The Impact of Covid on Business
As originated by medieval Persian Sufi poets, ‘this too shall pass’ is a phrase we are thriving on. That said, the world, as we knew it, is now in a completely different avatar. So, what does this really mean for businesses, and in particular hospitality?
What we see today is an unprecedented scenario that has brought about a challenging time for everyone, across industries and even more so, across geographies. The impact of Covid-19 has been immense and unexpected, making us pause and forcing us to re-evaluate our plans for 2020, both professionally and personally. The beauty of taking a moment to introspect during a temporary halt is immense. It makes us unveil and discover potentials that were lost amid other engagements of daily life.
The nationwide lockdown has been in effect for weeks now, during which time, we have seen many industries reassess aspects of operating a business – from agriculture, information technology and electronics to banking and finance, pharmaceuticals, telecommunications, aviation and of course tourism. While we saw an immediate domestic slowdown in India, we are now seeing gradual ease in economic restrictions that restore hope.
As the situation evolves, so does human behaviour. From confining ourselves to our homes for weeks at end, we have come a long way and have made peace with the thought of ‘living with it’. As originated by medieval Persian Sufi poets, ‘this too shall pass’ is a phrase we are thriving on. That said, the world, as we knew it, is now in a completely different avatar. So, what does this really mean for businesses, and in particular hospitality?
Let me start by sharing a firm belief - travel will never stop. Owing to the fact that people have been confined for a while and adoption of the newer aviation rules will take some time, it is safe to anticipate that leisure travel will resurface sooner than business travel. Travellers will prefer locations at drivable distance. Business travel, especially international, will take slightly longer to recuperate, as it is largely dependent on immigration restrictions implied by nations. Additionally, there are talks amongst industry pundits that significant recovery will take place once the vaccine has been developed, which may be anywhere between 12-24 months.
Brands are now heightening efforts to ensure that the environment is ‘safe’ and ‘sanitised’ to be in. Hygiene and sanitisation have evolved to be key determinants in decision-making for guests; and while everyone is speaking of these buzz words, how does one really stand out in all this noise?
Getting it right: Reinstating brand trust
Developing brand trust through education of new safety and hygiene standards is essential to influence the decision to stay, dine or visit. While it is important for organizations to educate the team about hygiene standards, it is equally important to penetrate this to the guest even before he actually arrives at the hotel. What this means is guiding your customer through the journey from the time they search for you online until they book and then finally arrive at the address. What goes a long way is generating recall to any certifications or accreditations from governing bodies to build that trust. At Conrad Bengaluru, I am happy to share that the hotel is ISO 22000:2018 Food Safety Management System, an international accreditation that is testament to hygiene standards.
In addition to our teams receiving guidelines to enhance operating protocols as per the global directive issued by Hilton Worldwide, we have increased the frequency of cleaning our public areas with hospital-grade disinfectants and placed visible hand sanitizers at high touchpoint areas across the hotel. We have focused equally on back of the house operations as well, ranging from food handling at the receiving point to housekeeping procedures and service standards.
That said, educating and building trust must seed fruit in visible touchpoints through the customer journey or in other words – practice what you preach. At Conrad Bengaluru, we had simulated the customer journey in various scenarios – check-in, dining, in-room dining, laundry services, room refreshments etc. for teams to be acquainted to the enhanced protocols and gear up for the new normal of hospitality once our doors open.
Contactless service coupled with intensified high technology are imperative areas for one to master. Through the digital check-in feature available in the Hilton Honors app, guests can check-in before arrival and skip the front desk altogether. That is not all, one can even choose a room pre-arrival to the hotel, and even enjoy card less access to all areas in the hotel. Therefore, what I am saying is guests can search, book and modify their stay. What’s more, manage and redeem your Hilton Honors points. It is all of your member benefits to make life on the go easier. It is pure genius!
For the next few months, contactless check-in and check-out, smart room allocation to control costs and practicing social distancing guidelines while ensuring adequate revenues despite reduced capacities at restaurants, are high impact areas that a hotel must tackle with.
In order to boost this, education through onsite communication through the digital touchpoints at the hotel, ensuring pre-arrival emails include a note on the hygiene standards and the arrival process are being communicated to guests who are booking is important. A part of the guest in-room experience will also see ‘less is more’, as certain services will be offered upon request only.
Business in 2020
Recognised as the ‘Best Bleisure Hotel’ by Travel + Leisure India, Conrad Bengaluru is the ideal destination for meetings, events, social gatherings and weddings. The banquets boast 17,000 sq.ft. and are among the largest in the city. That said robust efforts in the weddings and socials segments remain in focus. While the MICE segment is certainly a key element, we are cognizant that a lot of this business is derived from the recovery of the national and global markets.
It is evident that capturing domestic business will see great importance to gain market shares and revenues. Our eye remains on small local business, PSUs, Government bodies, banking corporations. The meetings, events and celebrations space is being reset and redefined where a large emphasis on ease of doing business has advanced.
Virtual tours are the new reality, and we will see engagement with guests at the planning stage taking place online, which makes it imperative for businesses to invest in high-end technology. Other initiatives that support physical distancing include single flow traffic in buffet lines, mobile banquet trolleys/trays, single service portions, intimate and smaller gatherings and highly visible demarcations on the floor reminding guests to maintain minimum distance. Clearance will now take place post guest departure.
From an F&B strategy perspective, being agile is the mantra for success. Quickly adapting to contactless service and experiences, at Conrad Bengaluru, guests are offered digital menus and are encouraged to transact digitally through implementation of QR codes. For example, instead of valet cards, we should consider using technology that of QR codes to encourage contactless arrivals, in-room dining menus should be available at the scan of code, etc. In light of this, I anticipate adequate footfalls returning to restaurants that offer the promise of hygiene & safety.
For stays, Conrad Bengaluru is disinfecting rooms with ultra-violet electrostatic sprays 24-hours post guest departure. Team members servicing the rooms will be in suited in personal protective gear while clearing the room to mitigate the chances of cross-contamination.
An effective leader will be cautious with cash flow during these times. Industry leaders would relook at operational:manpower ratios and find areas to optimize, as what may have been proven to be efficient pre-COVID could now use a closer lens of reevaluation. One must know the fixed costs of running operations and critically review and minimize expenses to the best extent possible. This coupled with a strong expense mitigation plan will facilitate an easier sail through these storms. In times like this, it is also important to gain the trust of the ownership; they are among your most critical stakeholders during highs and lows. Prestige Group, one of the largest and most respected brands in the real estate sector employ thousands of skilled talent. Conrad Bengaluru is one of their most iconic hospitality properties in the country and I am happy to share that even in these times, they have extended their utmost support and guidance to ensure the livelihood of our team members remains a priority.
At Conrad Bengaluru, we pride ourselves in maintaining the highest standards of cleanliness, housekeeping and hygiene. In response to the current situation, the additional measures implemented are as per the consultation and guidance from global and local public health authorities (including the WHO and CDC). So, when you are ready to travel again, we will be ready to welcome you with an all-new standard for hotel cleanliness and disinfection, for you to enjoy an even cleaner and safer stay from check-in to check-out.
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