All hotel industry stakeholders must continue to “bang the drum” loudly in advocating for its recovery and continued health.
The pandemic, with its accompanying deep disruptions to travel, tourism, hospitality and the greater national and global economies, isn’t yet extinguished. Tough times still lie ahead as we work to stabilize frail balance sheets, maintain as much employment as possible for our teams and provide outstanding service to those guests who do cross our thresholds.
In the days ahead, we can draw on experiences of the last 10 months—where we have learned how to be resourceful and professional in keeping both individual properties and investment portfolios above water; where we have witnessed the remarkable dedication and passion of the people who make up this industry; and where we have reaffirmed the value of industry-wide advocacy.
First, a shout out to American Hotel & Lodging Association President Chip Rogers and the entire AHLA team, who have been tireless and effective in getting important messages across to Congress and the traveling public. The Safe Stay industry-wide initiative, along with complementary programs from the major brands, built on the already excellent job that hoteliers do in providing a safe and clean environment for guests, albeit with a bit of super-disinfection, masking and distancing protocols. The message of safety has been broadcast well.
Rogers also led the way in telling our industry story in Congress and lobbying for support programs like the Paycheck Protection Program and others, where efforts are ongoing. But where do we go from here? Can we continue to work together to advocate even more effectively as an industry? Do we have important messages to still deliver? Let’s consider a few areas of common cause.
That Airbnb’s valuation after it’s just-concluded IPO should exceed the combined valuation of Marriott, Hilton and InterContinental Hotels Group should give us great pause. We can only imagine the amount of money and resources that this “tech” business does and can devote to marketing. Regardless, we should have many arrows in our competitive quiver. Examples include the aforementioned safety, cleanliness and overall hospitality, pre- and post-COVID-19, of our standard offering. We also need to pump up the volume about our industry’s attractive frequent stay programs that combine the assurance of an outstanding guest experience with financial and other loyalty incentives.
State and federal programs that offer incentives for both family travel and corporate travel may help jump-start recovery. These incentives could include spend-as-you-wish direct stipends, as well as reductions in the costs of lodging, airfare or local attractions. Nations already offering travel incentives include Mexico, Italy and Portugal. Do we have the will to advocate for a program of funding that pushes travel domestically?
Finding better ways to communicate within our industry
Next, our national and state hotel and hospitality organizations should review the dollars available for marketing and how we are spending them. In particular, many local associations don’t have the funding they need to more effectively advocate for our industry, especially when faced with emergent situations. How would we respond if properties experience coronavirus outbreaks or have to deal with prolonged unruly visitors, given the current environment? Do we have ways to better share information and solutions between states, or state and national groups, to avoid having to reinvent the wheel? What about advocating for property tax relief across jurisdictions or adjustments in local hotel taxes?
Attracting old and new talent
The pandemic has brought havoc to hospitality personnel—at the property level, for asset and property managers, our vendors and suppliers, and at the corporate offices of the brands. Those left standing have performed admirably. But how long can staff stretched so thin continue to function so well? Moreover, there may be an impulse, even when occupancies recover, to not ramp up employment too quickly at properties with severely constrained balance sheets.
What message will we send out to those we had to furlough or lay off during the pandemic? Who will be attracted to a working environment seen as stressful and, perhaps, dangerous? Again, we need to get out front as an industry to ensure we create an inviting work environment to match that we offer guests. Then, tell our story of how hospitality in normal times is a fun, rewarding place to work and a great way to earn money and start a career while still in high school or college; or a wonderful part-time job for seniors and others.
While recognizing that we must not appear anti-competitive to regulators or the public, we must explore ways, among national associations, state associations and owners’ groups, to present a strong, united front on those overarching, just-discussed issues that transcend brand competition.
Hospitality has been one of the hardest hit industries in these challenging times. Let’s continue to stand together and bang the drum, loudly.
Kerry Ranson is chief development officer for HP Hotels.
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