Industry Update
Opinion Article23 March 2020

Expert Insights on Hospitality Practices During COVID-19

By Robert Reitknecht, Hospitality Leader and Guest Experience Expert

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No industry is exempt from the distress caused by the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19). As advice from global health organizations and governments evolves on an hourly basis, particularly regarding travel bans and gathering restrictions, hospitality organizations are among the first to feel the impact of large-scale quarantine.

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I am by no means an expert in what to do during a crisis such as this - very few are. But there are examples around us we can look to for guidance in how to react, maintain sanity, and preserve business for when life begins to look somewhat normal again. Below are some efforts and actions the hospitality industry can take for how to move forward in this time of uncertainty. If you would like to reach out during this time, please don't hesitate to contact me. It's important for members of the hospitality community to rely on each other to get through this crisis. Together, we're always stronger.

Keep your teams calm and prepared

Hospitality Net offers some great advice on developing and communicating a prevention plan to protect both employees and guests. Documenting a prevention plan helps keep employees on the same page and properly trained on measures that need to be taken in potential scenarios. It also helps them maintain a calm demeanor and composure when interacting with guests. While guests may succumb to worry and fear, your staff can offer a steady, soothing presence knowing your organization has specific steps to follow to keep everyone safe. Your teams are probably experiencing anxiety and pressure. Remind them to be kind and do what they can as individuals to protect what every one of us values above all—one another.

Openly embrace flexibility

We should all keep an open mind regarding the changes that will happen to hotel operations as the days go on. Flexibility in bookings and cancellations will be the name of the game. Hilton has presented a strong example of flexibility by waiving change fees, offering full refunds, and providing ways for guests to change or cancel new reservations that would otherwise be fixed. The brand is also changing its points and loyalty program to accommodate uncertain times, although it has not released details on that front yet.

Other major hotel chains have made similar moves. Marriot is waiving individual cancellation fees through March 31 for guests traveling from designated locations. The Four Seasons is waiving cancellation fees until April 30 for any existing and new individual reservations, and Hyatt has announced that guests arriving up to April 30 can change or cancel reservations at no charge up to 24 hours before the scheduled arrival.

While hospitality organizations deal with the ever-changing guidance from government bodies, it seems as though staying open to altering operations will help both brands and guests get through this time with less stress.

Consider what wellness you can offer

A recent New York Times article reported that some hospitality brands began offering wellness programs and services before the outbreak of COVID-19. Today, those services are even more relevant as travelers seek mental shelter in hotels. If your organization already has some form of a wellness program in place, consider amplifying those services for guests and looking into ways to improve sleep and fitness (i.e. digital/in-room fitness offerings, premium bedding).

Perhaps it is only a matter of time until we see a particular hotel offer wellness services for free or offer discounts on services designed to reduce stress. Changing spa and wellness programs altogether to minimize human contact and maximize stress reduction could spur guests to take advantage of these services (for example, limiting or removing massage services but promoting access to digital meditation guides).

I offer myself as an ear and a resource during this challenging time. Above all, remember that we will get through this together.

Robert Reitknecht

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    Hospitality Leader and Guest Experience Expert
    Phone: +1 203 733 6794
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