L. Aruna Dhir – The world as we knew it has changed. Terms like the “New Normal” are being bandied about. So what is the Altered Environment, the Travel and Hotel Industry is getting into?
Kenneth Vincent – Since there has never been a “normal” in such a diverse industry it is hard to say what the new normal may look like. For example, in recent years some hotels have offered the option to have bed linens changed every other day or on request vs. daily. This was presented as saving water and soap to help the environment. Of course, in reality, it was to save money in most cases and I know of no case where that saving was offered back to the guest.
Defining the “new normal” would probably require a book size answer because there are so many issues. Complicating this is the fact that a hotel is not a business, but a group of businesses conducted in a given building or location. There are rooms, restaurants, bars, banquet halls, exhibit centers, exercise rooms, business centers, and a long list of entertainment options from beaches, to pools, to casinos, to golf courses, and marinas. Each of those venues will have a considerable list of changes to be defined and dealt with.
There are few though that are going to be obvious. Hotel rooms are not by their nature germ proof environments. Blankets, draperies, bedspreads, and carpets are germ collection points. It simply isn’t practical to shampoo the carpet after every checkout (and what about the Hall?). Certainly, there will be major changes in the laundry issues of both room linen and food linen.
The big banquet rooms seating hundreds or thousands with 10 sq.ft. per person will cease to exist. Many free-standing restaurants are requiring reservations when they re-open even though they didn’t take reservations at all before. This allows them to control the crowds and thus the spacing. Will that become a new norm in hotel restaurants? Bar seating may become a thing of the past. Spacing in exercise rooms and business centers will be different and the use of space dividers may become common.
Every hotel has a long list of “frequently touched surfaces” that must be sanitized frequently, going forward. Front desk counters and pens, doorknobs, elevator buttons, menus, luggage carts, public restrooms, pool furniture, ice machines, and vending machines will have to be kept squeaky clean just for starters. It is quite a probability that some hotels will not re-open some pools and F&B outlets.
David Ourisman – The new normal will remain difficult until the threat of COVID is beyond us. As long as potential guests are in fear of contracting the virus — and guests are expected to wear masks and maintain social distancing, the Alternative Environment will be difficult to wade through.
And not just from the practical view of running the operation! For example, reducing the number of tables in restaurants and maintaining six feet between tables, may force resorts to keep occupancy levels well near the halfway mark.
Jannes Soerensen – The ‘new normal’ will be the old normal, insofar as people travel and stay in hotels to make personal and business connections. I say we will be physically distant but emotionally close.
So notions of personal space may have altered and an appreciation for enhanced hygiene measures will exist, but we will get used to these new protocols and will continue to seek experiences that feed and nurture us.
L. Aruna Dhir – What will be the foremost strategies to reckon with for the hotel companies, in order to aspire to keep a healthy bottom line?
Kenneth Vincent – I’m not sure anyone can really answer this yet. It is certain that all revenue and expense items must be reviewed without pre-conceived opinions. Room rates, resort fees, F&B pricing, franchise fees, the cost of loyalty programs, financing options, and all other line items must be viewed with a zero-based starting point.
Since payroll costs are the largest single expense in most hotels these issues will need to be reviewed acutely. Staffing needs, productivity standards, union contracts, benefits, and even tipping policy will need an overhaul.
Since the travel industry is so interwoven between hotels, airlines, rental cars, tourism bureaus, and free-standing resorts, entertainment, and restaurant venues; the situation will remain fluid for many months or years.
All that having been said, I think it is not misplaced to reaffirm that no time in history has the travel industry, the hotel industry included, been subjected to such a violent upheaval and that puts us in unknown and unexplored territory.
David Ourisman – From the point of view of luxury hoteliering, I am taking the risk of answering this question a little differently.
The story is told of Isadore Sharp, President of Four Seasons, visiting one of his hotels during a time of economic turndown. He commented to the hotel’s GM that the lobby flowers weren’t fresh. The GM responded that he was economizing because fresh flowers cost so much. Mr. Sharp replied to this effect: cutting the quality standards for which the hotel was known would result in even deeper losses long into the future.
Jannes Soerensen – Well, there are no revenues at the moment so there are no profits!
Companies need to control their variable costs; they need to work hand in hand with their suppliers to ensure everyone’s survival; they need to work hand in glove with their travel partners, openly and fairly; they need to be transparent and fair in their dealings with their guests; they need to invest in their staff.
Companies will be judged on how they dealt with this crisis. Consumers will make choices based on how companies navigated these difficult times.
The industry is stilting back. There are lessons to be discovered, issues to be looked anew, and a lot of learning and unlearning to take place
But the silver lining is, for the most of the three tiers of generations involved, we are being minted as professionals who would have learned to tackle the dragon and triumph over it despite severe trials and tribulations.
Triumphs such as these are the sweetest!