Covid19. What is it? Crisis management or future proofing your business? Maybe a bit of both. Here is how you should think about it.
Covid-19 has been a game changer, a wake-up call on so many levels. Who would have thought that the world of hospitality & travel would ever be grounded? And wasn’t it all well-documented that travel & tourism accounts for roughly 10% of global GDP – but in reality; the world cannot function effectively unless people can travel, connect, in-person, face to face. Literally every business sector has been affected because mobility is key to our modern world and humans are not designed for isolation. Humans must have human interactions and the freedom to travel, or chaos is programmed.
So, what have we learned thus far? What do we see? Firstly, it is more obvious than ever, that our technology solutions at the core and center of hospitality & travel are and remain the lifeblood of our industry. As health & safety concerns for our employees and travelers have increased, it has become even more important that we ensure the availability of our platform supporting our global client base and the varies aspects of their businesses. But even more so, our most crucial assets during these unprecedented times have been our exceptional human capital across sales & account management, support, product and consulting expertise.
We have never been closer to our customers and although we may not always have had the perfect message or answer, it became evident that transparency, accessibility and willingness to see the bigger picture is priceless.
Although the support from global health organizations and local governments have been instrumental in determining a path to revive economies, hoteliers in contrast must take control and determine their own destiny – their own path to a new normal in which they can effectively compete. As such, hoteliers must think beyond the guestroom, beyond the concept of being categorized as an accommodation provider, because the truth is – hoteliers are retailers. Hoteliers are destinations in and of themselves. And as such, a new way of thinking needs to be applied starting at the property level.
We’ve had time to think of new ideas, evaluate what is working and what is not and what needs to be improved so far, both from an operational and financial point of view.
To begin with, hoteliers will have to strive for operational and business efficiency. They’ll have to accomplish more with fewer resources to salvage profitability as much as possible. Technology plays a significant role here; it needs to be transparent so that the hoteliers can engage more deeply with their guests instead of struggling with the systems. Hence, solutions that are intuitive, automated, reliable, and seamlessly compatible with other important systems will be crucial to hoteliers in the post-pandemic era. Sure, one could say this was always important. But the financial brunt afflicted by the pandemic makes this a critical factor now.
Hoteliers must also evolve their operating model and look for ways to identify new sources of income, new channels that have not been available or accessible before. Unconventional thinking is required to capture a much broader revenue opportunity. There will be a new and fast-growing market of highly digital customers, spoiled by amazing retailing experiences, who expect nothing less while traveling, be it the service on board of an airplane, the hotel experience or simply the way a brand interacts with them.
The future of loyalty will likely not be determined by points and awards but replaced by trust as the core currency. Stuff that matters such as cleanliness certification, contactless check-in and out procedures, room type preferences, little things (the type of pillows, the room view, low or high floor, a quiet room away from the elevator etc.) start to matter more. The level of insights and knowledge required to make it right will become the USP.
The business model (from Hotelier to Retailer) must be rethought, starting with new investments and leaving the comfort zone, the familiar territory. As such an unexpected crisis does provide a silver lining –now more than ever it is time to redefine the travel and stay experience.
Wikipedia says Change Management (CM) refers to any approach to transitioning individuals, teams, and organizations using methods intended to re-direct the use of resources, business process, budget allocations, or other modes of operation that significantly reshape a company or organization.
I say that is spot on. The question is: How do you do it? Well, it is like anything else in life. You have to start somewhere. And you cannot be afraid to try or fail. So, where do you start?
You start with PEOPLE. Understand what your current operating model is all about. What is everyone’s job? What are people doing every day? Does their work truly fulfill the one purpose to make customers happy?
While assessing the above, one must think about if this is also aligned with your new business objectives and if the individuals can perform against that. Are they a good fit for what the hotel has in mind? Does everyone understand what his or her (new) job scope is? Is everyone aware of the purpose or mission of the company? Do people know why they do what they do?
That said, communication and purpose must be crystal clear. You must review and amend job descriptions, establish clear, simple to understand goals and set ambitious targets and deadlines. Incentivize.
It will be important that properties work across existing silos (departments) – but even more so look outside their immediate hotel – the destination itself – and then provide solutions that deliver effective, end-to-end customer experiences, enriching the value of their brands through a holistic, personalized offer.
One down, two to go. PROCESS. Why is this part so important? It is actually the most mundane of them all, but it is a necessary evil. Process creates structure, improves productivity, enables control, reduces error and enables a company to get things done. Well-defined processes make things move faster through an organization. They are fundamental in making the transition successful or maybe even possible. Circumstances change and as such, your processes need to change too. The way you have always done it should not be the driving force behind maintaining the status quo. Don’t be afraid to try or dare to be different. And fail fast.
Once PEOPLE & PROCESSES are in place, you are two steps closer to achieving true transformation.
And finally (almost), hotels need TOOLS. They come in all shapes, sizes and forms and with different price tags too. Tools are key to your success. Tools enable you to translate the strength of people and process into execution. They allow you to “operationalize” strategy and intent.
Technology is a tool, but even more so, an enabler. It creates opportunities for you to free up valuable time for your team members to focus on the most important part: customer happiness. It is the fuel that ignites the engine (People & Process). It helps if you know what you are looking for and if you have a good grip on how it all interconnects (or should interconnect). And if you don’t – well – go back to PEOPLE and hire the ones who do.
All of the above just provides hoteliers with the right setup to even be in a position to transform.
But there is one more thing, and this is what I call the Secret Sauce.
Hotel owners must ensure that stakeholders are “with them.” They need to be inclusive in their decision making, ensure that people can follow the complexity and assist them in buying into the vision that change is good. Hoteliers need to listen (that's another tough one), and they need supporters (that happens when you listen). They need to be prepared for pain, for setbacks and must have a plan B when they hit resistance. To plan is fundamental, you need to be alert and must keep a sense of community, even family, sometimes, and smile – you might be surprised about the power of laughter (a sincere jovial moment) in times of crisis.
And the most important thing – you can’t do it all by yourself. Teamwork rocks.
In summary, COVID-19 has provided all of us with a unique opportunity to reassess how we should conduct our business. It forced all industries to rethink what is required to ensure customers trust their business and services. It also taught us that human interactions are irreplaceable and that customer expectations must be placed at the center of all business decisions. Having the ability to rely 100% on technology for efficiency, stability and reach has been an enormous confidence booster allowing organizations to free up more valuable time to do what really matters: make sure their customers are happy.