Part 2 of 2 mini-series, a though piece of Giovanni Angelini, veteran hotelier, consultant and mentor: indications are that the curve of infections is flattening worldwide and this crisis has impacted almost every aspect of our lives, brought the global travel industry to a halt, and destroyed many well-established businesses in the process.
Read part 1 here
Global politics and economics
Over the past few months, the whole world has been obsessed with the COVID-19 pandemic due to the depth and breadth of its impact. Larger than most previous crises, it will cause structural shifts in global politics, the world economy and finances for years to come.
Global economic integration is in for a considerable shake-up as some countries are isolating themselves. Governments will be throwing together some of the largest economic stimulus and bailout packages in history. Some industries may benefit more than the others, and let's hope that the travel and tourism industry is not forgotten as most businesses in our sector need help.
The principles of globalization are expected to remain, but in response to anticipated new government policies, businesses and organizations may be forced to rethink their strategies and could face lower profitability in the short/medium term.
In some cases, we may see 'economic nationalism.' This is definitely the wrong way to go, in particular when it comes to disrupting the established global supply chain, as it will automatically become much more expensive for consumers.
As a global industry, travel and tourism will definitely be affected by any type of protective/nationalistic approach. It is not the right time for this.
Is Social Distancing feasible in hospitality?
During this extraordinary circumstance, personally I believe that in this industry we should say “physical distancing with an increase in social communication/ networking”.
Social distancing goes against the basics of hospitality as we know it. How will we interact with guests and with each other in a way that keeps us safe but doesn't offend? How can we be apart but together? In many cultures, we shake hands when we greet people; in some cases, we hug. But unfortunately, some of those ingrained habits may have to stop.
To replace something as iconic as a handshake or a hug is going to require a new choreography. This is a people business, and we often come into contact with other human beings. Face-to-face contact is part of the mechanism we use to develop relationships with our customers. We will have to find other ways acceptable to both parties.
The pandemic is changing many things we know, particularly about how we remain socially connected. We will have to get much more creative and have to regroup, reimagine, and re-strategize the way we conduct business, and, among others, we will be forced to adopt responsible automation.
Safety comes first, and during these unusual times, norms around space have to be rewritten in both the front of the house and in employee support areas. Think less face-to-face contact and more contactless hospitality. Reboot with robots?
The shift in travel trends
Indications are that leisure business has much more potential than business travel. Of course, we must understand that most economies in the world have suffered significant losses due to the pandemic, and therefore the spending power of most people has decreased. This may be reflected in the short-medium term. We also have to accept that even if people want to travel, they won't until they're confident that their trips are safe.
Road trips may have an advantage over flying in the near term. And travellers are likely to consider the health status and healthcare facilities of a destination (domestic or foreign) before deciding to visit.
As hygiene and safety will be major consumer preferences in the new norm, developed countries/locations will have an advantage. Cruise operators will have their hands full attempting to make their products safer, and convincing their customers of this. Demand for Airbnb/home sharing facilities will fall due to a general lack of sanitary standards and security.
OTAs are here to stay, and the best way ahead is to develop a win-win situation with them. Do remember that OTAs love crises and adore domination. They also love inexperienced hoteliers as they are most likely to 'panic and submit.' Don't be one of them.
Business travel for meetings and conferences is expected to decline as well. Many business people and regular travellers have found themselves working from home or other locations during the pandemic, and the use of technology for meetings (via Microsoft teams, Cisco webex, Zoom, Skype, etc….), and how to manage a remote workforce, is becoming second nature. This is changing the perception of business travel from an absolute necessity to something that's merely optional.
Too much has already changed, and more changes are expected. At present, many people and organizations are understandably in survival mode and forced to adopt a 'whatever it takes' approach to keep their businesses afloat, and this can be disruptive in some markets.
To attract leisure travellers, there is a need to create new immersive/rich experiences with a variety of quality products and physical spaces for education and discovery. Consumers are always searching for the latest innovations to "feel-good, look-good." Wellness already has a considerable following, and demand continues to grow. More and more hotel groups are pursuing this important segment. Space and wellbeing will be the new luxury.
As the industry recovers, consumer behaviour is evolving, and customers are going to expect brands to give more in terms of attention, empathy, and value. Consumers will need to be given peace of mind, and they will want to know – and expect – that brands are taking proper care of them by implementing heightened cleaning and disinfection measures. And these must be clearly communicated.
Changes and Innovation in response to the situation
History tells us that crises and disasters have continually set the stage for change, often for the better, and this may be the case with this pandemic as well.
The hotel landscape is changing, and the industry must respond to trends and expectations, particularly in solutions to prevent infection, and in implementing rigorous standards for cleaning, inspections and related certifications.
Most companies are busy developing new products and raising their standards. As travel will eventually reopen, travellers need the confidence that safety measures are in place covering every aspect of their journey.
We will definitely see major improvements in air filtration and in the disinfection of guest rooms and public areas. The provision of fresh and clean air is always welcomed by guests.
Health screening measures, including thermal detection screening at all entrances, provision of hand sanitizers and antibacterial wipes, and the wearing of face masks, are simply becoming standards in most cases. The autonomous cleaning robots that move around killing microbes by zapping them with ultraviolet light are under testing. Full-body disinfectant entrance tunnels are also under testing. Electrostatic spray machines with hospital-grade disinfectants are already in use in a number of hotels, as is ultraviolet light technology for sanitizing operating equipment.
More Plexiglas sneeze guards to protect guests and staff should be used where appropriate. Check-in and check-out kiosks should be rearranged to avoid queues and limit and face-to-face interaction with front office agents. Biometric screening systems, such as facial recognition and fingerprint identification, are expected to be available for hotel use soon. The introduction of an immunity passport issued by authorized officials is under consideration.
Contactless bathroom amenities, such as touchless soap and shampoo dispensers, are being implemented by a number of brands. Regardless of the look, most surfaces in hotels will be covered by acrylic or similar hard materials that are easy to clean.
Electric vehicles are a no-brainer. So too is the replacement of basic touchpoints with technology (such as QR codes offering access to digital menus and other information), and the list goes on.
For Food & Beverage, best practices need to be continuously upgraded and reimagined. And be aware that self-service food and drinks (i.e. buffets) are now a thing of the past in a number of places. A new trend of meat-free, gluten-free, hypoglycemic-keto is grown very rapidly.
Expect room service to be in greater demand as more guests will prefer personal space and privacy following the crisis. Hotels have to be more creative in this area and come-up with new offerings. Going above and beyond is the key to staying in business.
Social lobbies will be much less in demand, and they may need to be redesigned based on new preferences and trends.
When and where possible, hotels should ensure that rooms are kept vacant for at least six hours (or longer) between the departure of a guest and the arrival of a new one, as this will allow sufficient time to properly clean and machine disinfect the room.
But what can be done to sanitize all luggage before entering the hotel premises? And what about money? There is a saying that money is dirty, and this is literally true. Hotels need to find ways to sterilize notes and coins used in all cash transactions, internally and externally, and adopt mobile payment methods where possible.
Who will be the best thinker, the best innovator, and the one to deliver new ideas? It is a fact that crises create opportunities, and there is no exception here. Who will implement successful new processes and products that can be promoted as a competitive advantage? A clear opportunity for brands to stand-out in the market.
Community and Society
Taking care of others is the very essence of hospitality. The core values of hotel business – caring, welcoming, kind, and a readiness to help others – will be more important in society than ever, and any genuine acts of altruism that hotels make will go a long way to boosting the industry's image and position.
Society will be looking for genuine examples of social responsibility, particularly when it comes to the safety, health, and well-being of customers, employees, partners, suppliers, and all stakeholders.
Now, more than ever, it is time to provide assistance to local communities and charitable organizations which help society's most vulnerable – especially people who have lost their jobs and are without an income to feed themselves or their families. Hotels are part of the local community, and they must play an important role within that community.
Effective community engagement should be based on a clear strategy aligned with a company's business objectives and related to its core competencies. Encouraging hotel employees to get involved in community initiatives and engagement programmes helps both sides.
Recognize that epidemics and pandemics are a result of humankind's continuous destruction of the planet – widespread deforestation, industrial emissions, improper waste management, chemical farming, rampant infrastructure development etc.
Humans are also responsible for the exploitation of wild species, creating the perfect storm for the spillover of diseases from wildlife to people.
The pandemic is forcing all companies to revisit their corporate social responsibility platforms and rethink their business models. From cleaning chemicals to eco-friendly materials, to double/triple-glazed windows, to solar panels, to recycling/ composting, etc.
In general, hotels are polluters, and the strengthening of eco-friendly programmes and standard processes is a basic expectation that will not go away. A lot of good work has been done, but much more is needed for hotels to become more transparent and more sustainable in all areas.
Organizations must generate profits but not at the expense of society. Responsible tourism must come into play and be embraced by all.
Best practices in sustainability involve creating exceptional and equal value for all key stakeholders, including customers, investors, employees and the environment. The community and society expect nothing less.
We must recognize that there is no returning to the 'old normal,' and we can no longer treat the world as an infinite source of natural resources without giving anything back. It is time now to break any myths that more sustainable options for business were not possible but have to accept that all is possible when we put our minds to it.
As we are in an era of climate change, there is no space for half-hearted activities in sustainability, we must take it seriously. It has been proven that hotels/ organizations that have incorporated sustainable principles, in their processes/ operations, are generating cost savings and recognized by the consumers and by the community as leaders and models to follow. Those organizations are also receiving higher guest reviews.
A question that we all have to ask ourselves: Will climate change become a deeper problem for the world than the coronavirus?
Also read: (click title to view the article)
- Giovanni Angelini Series: Impact of Pandemics At a Corporate Level - Part 1 of 3
- Giovanni Angelini Series: Impact of Pandemics At a Corporate Level - Part 2 of 3
- Giovanni Angelini Series: Impact of Pandemics At a Corporate Level - Part 3 of 3
A 50 year veteran of the Hotel-Hospitality-travel industry with a wealth of experience acquired in 4 Continents, Asia in particular. A long term resident of Hong Kong and Retired Chief Executive Officer of Shangri-La International.
A board member of several large corporations and member of many industry related and quality management organisations. Founder of Angelini Hospitality, providing consultancy and advisory work to developers and hotels-travel-tourism organisations.
Recipient of two Honoris Causa (Doctorate) in Business Administration and in Global Business Leadership, four Lifetime Achievement Awards, the 2006 Corporate Hotelier of the World, Maestro del Lavoro (2014) and of several other recognitions and awards.