When I last wrote for Hotel Owner, we were preparing to reopen the doors to the nine Point A Hotels that we have across the UK to great relief as well as trepidation.
Predicting revenues for the next seven days, let alone the next financial year, is hugely challenging as a hotel operator given the exceptionally short timeframe for bookings.
In some of our properties, the booking window has changed from over 35 days (which was pretty short) to less than three days – impacting how we need to manage staffing, operations and third parties.
However, operational issues aren’t the only challenge. It is also a question of mindset and how we as operators remain positive. Our sector was healthy, vibrant, innovative, exciting and challenging pre-COVID and will be again.
Positivity needs to come from the top down
First things first, it’s critical that organisations are disseminating a positive outlook right from the very top.
While this may be easier said than done, projecting positivity from the senior leadership team downwards is important to ensuring that staff morale remains high, guests remain satisfied and broader business goals are met.
At Point A, we’ve trialled a whole range of initiatives, perks and prizes to keep our staff engaged throughout lockdown and the return to work. Most recently, we’ve been running a quarterly awards programme – dubbed the ‘Big Heart Award’ – to say thank you to our team members who have been going above and beyond for our guests and our colleagues whilst keeping a smile on their face.
Underpinning this is company-wide transparency between senior management and the staff that make our hotels tick. As we’re a family-owned, fully independent operation, we’re able to make sure that every member of the Point A team feels interconnected. Part of how we do this is by keeping things personal: senior leaders regularly work from our hotels, checking-in on the day-to-day operations and helping out across the board to help foster a real team spirit.
It’s also important to see that internal company ethos are reflected in external activity. We saw a real resilience displayed throughout the Point A team this summer as we hosted a ‘Weekend of Thanks’ for NHS staff. It was amazing to give something back to those who have made such herculean efforts to keep our country safe, and in much the same way it was powerful to see our staff get stuck into an initiative that left a smile on their faces after such a challenging year.
Reviews still count!
It may seem obvious, but retaining your brand identity – and the values it upholds – under such conditions is absolutely essential to any business looking to come out of this pandemic stronger than before.
Why? At the end of the day, guest reviews will outlast the pandemic. When we’re able to return to ‘normal’, new and returning customers will seek out those brands that served them diligently during the pandemic…and the better the impression we can make in the interim period, the more positive the reviews will be to guide guests back post-lockdown.
One of the challenges for hospitality is how to keep the genuine warmth that many brands offer whilst providing a safe, secure environment of face masks and social distancing. Since we reopened our hotels we’ve had to introduce ways of working that allow us to retain the quality of our welcome without weakening our commitment to health and safety. Part of this has been by launching our new ‘Boutique Service Training’ programme to support our aspirations of our brand, recognising that we have a unique window of opportunity (i.e lower occupancy!) to spend more time on investing into the team.
For us, preserving our reputation through our commitment to quality service and thorough safety protocols, is a crucial part of the recovery process.
Pandemics are short term, great businesses are long term
Survival is the reality for many businesses in the hospitality industry. We’ve all had to reprioritise different projects this year, placing a significant focus on the here and now – no shame there. However, so many of these businesses were fantastic organisations pre-pandemic and will be again.
That said, it is critical that businesses don’t lose touch with longer term strategies and ambitions. Even if there are small changes and opportunities that can be facilitated it does provide a welcome distraction from staring at the current occupancy levels.
Envisioning how your typical customer is likely to evolve over the coming months and years is an important part of this as well. For instance, we recognise that the way people will commute in the future has changed for good. That’s why we’re developing new products that will cater to a new era of business travel.
So whilst one eye is very much kept on the immediate pressures of the pandemic, we’re also planning for a post-COVID existence, redeveloping our business models to make sure we’re prepared for what we believe comes next.
The onus has to be on our sector to remain positive; plan for a post-pandemic future, and above all else try and retain the values and standards that they hold dear in the interim. A challenge unlike any other, yet the rewards of surviving and returning from the pandemic stronger will undoubtedly be bountiful.
By Nic Wenn, managing director at Point A Hotels