More than just survival: As lockdown eases, it’s time to future-proof our hotels

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As lockdown eases, it’s time to future-proof our hotels

[Credit: Mateusz Feliksik on Unsplash]

Giles Fuchs, owner of Burgh Island Hotel, outlines three ways hoteliers can future-proof their business.

The reopening of hotels was a momentous moment for a sector that has been heavily impacted by repeated national lockdowns. In fact, according to research from UK Hospitality, the four-week extension ahead of easing lockdown restriction in England this month could have cost the sector as much as £3 billion, in addition to the £87 billion already lost in the pandemic.

Nonetheless, it is crucial that as we reopen doors and welcome back guests, this does not become a moment of complacency for the hotel industry. As we continue to move forward and recover from the pandemic, the importance of future-proofing hospitality assets through staffing, technology and sustainability cannot be understated. 

Build your team

At Burgh Island, building a supportive culture for our staff is so important, and something that has always been at the top of our agenda. Afterall, hospitality is a people business – and at the heart of every hotel is its team. 

But while the loosening of lockdown restrictions has been a lifeline for many businesses, surging consumer demand threatens to exacerbate staffing shortages already felt in parts of the hotel industry. According to industry bodies, one in five workers have left the sector during the pandemic, with Covid-19 and Brexit often cited as exacerbating the problem – meaning that top talent in the sector will have no shortage of suitors this summer.

Nonetheless, while placed under further strain by the pandemic, this is not a new problem for the sector. New research by the Office for National Statistics has revealed that hospitality vacancies rose by over 12 per cent between June 2019 and June 2021, but also that vacancies were already at a consistently high level even before the UK went into its first lockdown.

So, for any future-proof operating model, attracting and retaining staff for the long term is crucial. And this begins with the culture that you build – especially around employee wellbeing. Indeed, even prior to the pandemic, one in five hospitality workers reported suffering from severe work-related mental health issues, so supporting your staff should be top priority. Hotels that offer their employees free access to counselling, ‘mental health first aid’ training and commit to providing fulfilling CPD opportunities, for example, will always stand out in a more saturated market. 

Sustainable solutions 

With the UK Government targeting net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and discerning guests increasingly focussed on sustainability, now is also the time for hoteliers to think seriously about the sustainability credentials of their offering. 

Already, the hotel sector accounts for around one per cent of global carbon emissions – and this is set to increase further if the industry follows on current course. So, like all industries, we have a responsibility to manage our impact, for example by training our team in energy awareness or investing in more sustainable energy sources, such as solar. 

When it comes to a future-proof approach to sustainability, the kitchen is also an important place to start. A survey conducted in January 2020 found that two thirds of consumers expect to see ethically sourced food and drink practices in place when they visit a hospitality venue. Further, two in five respondents reported that they would be willing to pay more for this, while 22.7 per cent were also willing to pay extra for a reduced carbon footprint.

In fact, minimising waste can also go a long way in safeguarding revenue streams as hotels recover from the pandemic, with food waste costing UK restaurants an estimated £682 million annually. In altering their processes to find less wasteful ways of cooking – for example, by pivoting to a tasting menu experience and choosing to pan-cook in place of sous vide – hotels can greatly reduce the burden, both environmentally and financially. 

At Burgh Island, we recently stopped buying pre-packaged orange juice – opting instead to make this in-house and recycling leftover peel to make our homemade marmalade – and try to source as much of our produce as possible from within a ten-mile radius to minimise food miles. Not only does this offer us real transparency around the provenance of our ingredients, but it also helps us to support our local economy and build long-term relationships with local producers. 

A tech-forward future 

With the pandemic creating an understandable degree of anxiety amongst when it comes to safety, technology became an obvious port of call for many hospitality venues. Contactless check-ins, for example, as well as motion sensors to prevent the need for high-contact touch points and apps for ordering to table, were all worthwhile investments for businesses in the sector. 

Ultimately, although UK-based hotels are continuing to benefit from a staycation boom as lockdown restrictions ease, that is not a reason to rest on our laurels. These technologies can undoubtedly help to streamline and enhance the guest experience, as well as supporting a sustainability drive. For instance, lights connected to motion sensors can prevent energy wastage, while smarter ventilation systems can also support employee wellbeing. 

Lockdown easing is not the end

While the easing of lockdown restrictions has been momentous for hoteliers, it is not the end of the story for our industry. Indeed, Covid-19 has dramatically changed the operating landscape for the sector in the short term, but when it comes to planning for the future, it is important to do more than simply maintaining “service as normal”. 

From initiatives to build an attractive company culture, support wellbeing, drive sustainability and invest in the technology of the future, these areas will be crucial in creating future-proof hotels that not only survive the pandemic but thrive for the years ahead. 

Giles Fuchs will be participating in the Trailblazer webinar: Freedom day… what next? On Monday 2 August, 2pm BST. Further information along with registration link can be found here

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