The corona virus outbreak is affecting businesses across the world on a large scale. This impact is especially evident on the health and safety in hospitality industry with an increased level of cancellations and government enforced travel restrictions reducing occupancy to less than 50% globally. Hotels within the Asia pacific region are affected the most with some regions reporting occupancy rates as low as 10% and 20%.
There is an overwhelming sense of panic, with many hotels either temporarily shutting down or considering large scale budget cuts and lay-offs. While it’s too early to exactly predict the economic effects of COVID-19, we can certainly learn a thing or two from the past and make the right decisions to weather the storm.
Plan, Prepare, But Don’t Panic!
The World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic in March 2020. The lack of awareness about the disease, and the exponential rate of its spread made it the pandemic it is today— affecting as many as 188 countries and territories, with over 300,000 confirmed cases and over 13,000 fatalities.
These numbers are a huge cause for concern, yes. But it is no reason to panic. With an 88% recovery rate, the spread and impact of the disease can be efficiently curbed with the help of a few preventive measures for workplace health and safety in hospitality. Ensure that the safety of your staff and guests are priority.
Remember, you are the source of support for so many others. As staff you need to ensure guest safety and make them feel taken care of. As an owner, you need to keep your staff together and make a plan for your collective future— stay solution oriented.
Panicking only creates a domino effect making an already stressful situation worse. Think logically and create strategies that will help you in the long run.
Quality Is Key
One of the worst things you can do right now is lower the quality of your service. Try to keep in mind that everyone is going through a tough time— with cancellations of visas and travel restrictions, and the widespread panic, tempers may run high.
Train your staff to handle the situation and keep them up to speed with your prevention plan. Make sure they know how to communicate with guests and reassure them. Empathize with your guests, help them with their requests and make them feel safe and accommodated. Guests are more likely to remember how you handled their concerns during tumultuous times and choose you while planning their future trips.
Excellent service also includes keeping guest safety in mind. Stock up on masks, maintain a clean environment, provide sanitizers both in shared areas of the hotel as well as in rooms. Reassure your guests and make them feel like they are cared for and reduce any chance of them feeling anxious.
Learn From The Past
Granted, there aren’t many recent events that have resulted in such a large-scale negative economic impact. However, there are many—better contained, and even regional—experiences that we can learn from. The SARS outbreak in 2003, and the Influenza outbreak in 2009 have a resemblance to COVID-19, at least, based on the economic impact they had on the hospitality industry.
SARS had a severe impact on the hotel industry within East Asia. The WHO issued a warning about non-essential travel to destinations where the SARS cases were most prevalent. Occupancy rates in affected destinations dropped by 30% and wary tourists began to cancel any trips to these countries.
Similarly, H1N1 or Swine flu was declared a pandemic by WHO in 2009. The major impact of this virus was felt mostly in Mexico and some parts of the United States.
While the impacts of both viruses were handled differently, the best practices have been summarized below:
Minimizing unwanted expenses- like reducing the use of power consuming equipment (like elevators).
Giving staff voluntary unpaid leave, rather than terminate their employment. Some hotels even cut down on temporary employees or allied services, rather than fire their permanent employees.
Training staff to prevent the spread of SARS and installing equipment that facilitated better hygiene.
Hotels worked closely with airlines and other local travel agents to share information and marketing strategies.
Hotels created campaigns to inspire confidence in their potential guests and then encouraged booking by providing discounts up to 30%.
Once the WHO announced that travel to these countries were safe again, the hotels that survived gained a larger portion of the market.
Over The Top Discounts Are Not A Viable Solution
A very important thing to remember is low rates don’t mean more people. The present occupancy rates are certainly very worrying, but the idea is to focus on what’s best for your future. Discounting room rates is a temporary solution to get more people to stay at your hotel, however, this can have lasting short-term and long-term effects.
Low room rates may bring guests to your hotel, but it won’t increase market demand. Also, there is always a hotel offering a much lower rate than yours, and given that sort of choice, guests will pick the hotel with the lower rates. This rate war will eventually lead to a longer recovery time for the industry.
Rather than providing unqualified discounts, hotels can:
Create packages or deals with more value-added services. This won’t have a huge impact on the overall revenue of your hotel. For example, offer a complimentary spa service for the weekend, an all-day coffee service, or even a free meal.
Fence your discounts to more targeted market segments or loyal customers. Double the value for redeeming loyalty points or provide discounts to a targeted market segment that your hotel attracts.
Practice flexible cancellations policies to encourage people to book rooms with you for the future. Encourage rescheduling, remove any non-refundable rates, and make flexible policies with respect to cancellation fees and prepayments.
You want to maintain your brand image. Selling a 4-star hotel room at a 2-star price would attract the wrong audience and may even create an unsavory brand image.
Marketing Is As Important As Ever
Cutting marketing means that, in the long run, there is decreased brand awareness and brand loyalty. You need creative marketing strategies to reach potential guests and to keep current guests, to spread awareness about the promotions and offers, and provide more information about your hotel. Here are a few ways in which you can inspire confidence in your guests and get them to choose you when the time is right:
Keep your guests up to date about the spread of the virus within your location, especially when there are decreased incidences.
Show them all the preventive and safety measures that your hotel is practicing.
Explore new market segments and find creative ways to market your brand.
Target local markets and promote staycations. With most people forced to stay indoors, it is easy to find an audience who wants to enjoy the services of a hotel while they relax indoors.
Craft unique packages for your loyalty members or create personalized experiences for potential guests and market these effectively.
The Promise Of The Future
This year may be recorded as one of the worst years in modern history for the hospitality industry, however, it is important to remember that you, as an industry, have always been extremely resilient. A complete bounce back is inevitable— it’s not a question of “if” but “when”.
Hotels that tide over economic downturns usually become more successful as they receive a greater share of the market. Just remember— don’t panic, hold crisis management meetings, create a plan and execute it. With the right measures for workplace health and safety in hospitality, you will survive this, and it will also give you the necessary artillery to handle any such future crisis.