While this latest national lockdown has brought about fresh pressures for the hospitality sector, hotels can continue to build for future success even as doors remain closed. Businesses may consider enhancing their assets to provide more resilience against further Covid-related disruption, while embracing sustainability will keep them aligned to the tastes of returning guests. We spoke to Penny Brown, Managing Director at Inntelligence to get her thoughts.
However, steering a successful course through 2021 will also require close attention to the ‘human’ side of operations. With the hospitality sector among the hardest hit since the pandemic began, managers should adopt a holistic approach and seize every opportunity to support staff financially and emotionally. To survive the pandemic and succeed in its wake, a broad spectrum of positive initiatives will be required to ensure hospitality staff and their businesses can survive and excel in 2021 and beyond.
Generating more than £130bn in economic activity, the hospitality sector is vital to the UK, especially to the three million hospitality workers who rely on it for their livelihoods. A number of hotel groups have launched initiatives to support their staff. For example, hotel chain Hilton has partnered with other companies to secure short-term, pandemic-resilient employment for many of its staff. We should therefore support staff through these trying times, and it has been encouraging to see strides taken in this direction since the pandemic began.
At Burgh Island Hotel in Devon, for example, staff were given the opportunity to stay in the hotel’s suites during lockdown, providing not only a guaranteed roof over their heads, but also an invaluable community spirit when loneliness gripped other workers across the world.
Indeed, money worries are often key drivers of deteriorating mental health, and managers should therefore seek solutions that combine empathy and emotional support with tangible initiatives to help ease the financial concerns of hospitality workers.
Even before Covid-19, more than three million UK adults suffered from both poor mental health and financial difficulties. This is no coincidence. With each problem exacerbating the other, people can easily find themselves in a vicious cycle which is extremely difficult to break out of. Add a global pandemic to the equation and it is no surprise that so many are struggling.
Many of us are simply not used to recognising when we can, and perhaps should, ask for help. A third of those suffering from mental health issues in last year’s lockdowns didn’t seek support because they didn’t feel they deserved it. As managers, we should therefore take the lead to support and maintain the wellbeing of our employees by encouraging increased self-care, improving access to support services, and launching schemes that truly benefit our workforce.
Though there is no one-size-fits-all solution, Inntelligence’s Hospitality Positivity fundraising campaign may provide a blueprint for future initiatives. Raising funds for struggling hospitality workers, this campaign exceeded fundraising targets, kept hospitality on the agenda, and perhaps most importantly lifted the spirits of staff who participated.
At Burgh Island Hotel, for instance, staff who spent lockdown on the island made full use of their iconic surroundings, adding a welcome sense of excitement to their fundraising efforts. Traditional activities such as walking, and cycling were supplemented with paddle-boarding in the Channel – not for the faint-hearted during winter!
It is no coincidence that businesses such as Burgh Island, which places community at its heart, have been among the most successful nurturers of staff wellbeing during the pandemic. Owner Giles Fuchs founded business Office Space in Town with his sister and is committed to ensuring that Burgh Island also maintains the ethos of a ‘family’ business. In this crisis, the hotel has been strengthened by the togetherness among staff which this ethos has fostered.
Same challenges, new opportunities
The past year has been turbulent at the best of times, but the vaccine rollouts mean we may soon have a clearer picture of the immediate post-pandemic landscape. During the current lockdown, managers should consider the changes, or lack thereof, that likely lie ahead and begin to tailor their operations for reopening. Socially distanced spaces, for instance, will remain popular even after restrictions lift, as Covid-related concerns linger.
Building resilience into operations should play to pre-existing strengths. Hotels boasting idyllic settings, for example, may move Covid-compliant dining experiences outdoors, while ultra-modern destinations may invest in contactless check-in interfaces, with the pandemic accelerating already growing interest in ‘smart’ systems. Moreover, hotels possessing gastronomic flair may reimagine their menus, as Burgh Island Hotel did last year, investing in the creativity to which guests will respond keenly.
Recovering from the pandemic is just one challenge ahead for hotels. With 43% of consumers – and counting – actively choosing products based on sustainability credentials, this is surely beginning to impact guests’ choices when booking a weekend away.
Current travel restrictions as well as health and sustainability concerns mean holidaymakers will look local this year. Hotels should do likewise to make a lasting impression on the growing number of environmentally conscious guests. Locally sourced produce will become increasingly important, as guests will favour dishes with a low carbon footprint and a genuine flavour of the local area. Embracing clean energy, meanwhile, would enable hotels to save money and the environment by using solar, wind, or even tidal power to play to the strengths of their locations.
Those reluctant to innovate, be warned – environmentally conscious guests will vote with their feet. Almost 50% of consumers have already boycotted a company due to its stance on sustainability.
Showing hospitality’s human side
The hotel industry has done remarkably well to weather the storm, but we must now focus our efforts on changing, adapting, and innovating in order to limit future disruption. This will reduce not only the impact of future events on revenues and operations, but also the impact on those that spend the most time in our establishments.
Managers should keep abreast of the issues which impact staff and guests most keenly, as a robust human side to a hospitality business could be the difference between long-term success and stagnation. Attention will understandably focus on finances until hotels reopen but enhancing facilities should go hand-in-hand with investment in the wellbeing of workers. After all, a hotel depends on both to provide those memorable experiences that keep guests returning year after year.