From cross-training to investing in outdoor and meetings spaces to enhancing guest-facing messaging, hoteliers are putting the work in now to prepare their staff and properties for a return in demand.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—While the industry is not out of the woods yet, hoteliers are optimistic that business will eventually return, and sources said now is the time to get their staff and properties ready ahead of the ramp-up.
Hotel News Now reached out to industry leaders for insight on how they’re preparing.
Thomas Penny, president, Donohoe Hospitality Services
“As we prepare to ramp back up, there’s some permanent changes to our business. We need agile, thoughtful, energetic, courageous leaders to lean into it. What we try to do is, one, make sure that we're continuing to recruit talent that fits all those boxes. Two, supporting our existing team and helping to allow for them to perform well as it relates to their strengths, and also giving more time to develop any opportunities that may be present.
“This is probably the only time in my 30-year history where we’re going to have the entire industry ramping simultaneously. Its’s going to be hyper-competitive. As an example, in D.C. proper, there’s 147 hotels, 34,000-plus guestrooms. We’re accustomed to having two or three new hotels open over a period of two months, but to have 147 hotels, 34,000-plus guestrooms to all be ramping up simultaneously, we’ve just not had that experience before.
“This is not a period of being passive. This is not a period of being overwhelmed. This is a period of intense competition. And we want leaders in our hotels that are excited and ready to compete because the pace of recovery. There’s going to be some hotels that have an inherent advantage … and because this recovery period has been longer than any of us could have expected, every hotel is going to need to ramp as quickly as their hotel teams and market will allow. This will be a world-class race, and you want to be at the front of the race.”
Matt Barba, VP of operations, Charlestowne Hotels
“As we all, not so patiently, wait for business demand to return to pre-pandemic levels, we find ourselves on the precipice of a renaissance of sorts. During this unprecedented time in history, hoteliers have been presented with three specific opportunities.
“Health, safety and sanitation: Starting with the obvious, numerous standard operating procedures were either implemented or reinforced this year as it relates to guest and employee safety. Now is the time to take stock of these procedures and refine the execution and optics as you establish what will remain as part of the new world order, so to speak. Wallpapering a guestroom with ‘sanitized’ stickers is not the long-term solution. There needs to be a balance between instilling guest confidence while maintaining a sense of normalcy and staying on brand.
“Reprogram: Adding, removing or changing an amenity, service or fee structure/pricing during normal operations can feel like a salmon swimming upstream. This is the same for changing how a space is used or reprogramming existing concepts. With many hotels’ business volumes at historic lows or even partially closed, the setting is ideal to make these changes with little disruption and without sending shockwaves throughout the operation or the guest experience.
“Get your house in order: It’s been a minute since we were in the throes of our normal operating routines. The environment is right for coaching, training, training and more training. We would also be remiss if we didn’t finally tackle all those outstanding items we typically never have time to get to. This could be something like reorganizing the linen closets or the development of new employee recognition programs. We must also realize that our business mix may change moving forward and we need to adjust our sales strategies accordingly. Most of us have nothing but time at the moment. Use it wisely.”
Andrew Rubinacci, EVP and chief commercial officer, Omni Hotels & Resorts
“Over the past six months or so, we’ve worked hard to ensure we’re doing everything we can to make our guests’ stay at any of our properties nationwide as safe as possible. While we’re a much smaller company today than we were at the beginning of 2020 in terms of revenues and profits, and while we still have a handful of closed hotels, we are beginning to be optimistic about the future, with exciting developments, partnerships, booking trends, etc.
“We feel confident to welcome guests back, when they are ready to return, for many reasons: We believe there is a way to travel safely during these times with new initiatives in place. For example, we created the ‘Omni Safe & Clean’ program, which includes updates to our check-in process, meeting room layouts, food-and-beverage services and our communal spaces for a safer experience. This program builds upon the American Hotel & Lodging Association’s ‘Safe Stay’ program.
“Also, Omni is the first brand to implement a new social distancing filter to the meeting and event page on property websites. The new feature allows users to review meeting and event spaces at Omni properties based on the number of attendees to ensure room for social distancing. Users can toggle between standard, moderate and strict settings while viewing new meeting space diagrams and enhanced visuals. Omni was able to quickly pivot and focus on what users and hotelgoers alike need and expect during the new COVID-19 landscape.”
Dan Paola, VP of operations, Raines Hospitality
“Since we are predominantly in the select-service space, we live for cross-training, and I think this will continue to serve us well in the future. Limited staffing has allowed associates the opportunity to learn new skills that will, in turn, create greater efficiency as business returns. This takes place in all areas of the hotel, from the front office to housekeeping to food and beverage. As our associates train in these areas, they will be better suited to train new associates to take care of our returning guests.
“This can also depend on the state and market—some locations have seen recoveries during the summer months, and others have seen strong performances in the fall. Bringing back staff has been very fluid, with uncertainty on associates’ willingness to return. While there have certainly been periods where the staff has been ‘stretched thin’ and had to wear multiple hats, we couldn’t be prouder of the tremendous sacrifice and effort of our team members during this challenging time.
“Most of our properties have a breakfast buffet. Since COVID has changed the way these amenities operate, we have adjusted our strategies. We are offering more individually wrapped items, such as breakfast sandwiches, muffins, whole fruit and granola bars, as well as disposable and single-serve items like juice, milk and cereal. In places where hot buffets made substantial guest impacts, we added a buffet attendant who serves food for guests to avoid contamination and close contact. Additionally, some properties with bars have installed plexiglass barriers. Tables and bar seating are more spaced out, offering guests the opportunity to social distance while sanitation efforts have increased tenfold. All of this new protocol requires training, and now is the best time to conduct that training.
“The emphasis and expansion of our outdoor spaces was certainly prevalent, with investments made to ensure we could maximize seating and revenue during the warmer months, in addition to the cooler months we are now heading into. Courtyard fireplaces, additional outside seating, and investments in awnings and overhangs have all come about during this pandemic. As hoteliers, we are much more prepared to find creative solutions to problems that may arise. This is one of the silver linings from this year.”