Lessons in hospitality during a pandemic
Authentic experiences, improved investments in technology, and sustainability are some of the lessons that the hospitality industry has learned while tackling the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Speaking to Khaleej Times, Stefan Leser, CEO of Langham Hospitality Group, said that he has “high hopes for 2021.”
“I think that wherever there is a strong vaccination drive and getting close to herd immunity, we will see a lot of business rebounding,” he said. “There is a strong pent-up demand as well as the desire to reconnect and go out and about. We need to understand that only herd immunity through vaccinations will allow us to participate as a destination. There will be a race for destinations to open up, and only if you reach a comfortable level with herd immunity will borders truly open up and allow people to travel like they did before the pandemic.”
He noted that long mandatory quarantines are one of the main reasons why people have been put off from travelling completely. This, in addition to lingering uncertainty about the rules and regulations in place regarding travel, have all impacted the global hospitality sector. Hotels and resorts have had to get creative about how they would continue to welcome and engage their guests.
“One observation that I would like to make is that we are one of the most stress-resistant industries out there,” Leser said. “We didn’t always know what we would end up working or dealing with whenever we opened our doors in the morning, but we learned to deal with this uncertainty and adversity. One of the things that we have learnt is that you can’t be over prepared. During this time, we tried to share whatever experiences we had between our properties to figure out what works and what doesn’t work, and to provide the best of safety and security for our guests and employees.”
“I believe that we don’t get out of this pandemic stronger, but we get out of it differently,” he added. “We come out of this with more clarity and having tackled challenges and turned them into opportunities. Different destinations have different triggers, and identifying them is important. Authenticity is important, as is ramping up investments in technology, especially those that revolved around health and safety.”
“One of the advantages of our industry is that we have a lot of creative people who came up with amazing ideas to entertain guests and visitors, especially when they booked staycations,” Leser revealed. “One of our hotels removed everything from the ballroom and filled it with beds and popcorn for people to watch movies in a socially distanced theatre.”
Similarly, Ammar Hilal, managing director of Raffles Dubai & Sofitel Dubai The Obelisk, also said that he had observed “a slight recovery” towards the end of 2020, driven by the local market, specifically in the staycations segment. 2021, he said, is characterized by “the amazing work” done by the medical authorities and the UAE government in ramping up Covid-19 vaccination efforts.
“Dubai was one of the very few destinations in the world which was open for visitors in the last quarter of 2020 and this was thanks to the rigid structures and protocols in place regarding visitors, quarantine, testing, and social distancing,” he said. “We benefitted from this greatly because it created a lot of visibility for us as a destination that takes safety and security seriously. We saw healthy bookings during the Christmas and New Year’s period, and I am a firm believer that once more borders open up internationally, we will see many travellers putting Dubai on the bucket list of their travel destinations.”
Like Leser, he said that the pandemic had resulted in several lessons for hospitality companies. “Everyone has assessed their businesses and how they have been impacted. We have had to look to how the future will look for us. Contactless is gaining steam at almost every point in the customer journey, but at the same time customers want unique experiences, so finding a balance is key. Another great opportunity that has come out of this pandemic has been the fact that we have gotten to know our customers and partners a lot better; everyone is just a video call away.”
One of the biggest winners has been the sustainability segment in the hospitality industry. With the slowdown in business during the early stage of the pandemic, Hilal noted that many organisations ramped up their plans for eco-friendly and sustainable initiatives.
“Sustainability is an inclusive approach that is here to stay,” he said. “We are proud to be in a position where we can tell our customers that we are dedicated towards a greener and more sustainable future. We have installed a special water filtration system, where filtered water bottles are available in all guestrooms, suites, meetings rooms and dining outlets. We have said no to single-use plastic, and plastic bottles, straws, cutlery and takeaway containers have been substituted for more sustainable options like glass. We are also committing to using primarily local produce and food items sourced from local farms and to reducing food waste.”
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