Living with lockdown: How hotels can lay the foundations for post-pandemic success

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Penny Brown, managing director of hotel management company Intelligence, outlines five areas where hotels can best build resilience into their operations.

A new year brought another national lockdown, perhaps tempering the optimism generated by the vaccine rollout – particularly in the hospitality sector, which is evidently not out of the woods just yet. However, there are steps hotels can take to bolster their position once restrictions begin to lift. Businesses may equip themselves with pandemic-proof assets to ride out the rest of the uncertainty, while embracing sustainability will keep them attuned to the tastes of returning guests.

In addition, investing in the ‘human’ side of operations will pay dividends, and managers should seize every opportunity to support staff financially and emotionally. Initiatives can vary from the imaginative to the routine, but a broad spectrum of positive action will be necessary to ensure hospitality workers and their businesses can survive and thrive in 2021 and beyond.

Time to differentiate

Calls for positivity may have understandably fallen on deaf ears in the hospitality sector, which will likely be the last to return to a semblance of pre-pandemic normality. However, over the coming weeks we can reasonably hope to gain a clearer impression of the medium-term outlook, offering hotels an opportunity to position themselves ahead of a reopening. Finding ways around restrictions does not mean operating outside of the law but ensuring that hotels can welcome guests back without raising safety concerns or losing the overall luxury hotel experience.

Businesses should play to pre-existing strengths – Burgh Island Hotel’s history of gastronomic flair, for example, has inspired its executive chef to revolutionise its menu so guests can look forward to new culinary delights. Alternatively, ultra-modern destinations may adopt ‘smart’ systems such as contactless check-in platforms, while hotels set amid great natural beauty may move dining experiences outdoors. These changes will keep hotels Covid-compliant, but they will also provide vital points of differentiation which will be key to attracting guests.

Sun, sea, and sustainability

All three of the above will be on holidaymakers’ wish-list this year and, while sun and sea may be stock-in-trade for many hotels, demonstrating their sustainability credentials to prospective guests will be among their biggest post-pandemic challenges. Moreover, it will be crucial for both improving the health of our planet and attracting revenues, with 43 per cent of UK consumers – and counting – actively choosing brands based on their environmental values.

Travel restrictions as well as sustainability concerns will cause UK tourists to look local this year, which will incorporate greater appetite for produce sourced sustainably from the local economy and environment. Embracing clean energy, meanwhile, will enable hotels to impress guests with sustainable solutions which fit harmoniously with their surroundings, be it solar, wind, or even tidal power. Playing to their strengths will again be important and refusing to play ball will risk ruining a brand’s appeal among environmentally conscious guests.

All together now

Sticking together is essential in times of crisis, particularly when many friends and colleagues find themselves physically isolated due to lockdown restrictions. Hospitality generates more than £130 billion of economic activity in the UK, but it is also invaluable to the three million people who rely on the sector for a livelihood and, in many cases, a raison d’être. From fresh-faced recruits to seasoned professionals, no hospitality worker should have to face this crisis alone.

Thankfully, technology offers opportunities to cultivate a sense of community among workers even while they remain physically separated from each other and their workplace. Managers can take team activities online, perhaps organising cooking classes hosted by the resident chef, or capitalising on their hidden yoga skills. Creative ideas can also strengthen ties to would-be guests, who increasingly value social media updates from their favourite brands. But even simple solutions such as virtual coffee mornings can do the trick, encouraging colleagues to look after themselves and each other.

Raising money, awareness, and spirits

Nourishing workers’ wellbeing should be supported with more tangible action to address financial concerns. Money worries are often key drivers of deteriorating mental health, with more than three million UK adults suffering from both mental wellbeing issues and financial difficulties even before Covid-19. Indeed, this is no coincidence, as people can easily find themselves locked in a downward spiral with money and mental health troubles exacerbating each other. Add the pandemic into the mix and it is no surprise that so many are struggling.

Although the sector cannot be expected to sustain such pressure without outside help, hospitality workers can take steps to lighten the burden for each other. Inntelligence’s Hospitality Positivity campaign empowered our staff to support hospitality workers over the festive period, keep the sector’s struggles in the spotlight, and buoy each other’s spirits as they walked, cycled, and even paddle-boarded together to raise money for Hospitality Action. Of course, any solution should be tailored to individual circumstance, but initiatives such as this may provide a blueprint for building on its success.

Relaying foundations

Managers should remain focused on the shifting landscape of the hospitality sector, even as it appears to grind to a halt during lockdown. An end to the restrictions would still signal significant change, with sustainability and social distancing both likely to be high priorities. Moreover, businesses should value their staff as people as well as workers, by supporting them through emotional and financial strife. It is worth hotels re-evaluating their operations from the ground up, as they now need every advantage available to them even as the time for guests’ return edges ever closer.

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