Even as we navigate extraordinary times, there’s great value in being “normal.”
The hospitality industry continues to respond with enviable professionalism and a sense of urgency to the many profound circumstances brought about by the novel coronavirus pandemic. As we proceed, we find a great deal of discussion centered on what may become the new normal.
Certainly, it’s a catchy phrase, and we must take careful stock of our industry: both the short-term adjustments we have already had to make and longer-term, possibly permanent alterations in the way we do business. These considerations include enhanced cleaning, sanitation, and contactless services; redesign of lobby and room configuration in respect of social distancing and related viral mitigation strategies; new approaches to “selling a room;” and the accelerated implementation of new operational and analytical technologies. The latter has huge implications for the costs and our use of labor in what has traditionally been a labor-intensive service industry.
Perhaps talking about the new normal is a coping mechanism, a way to assure us that our circumstances will be OK going forward or a way to put a brave face on uncertainty. Yes, we will adapt to new guest priorities, new technologies, an ever-changing labor market and new competitive factors. Ongoing and future impacts on regional, national and global travel, and concerns over the rate, degree and habits of business recovery—and, thus, group business—will also weigh heavily on our industry. Will that new normal also mean even greater structural changes, such as a reworking of franchise and other strategic partnerships; or how hotel properties are financed? Time will tell.
However, before we venture off into less known territories, it is important to reaffirm where we stand on solid ground; our existing normal that has served us so well.
We can relate to two key aspects of this. First, as an industry, we have always responded to market dynamics, even those as incredible as the present situation, with a game plan based on an accurate market assessment and a realistic conception of hotel financing, operating principles and management of human resources. There is no pulling of rabbits out of a hat—or chatbot, for that matter. There will be no curbside or remote delivery of a hotel room and experience. Contactless services will have their limits. The basic principles of running a hotel will still apply in our physical world.
More importantly, we must preserve and strengthen the fundamental principles of how we work with each other within our organization, the foundations of our relationships with partners and vendors, and the basic contract we hold with guests. The present emergency, which has pried further open many of the fault lines in what has traditionally been an unspoken social contract among Americans, alerts us that we shouldn’t dismiss the potential for disruption in the relationships within our own hotel groups.
In this era of frayed nerves, this is where the real heavy lifting comes in. We must focus on the ties that bind us. Our mission and shared purpose. Our mutual respect and trust among team members. Sharing an appreciative guest review. Taking the time to celebrate our successes, large and small. No matter how rapidly or dramatically change comes to our industry, our normalcy will be what preserves and guides us. We must continue to “touch” each other in human ways.
Mark Ricketts is president and COO of McNeill Hotel Company.
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