Industry Update
Opinion Article14 April 2020

Tech and Hotels Working Together can Overcome and Build a Brighter Future

By Pedro Colaco, CEO at GuestCentric Systems

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Colaco

There's no denying that the past weeks have been incredibly challenging and confusing for everyone in our industry, with new bookings almost coming to a halt, a surge in cancelations, and hoteliers making tough decisions to close their doors. Our industry is now in crisis management mode and all eyes remain focused on the development of COVID-19 and its disruption to hotel operations and the global travel economy.

Putting People & Wellbeing First

When the health crisis began to escalate across our core markets in Europe and the US, so too did my focus on protecting our people. In early March our business moved to a completely remote workforce - continuing to leverage technology to support hoteliers in their response to the pandemic and in building proactive strategies for the future.

Supporting The Hospitality Industry during COVID-19

STR's latest figures show steep declines for the top 25 markets in the US, with occupancy down more than 66% to just over 26%. While data for the third week in March held approximately 20 to 30% across key markets in Europe, now it is down to 5 to 20% as more cancellations come through and hotels close.

We are in uncharted territory, but we also know that this crisis will pass. The hospitality industry has weathered many a storm and will continue to do so. We are a resilient, imaginative and eminently human industry and by working together and acting swiftly, we can plan successfully for the upturn.

Crisis is not the same as Paralysis

When an athlete is injured, a physiotherapist will generally recommend the continuity of moderate physical activity to maintain form. Gains or growth are no longer the primary objectives in the recovery stage. Instead, the focus is to maintain what has been built and prepare for such time that the athlete can train to full capacity again.

The same can be said for the hospitality economy which is currently undergoing a major recession. But rather than dwell on the gloom and doom, we must do our best with the downtime we have. When the market is great, it's a good time to engage in commerce and business generation. When the market is terrible (as most will agree it is now) it's a good time to support each other and build for a brighter future.

It is with this view that we have been proactively reaching out to hoteliers who want to use the downtime to review and improve their online and revenue management strategies - training teams to be more effective in preparation for when demand picks up again, hopefully soon.

Creativity with Tech & Data to Help Hoteliers Manage The Crisis

But talking the talk is not enough. As a tech business, we strive to lead by example, using creativity to develop innovative technologies in response to the times we live in. With this goal, the first week of the crisis we adapted our technology to give hoteliers critical real-time information on how the crisis is unfolding and provide them with signals their businesses are positioned for the turn-around.

Information, analysis, and planning are critical for all hoteliers currently facing operating conditions due to the current economic climate. While it can be difficult to predict with any certainty what might come next, we continue to analyze similar events that have previously unfolded, developing our solutions to include more actionable data to help us and our partners make informed decisions.

Giving back to the Community

Working together and supporting each other is paramount to overcome these challenging circumstances and emerge stronger than ever. Tech leaders are well-positioned to innovate and support a vast array of industries during these uncertain times.

While many have the privilege to self-isolate from COVID-19, healthcare professionals continue to put their lives on the line to protect the health of the general population worldwide. The increased risk of catching COVID-19 means that thousands of healthcare professionals are focused on protecting their families from exposure. The increased demand on healthcare services combined with extended periods of separation from loved ones can make an already stressful situation even more challenging.

The truth is that we cannot stop COVID-19 if we don't look after our healthcare professionals who are in the front line fighting the virus, first. The goal of Rooms Against Covid is to support healthcare professionals with convenient access to accommodation during this pandemic. Thus, alleviating the burden of them having to share accommodation with families and friends and risk exposing their loved ones to COVID-19.

With this in mind, Guestcentric joined forces with over 100 tech startups and lodging associations to launch the non-profit Rooms Against Covid initiative. Our teams of over 4,000 volunteers have mobilized properties to support relocated healthcare professionals with complimentary accommodation. We launched the project in Portugal, where our European headquarters are based. Our goal is to expand to other countries quickly because we see that this is a global issue.

Demand is high, as is to be expected. Nearly 2,000 reservations poured in within just a few days of launching the platform. By the end of March, we listed more than 1,500 rooms and accommodated more than 300 doctors, nurses, and other medical workers on a complimentary basis.

We need more properties to open their doors. We are currently seeking complete hotels for this use and to meet the global demand, as we cannot risk cross-contamination from healthcare professionals and guests. So far we have onboarded two hotels, but we need many more.

I am proud to say that our team volunteers have already helped thousands of our front-line heroes protect their families by staying away from their homes at alternative accommodation.

How Hotels can Build for a Brighter Future

All this to say, in these uncertain times, it is critical for the industry to work together and build toward a brighter future. What goes down must come up, and while the spread of COVID-19 is having a direct impact on many hoteliers' forward-reservations, there are opportunities to make the best possible of this downturn. Below are my top tips for hoteliers to make the best possible use of the downturn to maximise the upturn:

1. Maintain Pricing

When demand is close to zero, price is not a factor. So, make sure you hold the line on price, now and when the rebound comes. There is plenty of data showing that destinations and properties that compromised on price in the last downturn of 2008 took significantly longer to recover in the upturn that followed.

2. Reclaim control of your Brand Online

You may have noticed, but Google advertising from OTA giants such as Booking and Expedia has all but vanished. Hoteliers can now see their properties come out on top in the search engine. Once again, organic is king!

This is the way it should be always, and it is for Marriot, Hilton and all the other big hotel brands. With independent hotels doing a reset on their distribution strategy, it's important to pursue the same brand protection clauses that Hilton and Marriott demand: no advertising on the property name.

While it may be difficult for hoteliers to achieve this on their own, working together can help strengthen the organic presence of hotels across the board.

3. Train your People

Retaining and enhancing the skills of your workforce now is an important step to take so you're ready to hit the ground running when the economy improves. As a business, we are using this downtime to support hotel managers in training their employees on vital skills for long-term success.

Not only has enhanced training been shown to boost employee morale during these uncertain times, but it also proves beneficial for business success further down the road.

The emergence of the COVID-19 has proven that quick adaptation is necessary to maintain productivity and up-skill the workforce. Currently, opportunities to learn and up-skill are being maintained because of online options. In the future, virtual learning may just prove to be the industry's best practice.

4. Think Local

We predict that local leisure and business travel will be the first to return in the transient segment of guests. Hoteliers should focus on keeping their communities engaged, continuously communicating with negotiated accounts and nurturing domestic business travel relationships.

If the trend seen in China holds, domestic travel will pick up, therefore, planning and investing in local tourism is also advisable when planning ahead. When travel bans are released, tourist arrivals will rebound, and hoteliers will have opportunities to attract new guests from new markets.

Reprinted from the Hotel Business Review with permission from http://www.hotelexecutive.com/

Pedro Colaco

    More from Pedro Colaco

    About GuestCentric

    GuestCentric is a leading provider of cloud-based digital marketing software and services that help extraordinary hoteliers promote their brand, drive direct bookings and connect with customers on all digital platforms. GuestCentric's all-in-one platform provides hotels with the only unified solution for managing their guests' online journey: award-winning, high impact websites; an integrated, easy-to-use booking engine; social media marketing and publishing tools; a GDS chain code and a channel manager to offer rooms on Amadeus, Booking.com, Expedia, Galileo, Google, Sabre, TripAdvisor and hundreds of other channels. GuestCentric is a proud provider of solutions that maximize direct bookings to hotel groups and independent hotels from collections such as Design Hotels, Great Hotels of the World, Leading Hotels of the World, Relais & Chateaux, Small Luxury Hotels and Small Danish Hotels. GuestCentric is featured on Skift Travel Tech 250, a list of the top 250 travel tech companies shaping the modern-day travel experience.

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