Industry Update
Opinion Article 1 July 2020

The best in hospitality debate: RISE, episodes 1-5

By Beatrice Venturini, Hospitality Insights content editor at Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne

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RISE is an exciting and relevant weekly conversation between industry professionals and students, graduates & job seekers in the Travel, Tourism & Hospitality sector. Reconnecting, reflecting and re-examining where in the world we are, and above all, separating the news from the noise.

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With 400 registrations from 55 different countries and 80 educational bodies, the first RISE live webinar discussion took place on 20th April and continues to be streamed live every Monday (see link below). Created and co-hosted by Demian Hodari (Professor of Strategic Management at Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne) and Anita Mendiratta (Special Advisor to Secretary General UNWTO), the aim has been to make sense of these changing times and how to prepare insightfully for the shifting world of work ahead.

The word "uncertainty" looms large in every episode, highlighting the fact that the current crisis is still unfolding globally in its severity and longevity. The implications for the industry are still in the making, reflected in the frank and engaging weekly titles: "Work in Progress", "The Next Normal", "The surreal state of real estate", "Ch-Ch-Changes" and "Resorts, their final destination". What's refreshing about each RISE episode is the level of professional honesty. Admitting what is known and what isn't, looking at the human aspect of the crisis and how to best harness the "huggability" factor in order to keep hospitality's unique selling point intact in the face of increasing digitalization and strict hygiene measures.

The pandemic is proving to be the biggest economic disrupter since the Great Depression, so encouraging everyone in the industry to make the best of these 100 lockdown days is what is ultimately paving the way ahead. Great hardship is often fertile terrain for new ideas and new ways. If there was ever a time for re-writing the TTH handbook, it is now.

Here is a collection of the main themes discussed in the first 5 episodes of RISE:

Staying positive in a crisis

"We are at the end of the beginning", Sir Winston Churchill.

Be prepared for the long haul. Bear in mind the 'Adversity Advantage'. More than just managing the crisis, harness it and find ways of using it as a launch pad to creating solutions and original outcomes. This is an evolving situation, we need to respond in an evolving way. Survive and adapt.

Use the core values of hospitality and, at least in the short term, direct them towards helping the local community. Be proactive in cultivating the positive, caring, human aspect of our industry.

Use virtual reality to keep "the dream to travel" alive in the mind of future tourists, because ultimately the innate desire to explore and move will return. The impact and value of traveling is to reconnect with family and friends. The human factor will always prevail. Travel is essentially a human need, not just a leisure activity!

The TTH industry will be key in helping to drive the global economy. As with past crises, COVID-19 has revealed the critical role of the industry in activating direct and indirect supply chains in both products and services. Global entities (WHO, UNWTO, ICAO) are coming together to talk, exchange ideas and find collaborative solutions to assist governments in what coordinated action to take. This ability to engage will ultimately be the main catalyst to recovery.

The impact of COVID-19 on the TTH industry

We are entering into a 2 meter economy. Protection of the customer will become the no.1 priority in all areas. Hygiene and safety will become "the new luxury".

With an 80% increase in shopping online, as well as in working from home and online learning/socializing, we are heading towards a 'contactless' society.

Staff will have to be trained in new areas: rebuilding confidence with the customer, integrating new hygiene and technological systems into daily operations. More hotels will be moving to the less personnel 'citizenM' style, where technology is used to elevate efficiency thereby reducing contact points.

Because of the concerns regarding flying and traveling in general, domestic tourism is likely to pick up first as traveler confidence takes time to grow. Governments will encourage citizens to holiday in their country to help build back the tourism economy. Spending on TTH will be slow at first and will mainly center on activities that bring appreciation, value and that feel 'safe'.

Adapting to the necessary changes and reinventing the TTH industry successfully lies in a coordinated response. The industry is part of a highly connected supply chain: airline companies, airports, cruise companies, hotels, resorts, restaurants - will all have to work together to find common solutions as links in the total traveler experience chain.

Airlines

Airlines are confronting the challenge regarding new hygiene and safety measures that will make flying feel safe again - this is a deal-breaker for future industry recovery. Warren Buffett recently sold his airlines shares demonstrating a lack of confidence in the current state of aviation.

To manage aviation's image, some airlines are making a concerted effort to promote positive aspects of flying. e.g. British Airways are publicizing their cat and dog rescue mission from Cyprus to the UK. Emirates have produced a heart-warming video campaign,"Do you remember?", playing on the emotional ties that aviation strengthens.

Emirates and Etihad airlines are introducing blood tests before boarding with results within 10 minutes on selected flights from the UAE.

Airlines will not be in competition with each other when it comes to health and safety certification, preferring to work, as they always have, within a code of honor system applicable across all companies. There is NO competition when it comes to safety.

Hotels

Hotels are showing a promising recovery, currently concentrating on attracting local tourism trade while awaiting airlines to unblock international travel.

Hoteliers must now determine how to best implement new hygiene measures to reassure guests and establish trust with regards to health and safety. Airbnb has recently introduced new cleaning protocols that include a learning and certification program to empower their host community. Implementation involves a choice: either commit to the new measures or opt for a booking buffer period of 72hrs between each booking.

Buffet meals will become a thing of the past - for the time being at least.

Real estate issues

Commercial retail spaces like shopping malls will be hard hit with customers preferring to buy local or online.

Office space may also be affected negatively with a lot of people giving precedence to working from home. Open-plan work spaces will be deemed incompatible with social distancing rules and will decrease dramatically.

Co-working spaces, however, can be more adaptable to social distancing rules, as can co-living set ups. Both concepts have potential since they are considered ideas aimed at the young and flexible. Co-working companies that succeed can expand into managing offices for traditional landlords who may struggle to achieve the balance of density and conviviality required.

Homes for the elderly will suffer a significant challenge, and like spas and wellness centers, are in need of totally reconfiguring their hygiene and safety measures.

Changes in general TTH behaviors

More online retail therapy, more local shopping. Less visits to shopping malls, less attraction towards social retail environments. More local holidays, car drives, staying closer to home.

Decrease in budgets for business and MICE travel. Increase in the hybrid model based on a mix of virtual and real-life work encounters, especially valid now that we have proven success of remote working, which is also cheaper and more ecological.

Face-to-face meetings will be reserved more for essential contexts, i.e. the signing of documents or specific negotiations. In a RISE poll survey, three quarters of attendees believe that learning and working will be happening online at least 50% of the time as of January 2021.

Major hotels will fight to handle more direct bookings, by-passing the OTAs go-betweens.

Innovation: seizing that'Kodak moment'

This is critical time for understanding how to innovate; the equivalent of a 'Kodak moment' for TTH and all industry, (a reference to when Kodak had developed pioneering digital camera technology in the early 80s but chose not to use it). Understanding, anticipating and leading the changes in consumer trends is key to survival.

Chain implementation is equally important: once the innovative ideas are agreed, how easy is it to put them in place? Generally speaking, smaller establishments react and adapt more quickly, resulting in a better impact on brand promise and delivery. Rolling out the changes chain-wide is what will ensure your competitive advantage.

Smart innovation need not always be expensive. It can sometimes be simply based on finding new ways of presenting your offer and interacting with your customers. Ask the question: how can I present a better service?

It's important to establish the pre-existing conditions of a business: was it already struggling to survive? If yes, the COVID-19 virus could prove as deadly as with any human patient.

Start with your end goal in mind and work towards it. Analyze your target audience and ask what are the wants, needs and changes impacting that audience. Be malleable in order to be able to 'pivot' towards those changes. Understand your core business relevance in current times and innovate accordingly.

Harness the technology which the pandemic has highlighted as a major tool for innovation. Tap into the analytics and algorithms to your advantage. Research the tools and apps that can enhance your operations.

Reflections and projections

Recovery all depends on the time it takes to re-establish confidence levels. It's also important to consider when a country went into lockdown, e.g. China was the first to close operations and is now showing signs of emerging out of the crisis. Hotels showed a 60%-100% occupancy rate on Chinese Labor Day.

Much hangs on differing government policies on aviation and visas. Governments AND the private sector must come together to develop workable policies.

TTH is an inter-linked supply chain where one area of the industry directly affects another, e.g. international travel and certain hotels won't pick up until the aviation industry finds its feet again.

Because travel will never be the same again, it's important to re-evaluate what one means by the word 'recovery'. Parameters need to be adjusted and re-thought to meet the shifting reasons for why we will travel in the future.

Advice to students, graduates and job seekers in the TTH sector

Be forward-thinking, in this time of huge disruption, the future of the industry will not be found in past models. Be prepared to question what you have up till recently been taught at school, i.e. some of the new strategies required by a post-COVID-19 industry will fly in the face of what was once considered standard procedure.

Ask questions: How can I differentiate myself? How have I made the most of these 100 days of lockdown? What's my COVID-19 story? What community-led activities can I take part in?

Take advantage of the free online courses being offered, develop new skills. All extra qualifications will help you stand out, (when companies start re-hiring, they will be looking for As & Bs, not Cs & Ds).

Young talents need to be flexible and expect to find jobs in other industries with a view to returning to hospitality in 2021. Do not fear getting out of the comfort zone in order to strengthen your professional profile. Develop an entrepreneurial spirit, bearing in mind that the traditionally 'safe jobs' may no longer be safe.

Above all, develop the highly sought-after hospitality soft skills, (empathy, communication, flexibility) and think about applying to other areas where these skills can be transferable. Hospitality graduates have always been considered very 'poachable.

Final word

Throughout all episodes of RISE, the message has been a positive one to those seeking a career in the industry. Despite doom and gloom statistics regarding job losses, cut backs and closures in all things F&B & hotel-related, here's the good news: A well-trained, proactive student of hospitality management is an asset to any company at all times.

The weekly RISE webinar happens live every Monday. You can register here.

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Beatrice Venturini

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