Industry Update
Opinion Article 2 September 2020

Travel And Life In The Times Of Corona – More Lessons From Hong Kong And Istanbul! - Part II

By L. Aruna Dhir, A Hospitality & Feature Writer and Columnist

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As I write this piece, my newsfeed is like sunshine, carrying rays of hope and filled with news of joy, optimism, ambition, and togetherness.

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A Destination Spa is preparing itself to observe the World Wellness Weekend, an initiative founded by Jean-Guy de Gabriac, around mid-September. Preidlhof - Luxury Dolce Vita Resort will invite Team and Guests to join senior Healer Irmgard Mossmair in her eye-opening Forest Bathing experiences.

Himmat Anand, the Founder of the boutique hotel chain Tree of Life, has been delivering on his promise by opening up his resorts one after the other. And thereby raising the industry confidence and the guest morale!

Rajeev Kohli, the second generation travel industry virtuoso and Joint Managing Director at Creative Travel, is adapting to the current scenario with a vengeance. His company is offering "bespoke travel engagements for discerning experience seekers" under the banner of Orange Line.

"As you try to decode travel planning for the months to come, our travel advisors are here to bring their expertise and guidance to help you navigate this new world of travel," shares Kohli.

Vivian Chambers, the Founder of The Muse Collection, who works in the luxury leisure, entertainment and corporate market in North America, shared her experience of a near-deserted JFK Airport.

"I have never seen JFK so empty not even after 9/11. All the duties free shops are closed with the exception of Hudson's which sells sundries. The Virgin Atlantic Lounge is also closed but the Delta Lounge is open! Our flight had a total of 48 passengers on board. We were given an amenity bag that contained several face masks, gel, and the usual items such as toothpaste, etc. There was a choice of three main courses (UpperClass), a cheese platter and dessert. Everything was wrapped. There was no possibility for special meals - kosher, vegetarian, etc.The aircraft was super clean and it was maintained that way until arrival at Heathrow. No temperature checks ANYWHERE, all we had to do was fill out a questionnaire in advance of passport control. The questions were related to COVID-19, and it also necessitated an address and other customary contact details while in London."

Vivian's account is part reassuring and part hair-raising. We cannot afford to do things in a slip-shod manner and in half measures. Our lackadaisical and careless approach can cause big harm and undo the good that may be happening elsewhere.

We all know what a spiral the coronavirus attack has been, leaving no person and no region immune.

Continuing with my conversation with Stefan Leser and Ralph Radtke, let us tune into some of the best practices the two exceptionally experienced and remarkably hands-on hoteliers have to share.

Stefan Leser is the Chief Executive Officer of the Hong Kong-headquartered Langham Hospitality Group and Ralph Radtke is the General Manager of Ciragan Palace Kempinski Istanbul and Regional Director of Kempinski Residences in Turkey.

L. Aruna Dhir - What significant part can the top-tier management play in battling the Pandemic?

Stefan Leser - In an ever-changing world and being in the travel industry that's dominated by people, their passions, their intellect, and their desires, that can be a volatile mix. So keeping the focus on our values, what our company stands for, knowing who we are and where we are going, and keeping everyone headed in that same direction are the very essence of the role senior management should be focusing on during the pandemic.

To me, there's no such thing as being over-prepared. In such a high-touch, people-oriented industry, one never knows what will happen from day to day, minute to minute. I am a firm believer in expecting and working toward the best outcomes, but to really succeed, I would always advise to plan for the worst scenarios.

To be able to overcome adversity is what signifies strength, resilience, thoughtfulness and stability. To that end, we have a comprehensive crisis management plan and we spare no expense in training our colleagues regularly to make sure they understand the protocols to help them be better prepared in all extraordinary circumstances.

Ralph Radtke - The utmost priority is to ensure a healthy and safe environment for all our guests and employees.

One of the most important roles of management during a pandemic is the role of the communicator, one that bridges across both guests and employees. Strategic, timely and clear communication from management can make and not break a property.

It is important to ensure employees and potential customers alike are informed of what is happening in light of the situation - what the property is doing as a result of the pandemic and communicate how the property will continue to operate during and post the pandemic.

It is the role of management to make sure that the guests feel safe and comfortable while making sure that employees are aware of the crisis communications plan, new processes, and key talking points that should be delivered to guests.

I also believe that spreading positivity during these challenging times is also very important.

L. Aruna Dhir - What are the best ways to keep the employee morale high when the situation around is bleak?

Stefan Leser - We continue to engage with our employees through fun and interactive activities - virtually. We ran a fitness challenge, encouraging colleagues to stay fit and healthy during lockdown.

Everyone had fun and felt a boost to their morale. We had compiled the entries into a video: 

Constant and honest communication to colleagues is important.

Ralph Radtke - Yes, employee communication is the key!

In a time of uncertainty, it is more important than ever to keep everyone informed on what is going on, what the property is doing, and what the plan is moving forward, from an HR perspective.

The hospitality industry has been the hardest hit sector during this pandemic, and millions have lost their jobs while others are uncertain of their futures. It is up to the management to keep employees abreast of all the latest details and create action plans playing out different scenarios to prep employees for what might come.

Additionally, giving recognition to employees is critical. Hotel employees are at the front lines putting their lives at risk to make sure travelers are enjoying their time while feeling safe and cared for. Management should internally recognize employees for their efforts and consider adding new acknowledgement and appreciation programs to help keep morale up.

L. Aruna Dhir - What must the hotels do to cement and foster their bond with their guests, given the pandemic gag the industry is bound with?

Stefan Leser - People are well travelled and with so much information at their fingertips that they expect personalised, authentic experiences and not cookie cutter approaches.

It is important that we acknowledge the fears of guests and be empathetic to their concerns. The levels of guests' expectations have widened and different people have different levels based on their own experiences.

Recently, we celebrated The Langham's 155th anniversary. We couldn't do it physically but The Langham hotels around the world put together a 24 hour non-stop live stream afternoon tea party and invited all our guests and friends to celebrate with us virtually.

The Langham, London also put together our famous afternoon tea and packed them in boxes and hand delivered them to the medical workers, police, cab drivers - the essential workers who have worked tirelessly during this pandemic to keep the rest of us safe.

We also gave them vouchers and invited them to come back to stay at The Langham, London and celebrate with us when they are ready - we just wanted to say 'Thank you' and that we appreciate all that they have done.

We have curated experiences on videos which guests can do at home and share on our social media channels.

For example, a detoxifying and relaxing facial one can easily do at home using traditional Chinese medicine techniques which Chuan Spa by Langham Hospitality Group is based on. We share recipes by our chefs and mixologists which one can easily replicate at home and virtual fitness workout sessions to stay fit and healthy.

Ralph Radtke - Social Media has played a crucial role in continuing an optimal level of engagement with current and prospective guests. Continuously engaging on social media will keep properties on top of mind for travelers.

Social media content should be strategic, highlighting new processes the property is taking to secure the safety of their guests, while also posting content reflecting all aspects of the property that keep guests coming back for more - amenities, food & beverage offerings and programs and activations unique to the property.

Moreover, hotels should also use some other digital marketing and sales tools which would keep the property engaged with their current and potential guests. At this time, advantages of technology need to be taken much more than before.

L. Aruna Dhir - How do you define the NEW NORMAL for the Travel and hotel industry?

Stefan Leser - People can expect temperature checks, to be in masks, longer pre-departure time at the airports, health checks/declarations before they travel. Just like how we are used to taking out our belts, shoes and no liquids allowed on our carry-on luggage post 9/11. We used to whiz through the airports to get to our departure gates but after 9/11, people understand that the stringent checks are necessary and comply. The same will happen post Covid-19.

We as an industry have been through and learnt a lot from this crisis but I have no doubt the industry will be back in gear to welcome people and show them a good time when they are ready to start travelling again.

Ralph Radtke - Health and safety will certainly be top of the mind for travelers moving forward. We will see more brands amplifying their health, safety and hygiene efforts while developing key programs to differentiate themselves among competitors.

I believe more travelers will now be willing to spend that extra amount to go on more lavish and exclusive trips, meaning people will not be traveling as frequently, but when they do they will certainly take their trips to new levels to ensure their safety and build lasting memories.

Privacy will be affecting travel decisions. Travelers will look at the brands that can offer unique alternatives when it comes to privacy. Hotels that have outdoor facilities will be preferred.

There will be also side effects. People will change their eating habits and they will also look for more established and trusted brands.

Sustainability and value combination will be more and more important, and people will be more conscious about the environment. Travel decisions will also be affected via the brand and whether the property is taking appropriate and effective actions.

As the world and the industry gears up to move into the final quarter of this uniquely challenging year, it seems that we are far better and more equipped than when we started out at the beginning of 2020.

Both the service providers and the service seekers are adapting consciously and mindfully. People crave to get back to how things were, but they are aware of the way the situation is going to flow on into the forseeable future. Their desires are tempered with a sense of caution and responsibility.

The governments and administrative bodies have been more serious than ever before. The frontline warriors have made such profound sacrifices and given us unprecedented and matchless service; such that it cannot be paid back, but for in terms of immense gratitude!

The world is rearing to move ahead. The waves of change are perceptible. The 'Altered Reality' does not appear so daunting.

One of the key human traits, along with resilience, is conditioning. And the two form the backbone for the great revival!

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