Let’s face it, the countless 2020 industry predictions we read in December 2019 did not prepare us for this. Business school, quite frankly, couldn’t prepare us for this. Hoteliers, a few mere months ago, found themselves facing the year ahead with unbridled optimism. We relished in the promise of continued innovation, while hotels were poised to welcome an influx of eager travelers, and revenue projections boasted an upward trajectory. And now? We find ourselves in uncharted territory, facing—arguably—more uncertainty than we ever have before.
Not to say COVID-19 is the first pandemic to impact the hospitality realm, far from it. However, COVID-19 has, in many ways, created the perfect storm, its economic impact spreading far and wide as borders are shut down, and emergency protocols are implemented. In many ways, the world has come to a grinding halt, and hospitality is no exception. Hotel occupancy and airline travel have, understandably, plummeted, and many casinos and hotels are shutting down entirely for an undetermined amount of time.
However, amidst these uncertain times, it’s crucial to remember that this crisis is temporary.
Some forward-thinking management companies are using this lull as an opportunity to get projects done that are easier to accomplish with low occupancy. Things like installing a beacon network for an employee safety solution or updating their other systems to future-proof their business against future disruptions.
In short, there does exist a silver lining.
The Time You Never Had, You Have Now
Admittedly, we’ve all recently had a relative or friend suggest the productive use of this time, which many of us are dutifully spending in self-isolation. Common ideas include; finally starting the project you never otherwise had time for, reading a book, cleaning out the closet, reorganizing the house, or perhaps even learning a new language or adopting a new hobby. The logic is undeniably sound—we so often complain that there aren’t enough hours in the day, but now we suddenly have an influx of time. The only question that remains is, how can we best utilize it?
Now, shouldn’t the same reasoning apply to the hospitality realm? As industry leaders, are there ways we can leverage this period of low occupancy? The answer, undeniably, is yes.
As hotels look to update their operational infrastructure and steadily shift many of their primary platforms from legacy technology to new-age solutions throughout the year, they often run into a dilemma of timing. The implementation of a new platform (or in some cases, a total technological overhaul) is often time-consuming, and the training of staff can pose a potential disruption to hotel operations. The same applies, of course, for physical renovations or updates to the property, which could impact the guest experience. Understandably, this means that high season typically isn’t the best time to approach any major renovations, whether technical or property-specific.
And so, an opportunity presents itself. As hotel occupancy dwindles around the globe, properties can tackle projects that are easier to accomplish with low occupancy. This could include the temporary closure of low-traffic areas of hotels (such as F&B outlets), the reduction of costs and staff for non-essential projects and travel, or installing much-needed technology updates such as employee safety devices.
Planning for the Future
We may not have asked for this down period, but we have to play the cards that we’ve been dealt. More importantly, though, is the continued understanding that these circumstances are ultimately temporary. While the evolution and associated timelines of the COVID-19 pandemic are still unclear, there will come a time (whether in two months or six months) when we return to normalcy. Hotels will once again welcome an influx of guests, airports will be busy with travelers in transit, and businesses and consumers alike will once again embrace life as we’ve always known it. Those exciting predictions we had for 2020? Well, they might be paused temporarily, but they will once again be within our grasp. For now, we simply have to keep our eyes trained on that future and, subsequently, we have to find ways to "future-proof" our business.
Hoteliers, ask yourself the following:
- Can you use this time to go over your operational structure in granular detail?
- Can you determine any holes in your service offering and, better yet, formulate a plan to mitigate those service gaps once occupancy increases proactively?
- Can you improve staff training, update staff, and guest resources, develop new offerings, and perform deep cleans and maintenance tasks that have otherwise been neglected?
- Can you offer support and value to your staff and guests?
- Can you perform competitor research?
- How can you ensure you hit the ground running when this is all said and done?
Moreover, use this time to get creative, laying the foundation for the marketing initiatives which will guide your property to success once the pandemic has passed. Right now, we are all enduring the same challenges on a global scale. And although travel might currently be off the table, your audience is still there, listening. If anything, they are paying closer attention than ever before. Ultimately, those brands that utilize this time to proactively improve upon their offering, support their community and emerge a market leader are sure to make a swift recovery.
Robb Monkman is the founder and CEO of React Mobile.