing the best we can on social media and virtually. We did have quite a bit of b-roll content we hadn’t used, so we made the best of it and tried to make sure that our guests and followers had that virtual vacation experience.”
– Scott Ward, Director of Sales and Marketing, Santa Barbara Beach and Golf Resort Curacao
3. Tackle those “rainy day” projects.
“It’s been a good time to train staff and iron out any of the little hiccups that come with changing operations for social distancing. We also rebranded late last year, so it’s been giving us an opportunity to get rid of anything that’s old branding; we’ve been reviewing all our collateral. It’s actually been really good downtime; we've also done a general cleanup at the hotel, including clearing out some storage and things like that. We’re doing a lot of relooking at things; specifically, there’s a lot of work behind setting up your conference space and restaurant for social distancing, new hygiene products and regimens…there are plenty of things like that to truly keep us busy.”
– Sanna Griffin, Director of Sales, View Hotels
4. Focus on doing better with less.
“While we’re looking at opportunities from alternative ways to engage people and their needs, we’re also thinking about only placing a limited number of rooms back into the market when we get ourselves ready to relaunch, so we can offer our best rooms and a more focused guest experience. We have to be able to engage with the type of cleaning standards and the type of re-entry standards needed, and so our thought process is that we’ll start with a smaller inventory of availability and we’ll create a more centralized and specific outreach to make our rooms available.”
– John Knowles, Hotel Operator, The Roger Smith Hotel, NYC
5. Review and streamline your rates.
“One good thing that hotels should be doing right now if they’re still opening later during the year, or if they’re about to open in maybe two months, is to really analyze and clean house in terms of their rate strategy and what is loaded and what is not. Do all the rates apply in this new reality that we’re going into? Do you have advanced purchase rates? Do you have those rates with all the OTAs? Do you want to have all those rates with the OTAs? It’s a really good time to analyze what you have to delete; what you don't need any more. A lot of old promotions make the system run slower and eventually the experience for the guests to book suffers, so it’s a good time to look into that.”
– Bianca Porto Barga, Distribution, Revenue Management, Sales and Marketing Expert