As COVID-19 made its way from China to the rest of the world, the staggered path of the virus provided clues for those not yet affected. Health experts, governments, economists and others had the opportunity to examine China and then Italy as an example of what the rest of the world could expect in the future. This was helpful as we prepared for the crisis. Today, hoteliers can learn from open businesses in China as operators around the globe begin to think about reopening hotels.
Following are six lessons that hoteliers can learn from businesses that have reopened in China.
Business Will Return
First and foremost, it’s important to acknowledge that Chinese hotels are seeing bookings. At the beginning of April, STR reported that “While COVID-19 continues to have a devastating impact on hotel industry performance, Mainland China’s hotel industry has started to see early signs of performance recovery.” Of note, 88% of STR’s sample set was in operation on April first.
Brands Need to Empower General Managers
In a roundtable conversation facilitated by McKinsey’s Greater China Consumer and Retail Practice, Motonobu Miyake, CEO of Lawson (China) Holdings shared the importance of empowering local leaders. He said, “We made sure staff were aware that if they acted to comply with local regulations without consulting supervisors, they would not be penalized, and that clear and open communication about their situation was paramount.”
Given the pace of change and regulations that differ from city to city, brand headquarters will never have all the information they need to stay on top of every hotel. As a result, brands need to empower GMs to make the best decisions for their employees, their guestsD and the company overall.
Hotel Should Use Reopenings to Reinspire Employees
Most hoteliers closed their hotel doors for the first time in history this year. When hotels that typically run 24/7/365 are shuttered, there’s a big impact on employees. Even employees that haven’t been laid off or furloughed are dealing with ‘survivors’ guilt’, uneasiness and uncertainty about the future.
Focusing on reopenings allows teams to come together and work on something positive. At the same McKinsey roundtable discussion, the Chairman and CEO of Starbucks China talked about the toll that closures took on employees and why they decided to plan to reopen stores, even while store closures were still growing. Belinda Wong said, “As the situation evolved, we shifted focus to reopening, which was critical not just for the business but also for company spirit.”
Focus on Employee and Customer Safety
ABC reported that “On Monday, about 75% of shops in the Chuhe Hanjie mall in the city center were open but many imposed limits on how many people could enter. Shopkeepers set up dispensers for hand sanitizer and checked customers for signs of fever.”
While this insight is fairly obvious, it would be negligent to not mention how important safety and cleanliness is now. Even though supplies might be in short order, hotels must go out of their way to ensure that employees and guests are safe and feel protected
Hotels that focus on safety and make it a priority will instill trust in their staff and guests. During a recent NoVacancy podcast, guests spoke about how the pandemic will drive change in room amenities, expecting hand sanitizer to be readily available.
It’s hard to work in an environment of uncertainty. When distraction is prevalent, it’s easier to focus solely on the day-to-day versus planning for the future. But the best hoteliers continue to look towards the future and continue to develop marketing and revenue plans.
In a PhocusWire Q&A with Italian hotelier, Giancarlo Carniani, the hotelier says, “I think after the coronavirus everywhere in the world, there will be a new renaissance and distribution will be all changed. I’m glad The Phocuswright Conference will still be there in August, because in August we will see the rise of a new distribution. Everything will change. That’s my impression and the impression of many people here in Italy. Because when you are at zero, you have nothing to lose. You can really change the way you do business.”
Hoteliers should be using this down time to plan for the future and be prepared when demand returns.
Remember your Values
A phrase that we hear a lot these days is, ‘There is no playbook for COVID-19.’ Retail leaders in China, especially, were forced to make up policies and procedures on the spot. Belinda Wong of Starbucks found inspiration in the company’s values to help guide her. She says, “I remembered how Howard Schultz (Starbucks founder and chairman emeritus) used to say that not every decision is an economic one. That has stuck with me, and in the current crisis, it helped me understand what I needed to do. I fell back on the fundamental principle—what is the right thing to do for our partners, customers, and the country? In times of extreme ambiguity, our values can provide much-needed clarity and guidance.”
Almost every hotel brand that we work with is driven by its mission and values. Often, the answer to every business question can be found on your website in the ‘About Us” section. As you navigate this crisis remember that this, too, shall pass and how you come together as a team and how you treat your guests will help you win in the end.