Hotel operations navigate uncertainty around crisis
Hotel operations navigate uncertainty around crisis
09 JUNE 2020 7:10 AM

Hotel News Now looks back at how hotel operations have changed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

GLOBAL REPORT—To make it through the pandemic crisis, the hotel industry has had to respond in different ways.

Hoteliers have shifted operations and are carefully considering how things will change once people are traveling again. This roundup looks at steps hoteliers have taken over the past month.

On 13 May, Hotel News Now’s Terence Baker wrote that the Spanish government planned to start reopening its economy, with hotels included in phase one of the process.

Inmaculada Ranera, managing director for Spain and Portugal at business advisory Christie & Co., said hotels in the country have been allowed to operate since 11 May, but a great deal of ambiguity remained due to the lack of a vaccine for the virus.

“The government is working on measures that the hotels will need to respect, such as perhaps having one floor empty so that if there are coronavirus cases confirmed, there will be room to isolate and quarantine,” Ranera said.

Baker and HNN’s Dana Miller reported on 14 May that hoteliers are working on elevated cleanliness and sanitization measures to keep guests safe as hotels reopen coming out of the crisis.

Global hotel companies including NH Hotels Group and Accor have committed to new cleaning procedures and protocols. 

Doug Kennedy, president of the Kennedy Training Network, outlined on a webinar in May how hotel booking and distribution is likely to change, HNN’s Sean McCracken writes.

Travelers turned to online travel agencies to book trips after past recessions, but Kennedy said he believes this one could result in a resurgence in direct bookings.

“We’ve really had to talk to travelers about what it really means to book through a third party or an OTA, and hopefully that’s going to come back to help us,” he said. “I think it will be a rebirth opportunity for direct bookings. People have found out the hard way what happens when somebody else has your revenue and deposit.”

Hoteliers should be preparing for the future and be proactive in communicating what’s happening on property right now, sources said during a LodgingStream online conference panel.

Crestpoint Companies President and CEO Kal Patel said his focus has been on keeping properties open, retaining employees where possible and finding alternative demand. He added that he’s seen success in proactive communication.

“We contacted local health departments and emergency management and let them know we’re here for the community,” he said. “We got responses at many of our hotels where we housed people from homeless shelters or folks who were involved in domestic violence.”

To reopen successfully, hoteliers need to pay attention to state guidelines and other factors, such as financing, writes HNN’s Stephanie Ricca.

Jon Crellin, managing director of the Boston Park Plaza and VP of operations at Highgate, said his company is planning for “everything from valet parking to laundry service to safety issues.”

“I’m in a group with other VPs of operations within Highgate and we’re going through all our SOPs across all our locations that will all be localized and made appropriate for the different operations we have,” he said.

HNN’s Danielle Hess spoke with Peter Høgh Pedersen, GM of Denmark’s Villa Copenhagen hotel, to discuss the challenges the property has faced in pushing back its opening date as a result of the pandemic.

The hotel was originally supposed to open in April, but it is now expected to open in July. He said he had to let employees go as a result of the pandemic.

“These were very awkward things to have to deal with in a ramp-up,” Pedersen said. “But at that time (in early March) … we didn’t have any anticipation to what extent this would be affecting (us). But boy, did we get a wake-up call over that week.”

The industry has to be prepared for disasters and the unknown, which many hoteliers have realized from the COVID-19 pandemic, writes HNN contributor Alicia Hoisington.

Chuck Kelley, a partner with Cayuga Hospitality Consultants who was also part of Marriott International’s crisis committee for 10 years, said hoteliers should have been prepared for as catastrophic of an event as the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We had the swine flu, SARS and a couple of others,” he said. “The first time you get surprised. The second time, it’s shame on you if you get surprised.”

Hoteliers have had to adjust property design, layout and operations to be in line with social distancing as a result of the pandemic, HNN’s Miller writes.

Sources said measures include plexiglass divider installations at the front desk and social-distancing signage in public spaces.

During a panel hosted by the NYU Jonathan M. Tisch Center for Hospitality, leaders of global hotel companies said they remain optimistic and believe the industry could return to “the golden age of travel,” HNN’s McCracken writes.

“Up until about 90 days ago, I heard every member of this panel utter repeatedly that we’re in a golden age of travel, and we all believed that,” said Hilton President and CEO Chris Nassetta. “It’s hard to feel good about that now for all the reasons that have been articulated, but when we wake up in two to three years … I think we will be in a golden age of travel again, because people’s desire to move and congregate is unstoppable.”

Some hotels have really shifted operations by turning unused guestrooms into offices for those working remotely during the pandemic, HNN’s Robert McCune writes.

One example of this is the InterContinental Washington D.C. – The Wharf, which has seen an uptick in day use and overnight bookings from work-from-home professionals, said director of sales and marketing Cat Carter.

“There seems to be a strong desire to get out of the house and work in a relaxing, quiet environment. We see guests coming in with their laptop bags and files, pacing the lobby, taking calls and adding fantastic reviews noting their productive stay,” she said by email, noting that standard pricing is applied and the window for these bookings is short (24 to 48 hours).

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