The world is currently battling with the unprecedented effects of the COVID-19. With the UN claiming it to be a crisis on humanity like never before, it has put our social fabric and cohesion under tremendous stress. In the face of this fatal virus, the economies worldwide have come to a standstill, making the travel restrictions and social distancing policies the new normal.
Impact of the Outbreak: The hospitality industry has taken a massive hit around the globe with occupancy rates dropping by 59% in US hotels alone. Significant declines are also forecasted in average daily rate (ADR), occupancy, demand, and revenue per available room (RevPAR) for 2020.
Current forecasts predict a deep economic contraction in the first half of the year, followed by a bounce-back in the latter half. However, there could also be a prolonged economic uncertainty that would resist a sharp bounce-back. As hotels counter this economic crisis, there will be a dire need to assess the business continuity and operational challenges, both for the short and long term, and understand the impact on Cash, Working Capital, and Profitability.
The severe situation had stalled travel plans for the majority of the people around the world but it is expected that hotel bookings will see a recovery after September 2020. However, it is also predicted that people will be more inclined towards traveling domestic rather than international. Thus, it is imperative for the hotels to be prepared before the business starts to ramp up and use this interim period as an opportunity to overhaul their legacy systems.
THE NEED OF THE HOUR
Regain Guest Confidence: The core of the relationship between any brand and its consumers is “the trust”, and thus recapturing guest confidence should be the primary step for any brand amidst this pandemic situation. At a time when consumer confidence is at an all-time low, communication will play the lead role in re-assuring the guests of the safe environments at different hotels. Also, within the hotel premises, the way hotels empower their guests with increasingly relevant and timely information, will also hold the key to future.
Revisit Hospitality Offerings:Hotels will need to review their existing service offerings to adapt to the “new normal” and provide a touch-free experience to their guests when they arrive at the property. To achieve this, Hotels will need a transformation in their daily operations to provide an experience that would ensure that both the guests and the hotel staff are in safe hands.
Employee Well Being: A turnaround is also expected in the hospitality industry at the employer level. The current working models need to be re-evaluated for efficiency with ‘employee wellbeing’ positioned higher than ever in the hotel’s priority list. Providing them with safety kits and eliminating the different touchpoints while serving the guests are the major needs of the hour.
Regulatory Compliances Liabilities: In this new environment, hotels need to adopt new practices to regulate the environment in which the business happens. Once the operations begin, stern measures on sanitation and hygiene will be very important and hotel properties will have to not just be aesthetically clean but also clinically clean. It will also be important to ensure that the mandatory regulatory guidelines such as social distancing are being followed at their properties
OPPORTUNITIES TO UPGRADE THE SKILL SET
Up-skill: Creating opportunities for hotel employees to add value to their skill-sets could build confidence in hotel companies, as layoffs can be expected by all major and minor hotel companies. Hyper-local hotels may see the largest number of layoffs due to the popular asset-light model, where large number of operating units, scattered across countries, could be written off all at once. This will bleed out a vast number of hospitality employees into an already difficult market. Individuals who can upgrade their skill sets by way of enrolling in speciality-specific courses could benefit greatly.
Re-skill:Offering routes such as ‘Recognition of Prior Learning’ opportunities to qualified hospitality front-line professionals could accelerate the process in re-skilling individuals, hence preparing them for roles in hotels and other hospitality-related operations in an environment where lean, yet skilled operations will be required.
Hygiene and sanitation remained a recurrent sub-theme throughout the responses, be it about foreseeable consumer behaviour or learnings for the industry and educators or trainers. The issue of hygiene has been well documented in tourism and hospitality literature. However, for a developing country like India that deals with issues like over-crowdedness and congestion, it is too serious a concern to be overlooked. where the researchers have speculated presence of SARS-COV-2 in human waste water becomes more consequential if not managed effectively. The seriousness of this issue can’t be emphasised enough and regardless of the type and size of the establishment, next crucial aspect that is likely to govern the survival would be the presence of standards of waste management and effective sanitation practices visible in all forms of hospitality operations.
Hospitality management must consider wearing masks mandatory until a sustained solution, for instance the most contemplated solution+COVID-19 vaccine, is achieved. Irrespective of type of operations, managers must consider creating dedicated task forces among employees to address hygiene issues and related training and awareness creation. Basing on the responses received it seems clear now that there is stark need of formulating national standards for tourism and hospitality enterprises, and their implementation and monitoring should be effectively carried out, failing that should invite relative penalties. The need of national standards also resonate with the recommendations made by authorities/researchers. One such standard practice could be mandatory temperature checking and its record keeping at the entry and exit points of work places and institutions.
The notion of retaining optimism and hopes of revival remained high. This was particularly visible with the responses pertaining to the manpower development. This viewpoint of the experts in tourism and hospitality may be attributable to their rich experiences, where they must have observed highs and lows in the industry. Although COVID-19 presents an unprecedented case before all the sectors, in that the reduced demand and revenues are obvious consequences, which can resonate with the previous crises that also had detrimental effects. However, in previous health (e.g. SARS, Swine Flu, MERS, and Ebola) or other sorts of crises (acts of terrorism, natural calamities) travellers mostly had alternatives at their disposal. This time the entire planet has been held hostage to this severe pandemic, which has brought an absolute halt on various activities, leisure sector being the prominent casualty. From the responses it is evident that alike educators, industry managers too didn’t shy away from highlighting the human resilience and seemed hopeful towards the eventual recovery, meanwhile reassuring individuals who have or intend to pursue careers in the industry.
Budgets and Capital Expenditure:Hotel owners should consider whether the existing rights of the owner in relation to the setting, approval and variation of budgets and decisions relating to capital expenditures are adequate or should be enhanced in order to give the owner greater say on decisions relating to expenditure that is considered necessary or desirable in light of Covid-19, for instance investments towards improving the health and safety components of the hotel.
This is extremely important from a hotel owner’s perspective because: (a) they have the obligation to fund the hotel’s working capital and capital expenditure requirements; and (b) the owner’s performance termination rights will typically be linked to the level of operating profit generated by the hotel operator relative to the budgeted operating profit. If the owner does not have adequate rights in respect to the setting of the budget and approval of variations from the budget and sufficient control over the budget process, then the operator could provide for a lower operating profit in the budget and thereby ensure that it does not fail the operating profit test (this is over and above a general exclusion which an operator may include for force majeure events).
Additionally, it would also be worthwhile to consider including a mechanism thereby the owner and operator have to mutually agree to adjust the budgets and capital expenditure for a specific period in the event of a force majeure event occurring and the operator should not have a unilateral right to make any such adjustments.
Compulsory Acquisition:During recent times, there have been instances where government authorities in certain countries have taken over hotels to use them as quarantine facilities for Covid-19 patients. While these instances may not be common, it gives rise to another scenario which may need to be covered in the condemnation provisions of hotel operating contracts. Further, as the hotel owner is unlikely to receive any substantial compensation from the government, the rights of an operator to receive any portion of the compensation received from the government should also be considered and re-examined and specific carve-outs may need to be agreed. Consideration should also be given to the hotel’s insurance policies and whether any conversion of use of the hotel into a quarantine or other medical facility may vitiate these insurance policies.
Public Health Emergency Obligations:Hotel operating contracts do not, usually, contain any provisions on: (a) the procedures to be followed by the parties; and (b) the rights and obligations of each party, in the event of a public health emergency occurring in the hotel (for example, a guest or staff testing positive for Covid-19). It is important that these gaps are filled to ensure that there is no ambiguity on the roles and responsibilities of the parties and thereby avoiding the blame-game.
HOTEL MANAGEMENT REQUIRES LIFELONG LEARNING
Albert Einstein said, “Once you stop learning, you start dying”, and the saying has never been truer than in the current context. Even if you were a seasoned hotel manager, the COVID-19 crisis has likely challenged all of your past experience and knowledge about the profession. In the face of uncertainty, hoteliers have had to relearn some of the key cornerstones of the industry, such as staffing and revenue management, both of which underwent major transformations because of COVID.
As a result, web traffic on hospitality-related educational platforms nearly doubled in the past few months. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, hoteliers understood that they needed to take action in order to adapt and save their business. In a great showing of courage and resilience, most of them took the matter into their own hands and kept looking for ways to survive amidst the plethora of constraining safety measures and lockdowns. This gave birth to new innovative strategies for hotels to generate revenue.
HOPING FOR A BEGINNING OF AN END
We can say that,
Post Covid19, organisations will surely redesign/reorganise their business models based on the loss handled and market conditions for the future. Workforce reduction is a possibility however smarter organisations may look at utilising the available workforce in newer roles as per the need of the business. Its (sic) important to understand that hospitality is all about human connections and people will be at the heart of everything we strategize.
COVID-19 is pushing the industry to manage, adapt, and respond to the uncertainty and risk associated with this global health incident. Managing the guests’ & employees’ safety and delivering as per guests’ expectations will not be considered a competitive advantage, but rather an industry imperative. Enterprises in the hospitality industry should partner with the right technology solutions providers to ensure a foolproof digital transformational strategy for the future.