The hospitality industry has faced really serious disruptions and challenges in the last few weeks as the Coronavirus outbreak has worsened. With international travel on hold and the UK now in enforced lockdown, hoteliers around the country are seeking ways to minimise damage and to find a formula for their survival.
Whilst we all face the same uncertainty, the one thing that is keeping me positive and on track is the thought of coming out on the other side. This will not go on forever. Having said that, even the future after Coronavirus is hard to imagine. It should, however, not stop you planning.
It is a time when individuals and businesses have a remarkable opportunity to support each other. The individuals that make up the NHS are setting a breath-taking example, and if we can focus on the future and support each other, then we will come through it. Of course, we can all play our part taking immediate action by cooperating with the Government and adhering to the recommendations provided by national and local health authorities, ensuring the necessary measures are being put in place.
As hotel operators, our first and foremost priority has to be the health and the safety of our guests and employees. A couple of our hotels, Burgh Island and Raithwaite Estate, offer staff accommodation, so now that our hotels are all closed, we have been busy taking the necessary measures to ensure our live-in teams have some infrastructure on a practical level to provide food. We also provide a helpline for anyone who may be struggling with mental health issues.
Every hotel has their own unique challenges when it comes to dealing with the current climate, and below is suggested advice which hoteliers can align with their individual business requirements.
Continue to put the customer first
Even though you can no longer host your guests, they should still be your number one priority. Cancellations are a difficult scenario for all hotels, but the way in which you deal with guests can have a lasting impact and ensure that they have a positive experience.
Offering fully transferable bookings or alternative packages instead of a full cancellation can not only help with business cash flow, but can also ease any difficult interactions with guests as they now have something to look forward to. Businesses that are kind to their customers now in this difficult time will be remembered for their integrity. Remember – the power of word of mouth can be a hotelier’s best friend.
Managing your public image and visibility
If you are able to keep your booking channels open for later this year and for 2021, then you may pick up bookings from people looking forward getting back to a hopefully more normal existence. It may even be tempting to start thinking about re-opening offers now. There is, however, a reluctance to do this at this juncture, particularly before we pass the peak. The concern is that it will be viewed as too commercial in a time of crisis and need.
In contrast, keeping loyal customers up to date with facts and expectations can be seen as more caring and more personal. Be sure to post your hotels’ status on your website. Social media is an extremely powerful tool, but again we caution that any overtly promotional messages are kept in reserve for the time when the safety regulations start to be lifted, and people start to look towards some antidote to the memory of this very hard time.
Communicate clearly with your staff
For everyone in the industry, this is a time of intense uncertainty. Your employees will be as nervous as everyone else and will look to you for reassurance that they will get through this. It is vital to ensure you are communicating clearly with your staff so that everyone feels supported and included during this challenging period. Make time to speak with your employees and help answer their questions so they acknowledge that you are reaching out and looking after them. If it is not practical to speak to them, then send regular messages and updates. It is easy to set up something using Mailchimp or similar software.
Lastly, it’s important to remember that nothing is permanent, and we will make it through. Use this unusual ‘rest’ period for reflection. Look for ways to navigate the crisis and mitigate some of the negative commercial impacts and make positive plans for the hotel. Keep positive, avoid conflict and be kind. Look forward and continue to be proactive in how you support your employees, guests and business partners so that when normality returns, your hotel can hit the ground running.
By Penny Brown, managing director of Inn-telligence