I have taken a couple of trips into London this month – and what a different experience that is! The trains seem so spacious, Waterloo is deathly quiet by comparison to the ‘old days’ and the streets carry a lot less traffic. Both visits were for work-related events and each time I heard personal accounts of how COVID-19 has affected people in both their personal and professional lives. There’s no denying the effects of COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdown have been the toughest of challenges. London and other cities are struggling – there is no secret there. Some hotels are yet to open, others have opened and then closed again – some struggle on.
One charming hotelier who had opened as soon as the Government gave the green light told me “Re-opening seemed like the right thing to do, the only thing to do. But the demand is just not there and the only saving grace is that my decision to reopen has not increased the losses we are incurring each month.” As ever though, positive thinking shines through. Revenue managers and commercial directors have their eyes wide open for new opportunities. Whilst large meetings, events, conferences and exhibitions are taking their time to even consider returning, there is a growing demand for small meetings – allowing colleagues to get together to catch up. City hotels and serviced apartments are converting bedrooms (for which there is so little demand) into meeting spaces. Other properties quickly realised that the international business traveller was not turning up any time soon, but the demand for family rooms went some way towards filling the gap.
That hotelier was prepared to change and adapt quickly, thereby securing a few more reservations. From seemingly nowhere, the Royal Docklands waterfront at Excel is a tool to encourage guests to stay in hotels which historically may have looked no further than the schedule at the nearby conference centre. Including car parking is a new reason to choose one hotel over another for city visitors concerned about using public transport. Now is the time to think differently and to be creative.
There are lots of ways to make one property stand out from a neighbour. The role of any hospitality commercial team has not really changed – they still need to understand and maximise demand. They need to be inventive and adaptable. Teamwork is as important as ever, as is flexibility and willingness to multi-task. I listened to a top London hotelier extol the skills of revenue managers away from central hubs “they are the ones who truly know how to stimulate demand. A London revenue manager has been able to pick and choose clients from a large pool of demand – and now they are having to work like the regional revenue manager”.
It seems a concentrated focus on distribution is going to be the key to success along with a proper partnership between revenue managers and marketing. Never before have these two departments needed each other more. Let’s just hope that the marketers are brought back from furlough and teams are inspired to work closely to take their hotels back to breaking even and then on to profit. So, find your unique selling points, shout about your cleaning, make sure the guest knows what extra precautions you are taking. And make sure you continuously deliver a perfectly clean room, hand sanitisers and other measures. Respect for all the current social distancing guidance is reassuring for guests – and this is essential at this time. The mood of our great nation is willing hospitality to recover quickly. It’s not going to be easy, there will be pain along the way – but optimism and positivity go a long way on the road to success.
Another valuable thing I learned, is not to rely on regular trains home. There is still a much-reduced service on the line I use out of London, which left me hanging about at the station for significantly longer than normal – but there were plenty of available seats even with space for social distancing! It’s a rocky road ahead, but seize those opportunities, work as a team and keep your eyes on the ball at all times. Good luck!