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THE BROAD VIEW

What's next for the travel industry?

Leaders should use the lull period to assess their business and plan for new guest scenarios when operations resume.

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Hotels should use this new off-peak season to provide employees with opportunities to undergo retraining with regards to guest relations.

HOTEL businesses have been severely hit in the wake of Covid-19, as governments around the world have closed off their country borders in a bid to curb the rampant spread of the virus. A report by HVS, a consulting firm focused on the hospitality industry, said hotel occupancy decreased by an average of 27 per cent in March in Asia-Pacific alone.

Still, in the mid of the pandemic, organisations need to ensure that their business remains well-maintained. In the case of hotel businesses, having less, or in some cases close to zero guests, should not lead them to cease operations. Instead, organisations should utilise this time to focus on the future of their business. The lull period would be an opportune time to review the necessary steps and prepare for what lies ahead.

Here are some key considerations for organisations within the travel industry to add to their to-do list.

Leadership matters

In tough times and situations like the current crisis, a strong leadership is paramount in any organisation. Employees need someone to look up to - to lead them through the difficult times. There is a tendency for those in the hospitality and travel trade to focus on the external communication to guests, in order to retain or even grow business. However, internal communication is just as important. With your employees at the frontline of your business, clear and transparent communication is needed to allay their worries. They will then become brand ambassadors that will champion the company's efforts in providing a safe space for their guests.

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In the last couple of months, hotel chains have seen structural changes within their business. These changes are inevitable as teams reshuffle to adapt to the current environment of the industry. In some instances, employees have had to be let go in order to sustain the business - some have been retrenched, others furloughed. It is undeniably a hard time for those who have lost their jobs, and even more so for those whose jobs are safe, but now have an increased workload to deal with.

Here in Marriott, besides focusing on business growth, it is important to contribute back to the community as an organisation. We launched several campaigns to stand in solidarity with those who have been and are giving their all in the fight against the pandemic.

Within the Asia-Pacific region, several of our properties were set aside as quarantine facilities to aid government bodies. In an effort to provide ease of access to frontline medical workers, we also provided significantly discounted rates for healthcare professionals to book rooms at hotels in close proximity to the hospital they work at. There are many ways for organisations to support the community amid this tough time.

Training for staff to alleviate customers' post-Covid-19 concerns

Beyond the leadership aspect of a business, it is essential for staff to be well prepared when operations resume. Granted, things will not be the same as before, but this is a journey that every industry is on. We must all adapt to a new set of normal. Within the hospitality industry, guests will be concerned about their safety and well-being; what can we do to address this?

Proper communication of enhanced cleaning measures, or additional hygiene and wellbeing measures needs to be prioritised - the public needs to be assured that they are well looked after.

Beyond that, this new off-peak season should provide hotels with the capacity to provide employees with opportunities to undergo retraining with regards to guest relations.

When operations resume, the fight against Covid may not be over and new guest scenarios should be planned for. For example, it will now be a necessity for on-ground staff to be able to identify guests who may be unwell and for them to have a clear understanding how they should respond. It is also important to consider new sets of protocols when it comes to services and amenities provided, like in airlines and airports. The ability to minimise physical contact and enforce safe distancing between guests will be key in gaining the trust of travellers post-pandemic.

Preparing to welcome the first wave of guests - with domestic travel

Once the pandemic goes into its recovery phase, travel plans will begin to resume - with domestic travel at the forefront. Already in Greater China, Marriott is seeing its occupancy reaching 25 per cent in April, up from 10 per cent in February.

In many other countries around the region, we are also seeing an uptick in domestic travel trends. Earlier in May, as Vietnam began to ease its internal movement restrictions, tourists were seen at various attractions around the country. These tourists were of course Vietnamese themselves - many of whom were looking to travel abroad but still have concerns around international travel, or are restricted by travel curbs between countries.

In Singapore, hotels have been given the green light to apply with the relevant authorities to start welcoming staycation guests. While it might not be a catalyst for businesses to resume to full capacity, it would be a step forward as we transition into a new normal.

With domestic tourism slowly picking up, businesses need to be prepared to see a shift in consumer travel patterns and be ready to focus on in-market promotions. As part of the preparations, there will be a growing need to work closely with the relevant government and health authorities. Communication of enhanced measures for guests must be transparent and clear, allowing for travellers to have peace of mind.

With all these elements put together, organisations will have a better understanding and vision of their business outlook in the coming months. While the travel industry may take some time to recover, it is during this lull period that leaders should reassess their business and prepare themselves to welcome travellers post-pandemic.

  • The writer is president, Asia-Pacific (excluding Greater China), Marriott International

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