As the hospitality industry grapples with market instability and changes worldwide, this viewpoint aims to identify helpful views from a panel of industry experts, to discuss leading action-items for near-term and long-range strategic planning. As the world is currently in the throes of COVID-19; there are an array of uncertainties impacting travel, engagement and finance.
This presents an important opportunity for us to examine, suggest and develop new strategies that foster stronger wellness propositions and public health priorities that support diverse hospitality models. This viewpoint also aims to share thoughts on how companies, stakeholders and developers can make calculated investments and complex decisions in the midst of the current crisis and beyond.
Please provide your view of high-priority initiatives related to the immediate impact on mental health, returning engagement, and guest experiences, underpinning action-planning for value and growth. Please suggest at least one creative, OUTSIDE-THE BOX idea... that reveals the importance of interconnected, multifaceted, wellbeing and health experiences.
The Caribbean, a region primarily reliant on tourism, will continue to be majorly impacted over the next several months during the pandemic. Destinations are not only impacted by the loss of overnight guests but additionally by the 12 million travelers who take excursions by Cruise Ship annually, where small businesses rely on the cruise travelers daily spend. The positive news is some destinations are reporting complete recovery including Anguilla & Bonaire, ensuring that they will be highly sought out places to visit after the travel-ban is lifted.
Industry Standards are Shifting-
- The 4th wall of hospitality will disappear. All properties will be required to have sanitation policies that are forefront and center for guests to see and be incorporated in. Self-sanitation kits throughout their stay, self-cleaning hotel rooms, and perhaps even back of the house tours. Making guests comfortable, safe, and ensuring sanitation will be the utmost priority of customer satisfaction.
- Business travel will continue to be very limited. Business, as usual, has ceased to exist and industries are learning how to do things online. A few examples: are the bounty of corporate meetings, e-learning, sales calls that are being done more effectively without travel. We've been pushed into a new world and now that we are there, we will not be returning to business as usual.
- There will be an awakening of disconnection & wellness. There is greater interest than ever in wellness and wellbeing. In an overly connected world, retreats, communing with nature, and properties that offer experiences to disconnect and reconnect with the earth will be highly sought out. This is an essential time to speak about how you connect with and support your destination, community, and employees- as travelers will be driven by ethics and what you are embodying as a brand. Let us tell those stories well.
We currently have the benefit of time; how we use it to prognosticate and plan for the copious scenarios we may face in the months and years ahead will ultimately determine the path forward for our industry. A few suggested initiatives that we should consider as high-priority in our post-crisis planning should be:
- A Wellness-lead Reopen. Prioritize the safe, strategic and likely staggered reopen of your spa, fitness and wellness programs as a first priority in hotel and resort environments. When restrictions are minimized many of your guests will have been in at least partial isolation for months and there will be a deep desire for self-care. They will need our support in addressing the absence of touch, the absence of silence and the time to process the mental and physical toll these crises have inflicted.
- Keep it close to home. With restrictions on domestic and interstate travel likely to continue you have the opportunity to serve your community and drive-market's needs while reigniting your business. Consider providing more pricing flexibility to make the decision to spend on their self-care palatable during this time of vulnerability.
- Don't abandon generosity. Continue to show generosity and compassion for your staff, your guests and the community even as we move into the post-crisis phase. Explore how you can bring back and utilize staff for community recovery efforts.
The topic of mental health has long been stigmatized in the U.S. and other parts of the world. In 2018, the World Health Organization issued a report that identified mental illness—that is, any mental disorder—accounts for more disability in developed countries than any other group of illness, including cancer and heart disease. Pre-COVID-19, it was said that more than 160 million people in the U.S. alone were struggling with mental health conditions. One does not need to imagine that at this time, that number is far greater.
The fact that liquor retailers have been classified as essential accounts in most states and online alcohol sales have soared as the result of the pandemic's impact, is only one indicator that as an industry touting health and wellbeing, we have missed the boat when it comes to effectively addressing mental and emotional wellbeing. I see a significant opportunity for our industry to expand services and offerings that a) better educate people about the importance of being as proactive about mental fitness as we are about physical fitness and b) teach others how to develop more positive mind sets, improve mental strength and emotional resiliency. It's time to go beyond the prescription of a pill or the typical offering of meditation as the traditional means of addressing mental wellbeing, and work to put a greater emphasis on the importance of 'mind' when it comes to 'mind-body-soul'.
A New Era Gives Birth to New Values
In almost no time, the world has changed beyond recognition. Rapidly and without much prior warning, we all continue to have to learn to adapt to something we can't yet really imagine.
What this pandemic teaching us?
The biggest challenge that the Coronavirus is throwing at us is nobody knows how life will be post-post-COVID. This induces a lot of fear and anxiety or – at the least it seems – frustration, anger and worry. We are living through a collective change, and although restrictions may be lifted, remnants of the trauma – the scare, the grief and the emotional pain – will be there. Most likely, there won't be a 'life as usual' or a 'business as usual' post-COVID. There will forever be the “before” and “after”.
What can I control when everything seems to be out of control?
Is the silver lining that some long-overdue shifts will have occurred in our innermost being?
To know that when something ends, something new begins.
Throughout life, we have experienced that when something ends, something new also begins. Often, though, this process is accompanied by feelings of pain and suffering. That is what makes us resist change, most often. At Soul Luxury we have made it our mission to help individuals and businesses by offering emotional wellbeing solutions to gain a deeper understanding about that societal shift affecting each of us. Health and emotional wellbeing are no longer a commodity for hotels and spas instead it has become a priority for each and everyone.
This is time to revisit what the hospitality industry called wellness and how it marketed and operated it. Glorified spas re-branded as 'wellness centers', low calorie ice cubes sold on line, etc. We have to stop wellness-washing and need to come up with proper value propositioning. Not USP but UVP. Not UX but WX as in wellness experience. Brands as well as individual providers can all apply this approach and (re-)define what they stand for in term of improving the wellness of their guests/customers. Some may think that welltertainment, e.g. beer yoga is a cheap option and should be avoided. That can be true. But can also be wrong. Large number of prospective customers who would not consider services if those we called 'wellness'. But happily would try them if they were called something they actually can associate value to. This may seem to be a paradox. I do not think it is. Instead, the industry needs to think of ways in which it can introduce wellness-improving services but not labeling them as wellness.
The COVID-19 crisis has had an immediate and traumatic impact on our way of life, beyond the walls of our working environments. As we navigate strategies for repositioning properties, restructuring operational protocols to create stronger internal systems that back employee mental health and wellbeing present valuable coping services. Easing employee anxiety is central to the enhanced management of teams, reorganizing returning guests and guest experience assurances, moving forward.
There is light at the end of this. However, business as usual tactics are unlikely to be a part of that. Elevated public health concerns and security are imminent new factors. Providing helpful resources for people is essential to support their ability to adapt, be resilient and feel protected and productive. In 2018, HVS deployed an employee mindfulness and meditation program. This is offered as an ongoing live, guided, virtual experience with increasing frequency. This fosters new and different internal energy, team bonding and supports stronger individual emotional and mental acuity. I feel the first step to developing successful post-crisis outcomes, begins with advocating for and strengthening the internal core of the business. This starts with supporting the people who make it happen.
We are starting to envision the world beyond the pandemic and to the new normal of radically shifted travel consumer expectations and preferences. I will leave the increased demand for improved wellness, “health is the new wealth”, to other panelists and focus on how technology expectations will change forever. The future of hospitality has always been Mobile--but Covid-19 will accelerate this trend from a nice-to-have to a must-have for hoteliers.
Guests will arrive with a new desire for a touchless hotel experience. They will prefer to check-in on their mobile device, receive a digital key on their mobile device and proceed directly to their room. They will want to check-in for their spa treatments or fitness classes on their phone and complete any intake questions on their own device—with brand new questions added now, “would you like your therapist to wear a mask”. They will want to self-serve all of their experiences in the hotel by curating their own wellness itinerary themselves--self-exploring on their own mobile device and booking spa treatments, classes and activities, dining reservations and golf tee times directly. They will use their mobile device as mobile ID to present and access their privileges and facilities as a guest or member. Touchless mobile payments will be the preferred method of payment instead of “chip-and-pin” transactions on perceived “dirty” pin-pads. Guests will avoid the crowds at the bar and order from their pool chair, table or room service via their own device. Check-out will forever change as guests review their room folios on their device, bypass the front desk and settle from mobile.
So, although guests will have a pent-up desire to receive human touch again in the safe, clean and controlled environment of a spa, they will also increasingly desire a “high tech, high touch” aspect to their hospitality experience where they can control it. Hotel marketing may change forever as brands focus on their cleaning processes, sanitized environments and a touchless experience enabled by mobile technology that a guest already has in their own (washed) hands.
The travel industry (and the world, for that matter) has never seen a situation like the current pandemic. For that reason, I think it is important to acknowledge that there are no “experts” on this topic. Just a group of industry colleagues trying to figure out how to best navigate a very difficult and very unpredictable situation. In my role as the Group Director of Spa & Wellness for Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, I do see a few opportunities to leverage our wellness positioning as a way to aid in the recovery:
1. Interest in health and wellness is at an all-time high. Wellness was already a mega-trend before Coronavirus struck. Now it is through the roof. People are more attuned to wellness than ever before because
- a. The virus has most deeply impacted those whose health was already compromised.
- b. The pandemic reminds us of our mortality and has us focusing more on extracting more longevity and quality out of the years we have.
- c. People in quarantine have had time (and infinite online resources) to focus on their own wellness, potentially even integrating new practices into their lifestyle.
Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group has always had Spa and Wellness as a core pillar of our brand. The strength and authenticity behind our commitment to the health and wellness of our guests will be a key aspect of our recovery and an important area of the hotel experience to leverage in bringing guests back to our hotels. We are working on programs to help our guests stay physically and mentally strong during these challenging times.
2. People need touch they can trust. Social distancing may be something that stays with us long after the Coronavirus has been eradicated. People may be reluctant to get too close to others if they don't feel safe. But touch is an essential ingredient for human health and flourishing. So while it may be some time before we go back to shaking hands with everyone in a meeting room, or kissing everyone's cheeks at a cocktail party, people may return to spas if we can provide a sacred space where people can experience touch in a safe environment administered by a trained professional who is held to the highest standards of cleanliness and hygiene. Our spas have always had the most stringent safety and cleanliness standards in the industry and we are committed to ensuring that we provide a haven where our guests can experience nurturing touch that is delivered safely and professionally. As an industry, we need to uphold these high standards to help consumers feel safe in our facilities and advocate for governments to allow and even encourage the safe therapies that we have to offer.
3. Think local. I think another advantage that we have on the path to recovery is the strong connection to the local community that is driven through our spas. Most of our spas get more than half of their customers from their local communities. These guests are likely to come back more quickly than the overnight hotel guests. International borders may also need time to trust visitors from abroad, so we anticipate more national travel and “staycations.” If international travel is restricted, we will encourage people to visit the great destinations within their own borders and give them rich experiences that they might have missed in their own backyard.
Now is also a time for collaboration. Almost all destinations and industries are affected by the impact of the pandemic on the economy, so businesses are open to joining forces were possible to bring business back. We can accomplish a lot by working together to promote the benefits of travel, the incredible experiences of our destinations, and the local health and wellness offerings that can help to improve people's lives.