Andrew J Wood examines possible strategies for hoteliers.
Bangkok, Thailand - As fragments of light appear on the tourism horizon and to get you and your hotel in the best shape possible for when you re-open there are many factors to consider as markets around the world now slowly ease off travel restrictions. Ensure you have everything covered so you're ready for a successful re-opening.
As you start to prepare for next year’s budgets it is imperative that hotels make their budget work harder for them. With the challenges presented by Covid-19, now more than ever will be the time to review your hotel technology solutions to create an agile environment that sets a higher bar of technological excellence moving into the future.
I have cherry-picked and summarised the best advice which may prove a useful ✔️checklist in our new world. Bereft of so little knowledgable advice to hoteliers and tourism stakeholders, I hope my 40+ years as a hotelier can sort some of the wheat from the chaff.
In the beginning
- To ease the anxiety of both the staff and guests, additional training of front-facing employees is encouraged. With hotels re-opening simultaneously, a focus should be on the uniqueness of the hotel brand and offers, to allow differentiation between hotels emerging from the lockdown. When bringing an establishment back to operational standards, after closure – partial or otherwise – travel partners and their customers need to be sure they are entering a safe and reliable operation that has maintained standards and offers competitive value for money.
- Ensure that all stakeholders - such as banks, operators and suppliers - are aware of, and on-board with, the re-opening plan.
- A safe environment with SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) and precautions in place are on the top of your trade partners’ lists. Agents may want to inspect your property before placing their clients in your rooms. Yes, they’ll want to see plenty of hand sanitisers, masks, social distancing and controls at the pool. They also need to know your front-line staff have been trained on safe hygiene procedures.
One Step at a Time
- No one expects you to be able to re-open the doors and return back to 2019’s numbers immediately. A slow climb will take place. As hotels gear up to welcome their guests back, re-opening plans should be more conservative (and realistic) rather than hopeful and expectations will have to be constantly adjusted.
- Everyone needs to take precautions, be aware of your environment and ensure you protect your manpower, yourself, and your clients.
- Keep an eye on the quarantine requirements at both ends of the travel journey and the opening of air bridges (if any), to ensure adherence as well as the guest's seamless experience.
- Recovery will take place one step at a time. Hotels need to plan for the future and work closely with local and overseas travel partners. Touch base with your partners today to keep the harmony you had going from disappearing. There is a need to rekindle relationships from both sides. You need to say “hello” today and send a more informative email next week. Keeping your establishment alive in their minds is of great importance. Be the first seen, not the last. They may have been wondering where you have you been all this time. You need to keep your name out there to ensure you still have friends once international business returns.
COVID Policies and Procedures
- Hygiene standards will no doubt change, permanently. That said, the guest experience must not be sacrificed while the hotel ensures the high health and safety standards.
- F&B will also change and continue to evolve.
- Buffets are now discouraged; guests' expectations and hotel service levels will need to be managed accordingly. In-room dining will pick up, with a preference toward contactless room delivery.
- There are numerous COVID hospitality policies. Discuss with your travel agents and tour companies what they are expecting. A few hotels have created their own policies based on 2020 updates. Ensure that you transfer travellers Covid-safe from the airport to their hotels and back again. Having a solid policy should keep you in line with expectations, and people will have trust in hotels that are ready and have prepared for the future.
- Given the current pandemic, many elements of your operations will have been adjusted so this maybe a good time to look at Property Management Systems (PMS) and update software or shop around to see what's available. A time maybe to renew or replace? Also if your guest contact technology is outdated or simply does not meet expectations, the cost of ignoring could be critical to the long-term bottom line of the business. The virus has taught us that contact-free technology is here to stay. Digital commerce, home delivery and food-to-go for instance lead the way in cash-free transactions. They adopted their customer-facing and operational payments processes to the current environment, optimised the customer payment experience and built reliability and trust.
- Hotels will now have to look at cloud-based and integrated solutions and the possible use of a non-human interface mechanism. With that said, keep in mind that the use of technology should not compromise on the personal touch and guest experience.
- Agents will question whether transportation providers – public or private - are insured, and have done regular safety checks on their vehicles?
OTAs and Marketing
- OTAs witnessed a huge drop in revenue and will try to make this up, as would any company in the world. They have huge marketing budgets, and will entice you to join them. Be careful, and make sure what they offer covers your costs and a lot more. Trying to fill rooms is one thing; keeping your cash flow alive is another, and most properties will not have an adequate cash flow for a while once doors open. OTAs may attempt to revise previous contracts that only fit their agenda. Remember this, plenty of properties went with prepayment schemes and now they are looking for their money back but due to Covid and by crying, “force majeure” the OTAs have been found lacking. Meanwhile, establishments still have to pay their staff and stay alive.
- Those who remained open, have been working with domestic agents and DMCs. These are the partners, who helped you during the hard times, and with whom you should build a stronger bond looking towards the future.
- Sales and marketing efforts should be based on travel and booking trends, as well as the opening of the travel market. Marketing teams should be quick to adapt to the changes and new trends, and embrace the use of digital platforms for both sales and marketing efforts.
Your goal during re-opening is to reduce your losses. To do this:
- Work with local travel agents and DMCs, and create a lasting bond.
- Do not expect room rates to immediately return to 2019 levels, as you may find yourself with no partners or contracts. Raising rates must be mutually agreed upon from both sides. Increase rates over time, and check with your partners on what they are selling, and at what rate to prevent unnecessary losses. Seek a win-win for both sides during re-opening.
- Build your occupancy step by step.
- Control your manpower and budgets.
- Emphasise your uniqueness
- Check all licenses and insurance are in order and renewed where applicable. Include vehicles.
- Take a look at technology use in the workplace and F&B offerings.
- Communicate clearly to all stakeholders of your plan to re-open.
- Review regularly your COVID hygiene policies.
- Look at cloud-based and integrated solutions and review PMS.