Hoteliers on how operations are shifting across globe
Hoteliers on how operations are shifting across globe
30 MARCH 2020 9:07 AM

Hoteliers from around the world share the range of changes they’ve implemented on-property since the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. From staffing to cleaning to F&B, hoteliers are finding ways to operate safely and effectively.

GLOBAL REPORT—Many hotels across the globe are faced with shutting their doors and suspending operations amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, but those in the position to stay open have had to make significant adaptations to operations on property.

Hotel News Now reached out to 3 GMs, a managing director and a CEO via email for insight on the business impact they see on-property, and what strategies they are implementing to operate at a time of low occupancy and leaner staffs.

Michael Martin, GM of InterContinental Singapore
(responses received 19 March)

Q: What business impact have you seen so far on property and in your area? Describe the current landscape.
A: “Since Singapore’s first confirmed case of COVID-19 in January 2020, the hotel has been significantly impacted in all aspects of business, particularly room occupancy and (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions business) as the hotel heavily relies on international travel from the European, U.S., Australian and ASEAN markets.

"As the situation around the virus continues to develop and travel bans are being more strictly imposed around the world, this has become increasingly challenging, and room occupancy has reduced significantly, in line with the luxury market.

"Despite the decline in international travelers, there has been an increase in local Singaporean guests. The local market has always been a priority for our hotel, consistently being one of the hotel’s top geo-source markets. We have adjusted our staycations options and flexibility to ensure that we continue to offer our local guests a ‘getaway’ opportunity with experiential activities in a clean and safe environment, catering to guests of different demographics such as families, couples and even pet owners. Some social events and dining experiences, such as afternoon tea in the Lobby Lounge at our hotel, have also shown remarkable resilience.”

Q: What strategies have you and your team put in place?
A: “As the health of our guests and colleagues are our primary concern, the hotel has put in place precautionary measures, including increasing the frequency of cleaning and installing additional hand sanitizers, in both public and back-of-house areas of the hotel. We have also implemented health declaration surveys for incoming guests, temperature screenings for all staff and suppliers who enter our hotel, and we continue to work closely with our suppliers and colleagues to be extra diligent with personal cleanliness and hygiene.

"In terms of operations, we are taking this opportunity to arrange sabbaticals for our associates and upskill our staff by organizing re-training courses, cross-departmental learning programs and online courses for staff from all departments ranging from operations to commercial. This ensures that when business returns to normal, our hotel teams remain fully engaged and ready to deliver exceptional service, armed with new skills and knowledge.

"The hotel is also redefining our dining concepts, offering takeaway and delivery options, and actively driving alternative revenue streams.”

Mohamed Awadalla, CEO of United Arab Emirates-based TIME Hotels
(responses received 22 March)

Q: What business impact have you seen so far on property and in your area? Describe the current landscape.
A: “Naturally, the market, whether it’s resort, beach or city properties, is depressed right now with travel and social restrictions across the UAE and the rest of the world. Bars, swimming pools, gyms, spas, function rooms and beaches are all closed, only the hotel (guestrooms) and the restaurants are open. As part of our overall room mix, we have a wide range of suites and apartments and as such we have a solid base of long-staying guests which provides a cushion when market demand softens. Also, being a value-led corporate chain, when businesses are looking to reduce their ‘five-star corporate travel expenses,’ we are a popular choice.”

Q: What strategies have you and your team put in place?
A: “In terms of business strategy, we are being very aggressive with our rates, especially in the corporate, staycation and long-staying guest segments. We have also enhanced our sanitation, above and beyond the required recommendations, and if any member of staff has outstanding holidays due, then of course we are encouraging (them to) take time off now. We are also using this quiet time to put our staff through development programs and we are re-evaluating our procedures to be as efficient as possible and to offer an improved guest experience.”

Rachel Blake, GM of Hilton Garden Inn Bellevue in Bellevue, Washington
(responses received 26 March)

Q: What business impact have you seen so far on property and in your area? Describe the current landscape.
A: “We started to feel the impact almost immediately here in Bellevue, Washington. On 2 March, we began receiving phone calls from clients canceling group blocks and meetings for the month. In the first week, we lost almost 95% of our group business from March, with additional cancellations for April and May. Our corporate client base quickly disappeared, with Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, etc., all suspending travel.

"At the beginning of March this year, we had 74 team members. Today, we have 10. The crushing blow to our team was, and will continue to be, the hardest part. Those of us who remain on staff understand that the job we had a month ago has significantly changed, and now expands to encompass all aspects of running a hotel as we stay focused on our guests. Our associates, like our industry, need immediate financial assistance and our businesses all need immediate debt forbearance. As we have heard, the impact of COVID-19, up to this point, is greater than 9/11 and the ’08 recession combined. Our hotel is dealing directly with the consequences of this devastating global pandemic.”

Q: What strategies have you and your team put in place?
A: “The way we have traditionally operated hotels doesn’t exist any longer. Operationally, we now have department heads doing what we had an entire team doing a month ago. Our executive housekeeper is cleaning rooms and doing laundry. Three weeks ago, we implemented the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines for cleaning and disinfecting public space and guestrooms. Our restaurant, 47 North Bar + Bistro, is only providing takeout. Our front-desk manager is running shifts and night audit. We have reviewed every expense, line by line, and either eliminated it or called the vendor to negotiate a new payment plan. Our revenue manager has opened every channel available and priced ourselves competitively. Our director of sales is the only person left in (that) department, and is prospecting for any potential business and working diligently to re-contract the business that has canceled to date.

"However, most importantly, we are making personal connections and reaching out to our clients and partners to check and see how they and their families are doing. We’ve maintained constant communication with our corporate office via standing conference calls, and have worked diligently to educate ourselves on the ever-changing status of our industry via communication from Hilton and the American Hotel & Lodging Association, as they continue to provide updates on safety, sanitation and caring for our associates.”

Dee Patel, managing director of The Hermitage Hotel in Nashville, Tennessee
(responses received 27 March)

Q: What business impact have you seen so far on property and in your area? Describe the current landscape.
A: “On a typical warm day in March, the lobby of The Hermitage Hotel is bustling with activity and Capitol Grille is booked solid for business and special occasion luncheons as well as dinner gatherings. Nashville is always busy with performances, concerts, gatherings and group celebrations of all types, business meetings taking place, and the sounds of all genres of music throughout the neighborhoods in the city. Today, it’s personally heartbreaking to witness a city that is mostly shut down, even though The Hermitage Hotel remains open and welcoming guests who are looking for a reprieve from current reality. Many of our employees are working from home, and those that are at the hotel are certainly maintaining social distance as they work on special projects. Nashville is a very social city, where people come from all over to gather, play, indulge and celebrate so many new experiences that make up the spirit of the Music City. “

Q: What strategies have you and your team put in place?
A: “While The Hermitage Hotel has always upheld the highest standards of cleaning and sanitation, we are following all recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. We are a safe place for our employees to work, and of course a safe place for our guests to visit. Once a guest departs, we ensure their room is not occupied for 72 hours to ensure a deep cleaning. Our team is actively practicing social distancing with our guests and with each other. And it’s difficult to turn a corner and not find hand sanitizer. We have introduced a very flexible overnight package that reduces any risk for our guests and allows them to cancel up until 6 pm on their arrival day, and they also receive a $50 in-room dining credit per day. Arrival and departure times are also very flexible. Anything that we can do to make things easier for our guests, we will do it.

"Challenging times have always led to creative solutions. Our team has developed an innovative array of take-out options. Local residents can enjoy pre-mixed cocktails such as The Good Old Days Old Fashioned and a Cosmopolitan Society Martini, all with a variety of bar bites from Oak Bar. They can choose one of our spring pie selections include a Goo-Goo cluster pie to celebrate another Nashville institution. A Netflix Binging Snack Box or Movie Night Kit featuring white truffle popcorn are available, as is a kids’ cookie-decorating kit complete with a social media contest to show off their culinary creativity. Plus, a selection of craft beers, wines and a family-style menus makes the choice seamless, complete with classic Goo-Goo clusters for each member of the family. Of course we offer we offer a limited menu of long-loved favorites for breakfast, lunch and dinner.”

Luis Arancibia, GM of Aloft Orlando Downtown in Orlando, Florida

(responses received 30 March)

Q: What business impact have you seen so far on property and in your area? Describe the current landscape.
A: “Significant. All national and regional governmental bans have drastically affected our industry, but in moments like these is where we find opportunities outside of normal practice. We are now reinventing ourselves to be that accommodating referral to those traveling professionals that are attending our national health advisory. We must put our hospitality at the service of our citizens in ways we haven’t done before. We are allocating accessible rates to appease the emergency travelers, we have enforced flexible cancellation policies to allow our guests the ability to travel without stress and not affect their finances if priorities were to change for them last minute. We are actively educating ourselves to ensure appropriate preventive protocols take place in our hotel 24/7. We truly value the health our visitors and team members alike, hence it will always be our No. 1 priority.”

Q: What strategies have you and your team put in place?
A: “We welcome this challenge with confidence in our spirit to serve others, we are also humbled by being able to keep our doors open for business during a time when many our neighbors are closing theirs. We acknowledge that as an industry and country we are stronger together, so we are making ourselves available to assist any hotel that may need what we have, whether it’s rooms, management support or simply strategy building.

"All of our team members have been trained on sanitation practices that we have reinforced by implementing detailed checklists that ensure the proper sanitation of our hotel, guests and team members. We understand that our citizens’ health should be our most important focus and as hospitality ambassadors my team and I embrace this responsibility with the upmost respect.”

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