Post-Corona Era: Challenging Times Ahead

By Emile Schelfhout, HSMAI, Tuesday 26th May 2020

About the Author – Emile Schelfhout

He is a 22 year-old ambitious hotel & hospitality professional. Having worked in five hotels and a cluster management company, he got exposed to all departments and gained a profound understanding of a hotel’s daily and longer-term challenges. Additionally, he established valuable insights into ways of thinking applied by hotel managers, which is of the highest importance when engaging in cooperation with hotels. This understanding, combined with an MBA education, makes him someone who comprehends and can implement operational excellence, strategic performance, and people leadership. In the near future, he hopes to continue to grow the HSMAI network by looking for those who want to contribute to this wonderful industry. Because when you bring people together across companies and brands, you will make a difference for the future hotel & hospitality industry.

Emile will work as a volunteer for HSMAI Region Europe for a few hours per week, during this time he will also complete his MBA. 

Here is his first blog post for HSMAI Region Europe:

Over the last decades, the hotel and travel industry has proven to be a robust and flexible industry. They survived terroristic attacks, a financial crisis and tremendous changes in customer behaviour due to digitisation of the society. However, the last few months have challenged hotel and restaurant owners as never before.

Simultaneously, admirable initiatives such as volunteering actions, events like Hospitality Tomorrow and other webinars emerged. All stakeholders of this industry are impacted: travellers are not able to continue business or go on holidays, hotel staff had to find a different way of supporting their precious hotel guests, and hotel managers were confronted with strategic challenges they never encountered before. Meanwhile, scientists keep on looking for an antidote so we can get back into a new normal. This article aims at providing hospitality professionals with an overview of what actions they should have completed during these challenging times and what to look out for in the near future.

What you should have done

COVID-19 has once again confirmed the value of the renowned Maslow pyramid. Despite the lack of previous experience of dealing with a global pandemic of this size, employees, guests and management first required to be acknowledged of their primary needs: safety, security and health. This prerequisite did not only include a need for a guarantee of safe and healthy work conditions but as well as protection on a psychological and monetary level. Only appropriate proactive measures can provide such comfort through the implementation of cleaning protocols, distance measures, and hygiene regulations combined with a candid and proactive communication to all previously mentioned stakeholders. This communication should breathe an interest in the well-being of those stakeholders to be perceived as authentic.

What starts as a social service can potentially turn into a financial benefit. Engagement with your community, also when you are under financial stress, has never been more critical. Many initiatives emerged: hotels offering their rooms to health care workers or homeless people, restaurants providing meal packages for hospitals… you name it! If you haven’t done so before, now is the time to start these practices to survive and build a community of trust, safety and belonging.

Use the experience you’ve had before the corona era and dare to move on! Dare to break with the paradigms, and to develop your strategy based on data and market knowledge. You definitely should consider showing flexibility in your rate policy.

What you should keep doing

If you haven’t started doing any of the topics mentioned above, now is the time to follow-up. If you have, maintain this open, candid communication internally and externally. Remain true to your commitment. It’s no secret customer expectations and customer demands have changed drastically compared to 2019, and will continue to do so in the next couple of months. These changes include a demand for providing guarantees for a risk-free stay, an increase in the pace of the digital evolution, and a new standard for luxury on the short-term. Stay ahead of these evolutions and develop new forms of customer empathy to anticipate new customer behaviour and demands. A change in your behaviour as an enterprise will lead to providing an answer to these new customer needs.

For international travel, one of the most influential factors are regulations concerning the restrictions upheld by the country of origin and the destination. Therefore, keep track of international rules, as they will highly influence your short- and mid-term segmentation. The COVID-19 global pandemic revealed the hotel industry’s dependence on very few substantial revenue streams and a shortage of investment in new profit models. Predications by STR expose that a RevPAR (Revenue Per Available Room) similar to 2019, will only be achieved within seven years from now. Hence, on a longer-term, hospitality leaders will highly benefit from looking beyond traditional revenue creation (mainly from room revenue) and from moving beyond the paradigm of limiting hotel services to the four walls that define its infrastructure.

Be Positive, Be Hospitality

There are some green shoots in China and the US. Organisations such as STR and Skift strongly believe in an increase in demand as from the months June and July. Unfortunately, Europe is lagging behind. However, despite the many steps to be taken, the hotel and accommodation industry will always be about providing a hospitable welcome to its guests. Until we defined this new normal together as an industry, we have to keep looking to establish these new standards. Within this process, the value of organisations such as HSMAI become clear. They bring industry professionals together and propose answers to critical issues that dominate the industry. The hotel industry will continue its battle against this pandemic and challenging times ahead. That’s what we not only owe to ourselves, our employees and our guests but as well to the many communities we maintain.