Is the Travel and Hospitality Industry Prepared to work with the Pandemic?

–Part One: Slaying the Beast

L. Aruna Dhir – What are the key factors in employee management and employee engagement?

Kenneth Vincent – Well, we can use all the cheerleading words we want.  Show compassion, be sympathetic, promising employment as soon as possible, etc.  The reality though is that most hotel personnel live paycheck to paycheck and when that paycheck stops coming there are no words or promises that will do much to improve morale.  The hardest hit, are those that rely on tips for the majority of their income and they are among the most susceptible.

And that is the segment we must focus on.

When people are worried about feeding their families, paying the rent and utility bills, and possible loss of their car(s) there is only one thing that will improve their morale…money!

In the case of the United States, some hotels have qualified for small business help from the U.S. government. That is in the form of low-interest loans.  However, those loans can be forgiven if the loan is used to keep employees on the payroll.  Of course when that money runs out then the problem may still be faced.  That is also of minimal help to tip employees.

It should also be noted that most of the known hotel brand names don’t own very many hotels.  The vast majority are owned by others and have a franchise to carry the known name.  That is true of Marriott, Sheraton, Hilton, Choice Hotels, Holiday Inn, etc. So when we are considering what hotel companies can do to keep up the morale of their employees we have to define just who we are talking about.

David Ourisman – During past financial crises, the hotels that bounced back most quickly were those who kept their entire teams on the payroll. Obviously, those hotel companies with large financial reserves have a distinct advantage. But even smaller ones will have to pencil in permutations and combinations to see how best they can balance out.

Jannes Soerensen – It is important to keep in constant touch with the workforce. We are extremely fortunate because a combination of the UK Government’s Job Retention Scheme and the generous support of our owners have meant that we have been able to furlough all our staff on 100% of their wages. So they all feel secure financially and they know they can pay the rent and look after their families. But their mental well-being and morale is a concern and we have worked hard to stay in touch with our people.

Together with my Executive Team, who are not furloughed, we communicate on a daily basis with the staff, wherever they are, and especially with the most vulnerable.

We have set up Workplace (by Facebook) as a forum for interaction and communication; we send regular e-newsletters to the staff to keep them up to date; we have a daily social zoom call at 6 PM that anyone can dial into for a chat; we offer a daily meditation session at 10 AM; there is an active fitness group; we hold quizzes and competitions; there are voluntary training sessions, and managers keep in touch with their staff by telephone and email on a one to one basis. For those that are struggling, we provide access to one to one counselling, should they desire it.

Aruna Dhir – Guests are the fulcrum of our industry. What will have to be done to acquire an ideal level of guest-orientation?

Kenneth Vincent – A highway hotel has very few repeat customers in most cases.  Therefore they have little need for a sophisticated computer system to stay in touch with the guest.  Larger hotels, resorts, and chain-owned properties usually do have a system that tracks guests and thus can communicate with them.  A letter or email expressing the hotel’s hope for their well being and updating them on planned changes at the hotel would be something that may both, maintain awareness and garner goodwill.

Some of the letters/emails I’ve seen from hotel companies include heavy discounts on room rates.  Those vary up to 65%.  Others have stressed their new cleaning standards and the steps being taken to protect their guests and employees.  The latter is clearly an effort to override the fear that the Pandemic has implanted in the minds of the travelling public.

Of course, the downside of both tactics could be that it raises the question of why were rooms so expensive before, and why were hotels not cleaning to a high standard before.  It is a Catch 22 position.

David Ourisman – Some hotels have found creative ways to stay in contact with their guests. I’ve seen many interesting emails that delight with film and storytelling, playlists of music, recommended reading, authentic recipes, and ingredients for iconic drinks for which their bar is known. There are several creative and interesting options to keep the relationship alive.

Jannes Soerensen – Be open, be transparent, and communicate. But do not sell. We have been in direct touch with guests that still had reservations, which we cancelled at no charge. We send newsletters promoting London as a virtual destination. We continue to engage on social media. And I am in touch with many guests on a one to one basis, people who cannot wait to start travelling again and to return to the hotel.

We will carry on with this discussion in Part Two where we will talk about the situational crisis, the solutions that can be explored, and the strategic thinking that must be put into place.

L. Aruna Dhir
L. Aruna Dhir
L. Aruna Dhir is a Hospitality & Feature Writer and Columnist for some of the world’s highest-ranked Hospitality publications. Her industry writings are syndicated to the finest global hospitality bodies and used as references in case studies and hotel schools. Aruna runs an exclusive channel on the award-winning media digest, BizCatalyst 360° called “Hospitality Matters” based on her hospitality industry insight and commentary. Aruna is a recognized and national-poll winning Corporate Communications Specialist, PR Strategist, and Writer. A seasoned hotelier, Aruna loves to present hospitality industry watch, insights, case studies, and analysis to her ever-increasing base of global readership. Aruna has over two decades of experience in Hospitality Communications and Brand Management and has worked with some of the best global hotel companies. In her last corporate role, Aruna was the Director – Public Relations at The Imperial New Delhi, where she was part of the core group and was responsible for re-launching The Imperial as one of the finest hotels in India and Asia. Aruna’s hotel experience includes leading the Marketing Communications and Public Relations portfolio for flagship properties at The Oberoi Group and Hyatt International. She also helped launch the Vilases as the uber-luxury experiences from the Oberoi stable. As an industry expert, Aruna has launched brands, developed training modules, created standardization dockets on business communication, written manuals, conducted Image Study & Positioning Analysis, and led media campaigns of Australian Ministers in India. Aruna Dhir’s successful work tenure with Australia’s Diplomatic Mission in India in the capacity of Media Relations Officer, saw her working on a host of never-done-before exciting projects including the hugely rewarding organisation of Australia-India New Horizons – Australia’s largest ever Country Promotion. Aruna Dhir is the first-ever Creative Writer for the Indian greeting cards giant – ARCHIES Greetings and Gifts Ltd. The milestone puts her in the league of Helen Steiner Rice and Amanda Bradley. While with the company she came out with several series of cards sold under her byline – an unprecedented feat that has not been repeated since. L. Aruna Dhir also dabbles in poetry and has to her credit two titles of Anthologies published and marketed by Archies G&G Ltd. Aruna serves on the Board of Association of Emerging Leaders Dialogues (AELD), a front-running Commonwealth Body that works towards developing leaders and influencers of tomorrow, with Princess Anne as its international President. Aruna has been engaged in freelance work for Doordarshan – the Indian National Television, All India Radio, and Times FM. Academically, L. Aruna Dhir topped at the All-India level in her PG Diploma in Public Relations and Advertising. Aruna has been a Ph.D. scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University, akin to an Ivy League in India. She has earned a Senior Management Course Certification from the Oberoi Centre for Learning & Development in partnership with the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow; V Dimension Management Company, London & Asian Institute of Management, Manila, Philippines. Aruna Dhir has represented India to a select group of opinion-makers in the United States, as a Cultural Ambassador under the GSE Program of Rotary International. She has also participated in the IXth Commonwealth Study Conference held in Australia and chaired by Princess Anne. Aruna is a Life Member of the Public Relations Society of India A Freelance Writer since 1987, with articles that have appeared in India’s topmost newspapers and magazines, Aruna is also a blogger, a memoirist with works published on platforms like Medium and a Book reviewer on Goodreads. In her official and personal capacity L. Aruna Dhir has and continues to work on several social awareness projects – People for Animals, Earthquake Relief, National Blind Association, PETA, WSPA,, Friendicoes to name a few. Born at Allahabad (now Prayagraj), one of the world’s oldest known cities, L. Aruna Dhir grew up and did her schooling in Dehradun, regarded as a prominent seat of academia and literature. After being brought up in the sylvan surroundings of the verdant Doon valley, Aruna chose to make the Capital City of Delhi her second home.