Turning the Crisis into an Opportunity – Insights from Ted Teng on Combating COVID-19!

There is a short video made by an Indian Travel Agent that is doing the rounds on Social Media. The script line is farcical and funny on the surface but the messaging could not be more solemn and sombre.

In the opening frame, a man is shown wheeling a vegetable cart. He then proceeds to sell a batch of ginger to a customer while talking about response time, after-sales service, and how efficient his team is. The confounded customer asks the man what service he is really selling while peddling a mere pushcart of vegetables. The man quickly regains composure and tells the lady that he was earlier a Travel Agent but is now reduced to selling vegetables. At the end of the video, the Travel Agent appears on the screen imploring the Government and the allied bodies to think and plan cohesively and bring out steps that would prohibit such a deplorable transition in a skilled and profit-making industry.

Elsewhere, an erstwhile enterprising entrepreneur has been lamenting about how she has had to bring the shutter down on her restaurant. The eatery was trendy, situated in a hip, hugely frequented location, and had a steady traffic of devout patrons. Still, the demise of the Diner has been painfully quick and sharply hurting to the investors and owners.

There is the overriding sentiment during the pandemic that the travel and tourism industry is one of the worst-hit. It, no doubt, is. It is good to recognize and acknowledge that fact. Pre-informed is pre-warned, which in turn helps one get pre-armed.

The other truth of the matter is; every crisis has a cycle. What spirals down is bound to curve back up. That is the law of nature. It would be wise to have a larger overview of the situation at hand and strategize keeping the long term perspective in mind.

My free-wheeling chat with Ted Teng springs up thought-provoking insights into the matter and bears hope and promise for the resilient industry. A renowned, multiple awards-winning Hotelier, Ted Teng has been a global hospitality leader for four decades. In his earlier roles, Ted has served as President and Chief Operating Officer of Wyndham International Inc. and President, Asia-Pacific for Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. Most recently, Ted Teng was the President and Chief Executive Officer of The Leading Hotels of the World, a position he held for over a decade from 2008 until April last year.

Teng has followed his motto, “Preserve, Enhance, and Invent” fervently. As someone who has enjoyed intense and high engagement with the industry, Ted’s insights are holistic, with a remarkable sense of clarity, superlative strategic thinking and tactical disposition of the highest order.

Do step into my conversation with Ted Teng for some extremely pertinent pointers from one of the tallest leaders in our industry.

L. Aruna Dhir – What are some of the worst ways, COVID 19 has affected the industry?

Ted Teng – I think the crisis is affecting pretty much everyone around the world.  However, the phrase “We are all in this together” is not entirely accurate.  Yes, we are all in the same storm, but we are not all in the same boat.  Some boats are better able to weather the storm than others.

First and foremost, those who were infected by the virus and had to be hospitalized or died, have suffered the most along with their families.  There is simply no way to quantify this harsh reality. From an industry standpoint, without a doubt, the millions of workers laid off or furloughed are affected the most.  Most of the workers depend solely on the work income to support their families.  In normal times, when workers are laid off, they can look for other jobs.  But when most workers are laid off, there is nothing a worker can do.

The second group would be the suppliers to the industry.  We buy their food, toiletries, linen, beverages, services, etc.  They in turn hire people and now these people are laid off.  Again, they have very few other prospects.

Many small businesses near a hotel such as restaurants, bars, and retail shops depend on the guests at the hotels.  When hotels are closed, these businesses and their employees suffer.

Many local governments depend on the occupancy and sales taxes collected from the visitor spend.  Without visitors, these cities’ ability to provide public services is gravely impacted.

Our industry is only viable with the support of intermediaries such as travel advisors, meeting planners, and others who bring the buyers and sellers together.  These often small businesses are mostly without income right now.  Their livelihoods are affected. The uncertainty of recovery, lack of income, and health risk concerns are all putting tremendous stress and anxieties on the people of this industry.

L. Aruna Dhir – What can hotel owners do to keep themselves afloat?

Ted Teng – Frankly now is a little late to be thinking about staying afloat.  This is a cyclical business.  This recession has been coming for some time after the longest economic expansion in history.  We just didn’t know what will trigger this recession.

Strategically businesses need to:

A). Determine the right mix of capital stack for the owner.  Want a higher return on equity with high debt?  Then one better have high reserves to survive the dips.  Don’t want the risk; then reduce the debt load.

B). Match the facilities cycle with the economic cycles.  This is the best time to renovate when the opportunity cost is lower in addition to lower labor and material costs.  Always plan ahead.

C). Think long term and holistically as to “afloat”.

Are your people really your most important assets?  If they are, why would you not create work for them during the downturn in order to retain them?  Perhaps conduct training that you couldn’t do when the business was busy.  Deep cleaning may need to be done.  Use your employees to help you rethink the future.  They really need you now.  Businesses that invest in their people during downturns will have grateful employees who would then naturally provide better services to your customers.

We had 10+ good years, where are the profits?  Why not take a loss this year, invest in the business, and inject cash?  Is minimizing loss really the most important task right now?  What would you do now if you looked at your profit and loss statement on a five-year or ten-year basis?  When businesses are starting up, owners often take a loss for several years.  Why?  For the sake of future successes!  This is no different.  You have a choice.

In investments, I would like to achieve a certain return on my invested capital over time.  But I don’t achieve the same return every year.  Some years are higher and some years lower.  Some years, it is even negative.  I am investing in the long term.  If I don’t ever want a negative return, I should buy US Treasury and accept a lower return with no risk.  Running a business is no different.


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.

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  1. Thank you for commenting Ken.

    I fully agree with your concerns. In fact, even when things were hunky-dory, especially in the case of standalone restaurants one has seen that not even a part of profits reaped are strategically plowed back into upping the brand quotient or training matters. It wasn’t a surprise then, that if 10 new restaurants opened, at least five shut down.

    Even around Crisis management hotels have not been so well-planned and clued on to disaster management. It has been seen from small cases like suicide in a suite to terror attacks. The shape of the world has changed – for some time now – and not just during the novel Coronavirus, but we have not kept pace.

    So, yes I quite agree with the point that you make.

  2. Aruna: I can’t disagree with anything that Ted Teng said in the interview. I would just like to add a bit of emphasis on a couple of points. First, I agree with the statement that the winners of all this will be those that plan for the long term. However, one must first survive the short term and that is the pressing matter at the moment for many. Secondly, much of the travel industry, particularly hotels and restaurants have done a very poor job of laying away reserves for the bad times. Owners tend to take profits out of those businesses whenever there are profits to be had. Then when the floor drops out of the economy, there are no reserves to fall back on and many owners are not willing to put any of their captured profits back into the business for training, renovation, etc. This can be substantiated by a large number of hotels and restaurants that will simply not reopen. Some estimates are as high as 40%.