Point A Hotels have opened their doors once again for leisure guests and it is great to see travellers returning to our properties in good numbers…the team are certainly happy that they are busy again.
I’m sure I speak for us all in hospitality when I say that this stop-start year of trials and tribulations has been the most challenging twelve months we have ever faced. Yet, with lockdown restrictions somewhat lifted, we have four more weeks to squeeze as much out of the year as possible. Whilst it will be by no means business-as-usual, Christmas doesn’t need to be a write-off.
We are still hugely challenged by the trading environment.
One of the key issues we’re facing is trying to predict demand whilst the booking window remains so short and we continue to manage operational costs and third party suppliers.
The government gave us just three days between last month’s tier announcement (we have hotels in London and Scotland so we had to factor in different operating guidelines too) and reopening for leisure guests so bookings came in very quickly. During the first weekend post-lockdown we sold over 30% of our total rooms just 24 hours before arrival which was fantastic to see but challenging to manage!
It’s inevitable that we’re going to see some unpredictable consumer behaviour – we need our teams to be across everything from managing website traffic to regulating the number of guests in any of our hotels at any given time. Easier said than done, but staying on top of erratic consumer behaviour is crucial to maintaining costs, workload and customer satisfaction.
In terms of guest experience the message has been made very clear: we must offer a simple and safe experience
We need to resort to the tried and tested, simply because we still have so many operational challenges. Whilst it might be tempting to wheel out a range of new service offerings, it’s important that you don’t dilute the most important message: that your trusted products are the same as ever, simply adapted for the lockdown age.
This doesn’t mean that guests must miss out on a comfortable, relaxing stay. Quite the opposite, the simpler the service, the more they will feel relaxed and in control.
Essentially, whilst you might feel the pressure to innovate your customer offering to bring in new customers this Christmas, it will actually be the simplicity and safety of your existing proposition that makes the difference to guests.
Flexibility is King
We’re all aware of the consumer uncertainty that remains post-national lockdown. Whilst cut-price deals will take you some way towards enticing the festive punter, ultimately, the biggest selling point this Christmas period will be flexibility.
Those brands that are able to clearly show that they understand consumers’ reluctance to commit to a specific timeline will be those that fare best this winter.
Here at Point A, we’ve introduced new semi-flexible booking options to complement our fully-flexible rates, meaning that guests no longer face a black-and-white choice between complete flexibility and lower prices. Although it’s not ideal in terms of guaranteeing revenue, by demonstrating that understanding, hoteliers are giving themselves the best possible opportunity to bring occupation rates back up.
We can see the light at the end of the tunnel, however there are still many unanswered questions for our sector.
To return to any ‘regular’ capacity levels, we have to see consumer confidence returning strongly in 2021. The vaccine rollout will help this enormously, yet whether or not this also drives a return of corporate guests and a bounceback in terms of the international market remains unclear.
For business and continuity planning it would be great to know if our sector, which has suffered more than most, will benefit from any further government assistance such as the VAT reduction and rates past March 2021. Across Europe, we have seen much stronger national government for those businesses directly impacted by closures: in France you can apply for a grant worth 20% of turnover, in Germany it is up to €50k per business per month and in Austria they have paid up to 80% of YOY turnover for the period of the highest lockdown measures.
In the UK we can but hope for similar support measures in 2021.
If this pandemic has taught us anything it is that we are stronger together, and UK Hospitality has done a great job in keeping the spotlight on the challenges we all face. I think we are all very hopeful that better days lie ahead, and that we can all look forward to showing how important this sector is to the happiness and wellbeing of the country.