Adapting to the new normal with COVID 19

The unprecedented times of lockdown due to COVID-19 has brought with itself a second crisis of financial anxiety in addition to affecting lives of people across the world. There is a positive impact of this crisis, as COVID-19 has acted as a catalyst for change, and the hospitality sector has gone through a tremendous transformation in the past few months. In an email interview, Bhawna Verma, General Manager, Courtyard by Marriott Gurugram Downtown share more.

With the lockdown nearing an end and almost 6 weeks of planning to prepare for a gradual reopening in the new world order, tell us briefly about some of the critical operational areas that you must, as the head of your business, tackle?

The Hotel Operations have adapted to a new normal with a major shift to Hygiene and Cleanliness. We have implemented the new operational measures, predominantly focussing on safety and hygiene with our Commitment to Clean initiative and ensuring that the associate and guest follow the hygiene standards set by the company. To practice the new normal of social distancing, the human touchpoints have been reduced without compromising on service and guest expectation, restaurant & banqueting facilities have been reworked and contactless service is offered. 

How do you plan to implement social distancing and the new protection, cleanliness & hygiene protocols?

Marriott International’s Commitment to Clean initiative, designed carefully with all-encompassing safety, has been rolled out at Courtyard by Marriott Gurugram Downtown. The implemented measures include but are not limited to- contactless temperature checks, contactless check-in, check-out and in-room dining services, Arogya Setu app to reinforce the safety and security protocols laid out by the government, limiting the number of people in the elevator,  providing guests and associates with sanitizers, gloves and masks, public signage and demarcations to ensure Social Distancing and more. Regular deep cleaning of soft surfaces like carpets, upholstery and disinfection of high contact surfaces like elevator buttons and public restrooms are being practiced naming a few. 

F&B, MICE and weddings have been huge revenue drivers. They stand impacted now, at least in the short immediate run. How do you plan to recoup this revenue gap to recover and over what horizon?

The instantaneous opportunity to pull through the revenue gap is Marriott on Wheels, an F&B initiative, comprising of home deliveries, corporate meals, bento boxes, packed boxes and outdoor catering. Supplementary revenue streams would be Staycation Packages which would be heavily driven by Domestic Travel and people looking for an escape once the state guidelines ease. We are also exploring co-working spaces and becoming one stop solution for weddings and social events as the size of events become smaller and the size of the hall isn’t a constraint anymore. Going digital and being a one-stop solution for guests without them stepping out for anything would be the key aspect.

With a revenue dent that will go beyond a few months, what are the few cost control measures you are undertaking?

Our hospitality sector is hugely impacted, and it entails major cost control measures. We have moved most of the fixed costs to controllable costs.

Energy saving by optimal use of certain areas as per demand contributes the maximum to cost control measures, namely chiller and electricity, without compromising on appropriate temperature. Supplementary aspects that have helped us include menu engineering, ABC analysis, operating floors in accordance to the occupancy, purchasing limited stock for the store as per weekly demand to increase cash liquidity by reducing blockage of money, common work space for different departments to reduce electricity consumption and minimum manpower with flexible shifts, working hours as per need.

Hotels could also explore collaborating and sharing resources like bakery and laundry where bigger cost efficiency can be brought.

Restaurants and fine dining have been a must have for any hotel of good standing, but now it seems in-room dining will be preferred by in house guests, while walk-in diners will take time coming back. What is your view?

Absolutely agree that walk-in diners will take their time to come back as the consumer behaviour adapts to the new normal. Even though the numbers are not encouraging for the time being but slowly and gradually the confidence is coming back with the trust in the brand and measures being taken to ensure the safety and hygiene of the guests. The regular diners have started to come in though not in sizeable numbers however we are optimistic to see more diners stepping out to restaurants in the coming weeks.

Do you think domestic tourism will be a game changer with a likely drop in international inbound traffic for a while?

International outbound is not there and it is going to boost the domestic travel up with travelers looking for an escape after months of lockdown. The shift will be travelers are likely to prefer staycations confined within states as opposed to International travel previously. A lot of our sister hotels are gaining momentum with bookings flowing in for weekends in upcoming months with Guests coming in from drivable distance. Most of the select service brands are seeing traction in terms of staycations. 

As the head of your hotel, how do you keep the employee morale up during these tough times?

An unprecedented time like such is the true measurement of a team’s resilience.  Being transparent and honest with associates and colleagues helps and goes a long way in sailing through. We make it a priority to invest time to interact with our associates on a regular basis. We boost the morale by encouraging them to participate in virtual games and activities to enhance their skills, ensuring they spend time in trainings and doing what they love the most like photography, dancing etc.

What changes do you think this pandemic will bring to the Hospitality sector in terms of running a hotel?

There will be significant changes in terms of the operational, cost and service restructuring with personalised contactless service becoming the crucial point. Complete overhaul is anticipated in terms of use of technology, the efficiencies we as hoteliers bring in, sustainability of the hotel through cost optimisation measures, revenue management, safety and hygiene measures right from entry and exit points to vendor management with proper certifications in place and additional avenues of generating revenue. A simple example being that 5-star hotels are not wary of home deliveries anymore.

What is your message for the tourism and hospitality industry partners, as well as to your loyal clientele?
Trust us! Trust us that we are doing everything it takes to keep our associates safe and you, as our loyal clients, safe when you travel during these times. Your phone with our Marriott Bonvoy app is a new concierge which promises you the contactless experience and stay. We all shall overcome the hard times together with the support of each other.  

What has been your hotel's contribution towards the fight against this pandemic?

Marriott as a brand is known for giving back to the society. We as part of Marriott have done our bit to support the people unable to sustain the harsh times. Regularly took measures to create awareness for the well-being, safety and hygiene of our associates, guest and clients.

We made continuous efforts to stay in touch with our guests and partners through various digital mediums, team calls and video conferences to bring in a sense of security and well-being. Regular reassurance and efforts to resolve any concerns or queries they may have.

What are the key lessons for the future to be learned from fighting this pandemic?

The most important lessons learnt must be adaptability and thinking on your feet ability.

We need to constantly reinvent ourselves as and when the industry demands. Keep evolving and implementing as and when the ancillary industries come up with new trends rather than waiting for drastic situation to bring about the changes. Last but not the least, people come first, be it your associates or the family.

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Courtyard by Marriot Bhawna Verma


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