Today, as part of our weekly blog series, “Good Works and Great Ideas,” we’ll address the latest insights into how you can adapt your business and address planner needs as we shift into a new normal of meetings and events, and look towards the hospitality industry recovery.
We’ve also included a collection of articles and inspiring examples from the hospitality industry that demonstrate how hotels are helping others and making the most of this uncertain time.
Great Ideas: First steps to consider as travel and events resume as part of the hospitality industry recovery
Great ideas empower us to thrive and move toward a better day. We’ll cover a few pressing questions with ideas for how to address them and data points to help you prepare for the future.
As some states begin to re-open certain businesses, it’s time to look ahead and prepare for what’s to come in the events industry as it recovers. For hotels and venues, this could mean an increase in drive market events. Here are some basic guidelines for hotels to consider as travel resumes and in-person events become a possibility.
1. Analyze the recent data
According to Jan Freitag, SVP of lodging insights at STR, the data is starting to get better for the hospitality industry. “The U.S. RevPAR decline last week was ‘only’ 76.8%,” he said. “This is the third week that the data has been better than -80%, and we fully expect with social distancing and stay-at-home orders expiring, that we will see RevPAR declines that are getting step by step better.” Freitag also said that room demand number is improving slightly.
STR data for the first full week of May showed modest gains in U.S. hotel occupancy compared with previous weeks. “The industry reported its fourth consecutive week-to-week increase in demand as the slow and steady ascent in national occupancy continued,” said Freitag.
“More people are flying, as shown in daily checkpoint counts from the TSA, and more people are staying in hotels for a variety of purposes—the weekly number of rooms sold topped 10 million for the first time since the end of March. The markets benefiting more from leisure sources in areas with more relaxed distancing measures will see a sharper recovery line than others. Overall, the recovery will be uneven across the country.”
2. Focus on drive market travelers and events
LODGING magazine recently reported that the demand side is already showing some signs of recovery due to postponed events from the spring and summer being rescheduled to the fall and winter. This rebooking activity combined with the resuming of business travel and the pent-up demand for leisure travel could mean that Q3 and Q4 of this year will be busier than last year, and will set the industry on the road to recovery.
While meeting and business travel will lag slightly behind other markets in the recovery phase, leisure and “drive-to” destinations will likely be the first to make a comeback. For example, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts is positioned for a quicker recovery once demand returns, executives say, with nearly 90% of properties located outside of major cities in drive-to, leisure destinations.
Another article from LODGING magazine pointed out a few areas hoteliers can focus on during this downturn. With flights still grounded, or people afraid of traveling far distances, drive business will become increasingly more important. Stay focused on your local relationships. When business picks up and meetings begin again, they will likely be smaller meetings booked by local companies or ones within driving distance. Develop and deepen your relationships with local contacts so that you’ll be more likely to win the business. Working with CVBs or DMOs to connect with these kinds of planners will help get the meetings business going again.
3. Update health and safety guidance at your property
The U.S. travel industry submitted to the White House and governors a detailed document outlining guidance for travel-related businesses to help assure safety of customers and employees as businesses begin to reopen and travel begins again. Called “Travel in the New Normal,” the document covers a few key areas businesses can focus their efforts in order to safely resume operations.
Hoteliers will need to adapt their operations and redesign public spaces to protect employees and guests. This could mean installing physical barriers like transparent screens at the front desk to separate guests and employees. Reimagine high-traffic public spaces, like the lobby and hotel restaurant. Encourage physical distancing by reconfiguring these areas to discourage congregating, limiting the number of people allowed in various areas, and posting signs and markers to denote proper separation.
Promoting health screening for employees is another priority outlined in the document. Hoteliers should require all employees to monitor their health and stay home if they’re sick. This might mean updating sick leave policies to allow employees to take care of themselves or a sick family member. Hotels should offer guests with resources to better enable them to monitor their own health as well, like connecting them with local public health resources in the event they become sick or develop symptoms.
Hoteliers are also taking this rare downtime to look introspectively at operations and single out areas for improvement. Some are reviewing their online content strategies and rate plans, and cleaning up anything they can. Hotels should consider capturing and analyzing this kind of data in order to better position themselves to gain market share once the industry recovers. During this time, hoteliers can shift focus to mitigating the current situation and prepare to outperform competitors when demand returns. Touchless experiences — like mobile check-ins — will become more important in a post-COVID world, so now is the time to make the shift into contactless options.
4. Update meetings and events policies and offerings
Benchmark launched a strategic recovery initiative to support meeting planners and partners while forging new solutions for the industry’s future in a post-COVID-19 world. In effect through March 2021, the plan mitigates the uncertainty of committing to new meetings and events through flexible short-term bookings, relaxed attrition and cancellation fees, and 100 percent credit given on re-bookings. In addition, meeting spaces at Benchmark properties will be restructured to align with social distancing and hygiene practices.
Benchmark’s Meeting Accelerator Program includes several elements the company sees as essential for supporting the recovery of the industry. A zero risk clause assures that there will be no attrition or cancellation fees for contracted room and food and beverage revenue on new meetings scheduled through March 31, 2020. For meetings scheduled for arrival between April 1, 2021 and Dec. 31, 2021, the program will receive a full one-time rebooking credit.
In addition to relaxed cancellation policies, Benchmark’s program also is enhancing the environment meetings are held in. It assures a meeting space with safe social distancing, sanitizer stations, air purification, and staggered entry/exit and breaks. The Benchmark team has also created health and wellbeing meeting packages that offer attendees wellness and mindfulness programming and amenities.
5. Connect with your community in creative ways
In addition to logistical preparations like modified service offerings and cleaning protocols, hoteliers are also using this time to connect with people in unique ways by providing virtual classes and live-streams. Shifting into this type of content can be difficult for hotels that haven’t done this before. Now is the time for trying new things and looking for new ways to connect with your audience. Start by selecting one or two activities and offering them regularly. Stick to a schedule and communicate it on your social media channels and website to keep your followers engaged. Then, ramp up the programming as you feel more comfortable with the software and technology.
“Brands that stay engaged will be the first to benefit during the rebound. People will remember those who were still there with them during the tough times,” says Stephanie Versin, senior vice president of marketing for Sightline Hospitality. “At its core, hospitality means creating lasting memories, delivering great service, and making people happy. We want to maintain a connection with consumers even through difficult and uncertain times; we want to be a source of distraction, daydreaming, inspiration, and hope.”
Good Works: Hotels provide pop-up vendor space and virtual F&B events
As great ideas help to restart group business, good news helps us survive and stay positive during times of struggle. This week, our good news focuses on unique and creative ways hoteliers are connecting with people and communities during this downturn.
1. Harrisburg Hilton creates chef-assisted virtual F&B events
The Hilton Harrisburg has remained open during the pandemic, but guests are few and the food and beverage is limited to takeout only. To maintain guest relationships during times of social distancing, GM Joe Massaro and sous chef Anthony Bianco leveraged a video conferencing platform and created a new way to connect with quarantining customers. It combines a cooking class with a social element. The chef creates a basket of goods with everything needed to prepare the meal — including wine or mixers — to be picked up the day before or of the event. During the event, all participants are connected via Zoom and the chef guides them through the cooking steps.
The first event sold out and the Hilton was flooded with requests for more similar events. “This has been a big hit—it’s an elevated experience that is better than takeout and different from a restaurant experience; it has become far more interactive than we imagined it would be,” said Greenwood Hospitality principal Tom Conran. He expects this niche they’ve created in the F&B market to survive the pandemic and inspire other properties to follow suit.
2. Hotel Revival Baltimore offers pop-up space to local vendors and free lunches to community
The Hotel Revival Baltimore responded to its city’s needs by distributing free bagged lunches and offering up its restaurant space for local vendors to operate their takeout businesses. Even before the pandemic, social impact programming was already a part of Hotel Revival’s strategy. The hotel hosted weekly programming for Black History Month in February and planned mental health programming for each week in March. But when it became clear that COVID-19 was rising to the forefront of everyone’s minds, the hotel changed course.
To meet the shifting needs of their community, Hotel Revival offered free pop-up space for small local food vendors to use for curbside pickup and delivery during the nonessential business shutdown. The hotel has also devoted resources to feeding its community. With the help of local partners, it has delivered produce to those in need and distributed hundreds of pre-packed lunches.
For hotel owners, Donte Johnson, general manager of Hotel Revival, advises the following: “My recommendation would be to reach out to everyone that you’ve partnered with throughout the course of the year during your normal operations and just get a sense of how they can give back… I think pushing out the desire to support is the first step. Figuring out what resources you have available and are able to commit is the second step.”
Now you know how to plan ahead for the hospitality industry recovery
On Friday, May 15, we hosted the May installment in our monthly series of webinars dedicated to providing insights on the group business landscape as you plan for a rebound to your meetings and events business. The webinars are based on proprietary data from the Cvent Supplier Network (CSN), overall meetings and events trends, and observations from proven third-party experts in the hospitality space. Highlights from the CSN sourcing data include:
- A deeper dive into differences by market size and location
- How proposed rates from hotels have changed over the past 60 days
- Updates in sourcing trends over the past 30 days
Stay on top of the latest sourcing trends by watching the webinar here. And for more news and ideas, check out last week’s post about how hotels are giving back. Come back next Friday for the latest installment.