Five innovative ways hoteliers can fight back in this time of COVID-19
There’s no denying that the hospitality industry globally has experienced a dramatic decline in guest stays as a result of travel restrictions and border closures. The maths is devastatingly simple: no travellers means no income.
In South Africa alone, according to data from Statistics SA, the entire tourist accommodation industry experienced a dramatic decline of total income ‒ a staggering 98.7% year on year in April, and 98% y/y in May.
The African continent as a whole lost almost $55 billion in travel and tourism revenue in just three months due to the knock-on effects of the pandemic, according to the African Union (AU) commissioner for infrastructure and energy Amani Abou-Zeid. She further emphasised that the livelihoods of 24 million families are linked to the hospitality industry, representing almost 10% of Africa’s gross domestic product (GDP).
The blow is particularly severe, Abou-Zeid said, with the pandemic striking in a year when the continent had expected to see an increase in travel and air transport. Pre COVID-19, the African hospitality market experienced a significant upward growth trajectory, attracting $1.8 billion in capital last year alone and sparking increased interest amongst global investors.
As travel gradually resumes globally, Mark Havercroft, Minor Hotels Regional Director for Africa, is frank that it’s going to be a battle to undo the damage wreaked by that pandemic – that manifested in empty hotel rooms, job losses and a scenario of ever-changing regulations. He is however adamant that there’s still potential for investors on the continent and tha Africa will, without a doubt, recover faster than most.
“Africa is home to some of the world’s fastest-growing economies. There is huge potential for growth and expansion across the continent for hospitality businesses seeking expansion into new markets. The boom may be delayed a little, but we anticipate significant movement once travel resumes fully,” Havercroft predicts.
“There will be a frantic race to attract guests arrivals back in the beginning, but savvy hoteliers are already working really hard behind the scenes on innovative business strategies to engage guests and boost consumer confidence.”
He notes that while it may be a hard climb back to the top, the views from the summit will be worth the hike. Here Havercroft shares his views about some ways in which hoteliers can turn challenges into opportunities to navigate the “new normal”.
Make bold decisions
Ensuring the longevity of hotels post COVID-19 will require bold decisions. For example, Tsogo Sun Hotels recently sold its 50% stake in the Maia Resort property in the Seychelles to Minor Hotels. The R465-million sale will directly help that group mitigate the economic fallout of the pandemic.
It could also necessitate the backing up of existing investments. Minor Hotels continues pursuing opportunities to invest across Africa to increase the company’s sizable footprint, which includes Europe, Asia, the Middle East and South America. Havercroft says the company is walking the talk in terms of its stance that there is still significant potential for investors across the continent.
The group’s brands in Africa, Avani and Anantara, continue to expand too. The Anantara Bel-Ombre Mauritius Resort and Spa will reopen their doors in December 2020, and Avani Nairobi Suites is in development and scheduled to open in December 2021. This is in addition to Anantara establishments in Zambia and Mozambique, as well as Avani resorts in Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Mozambique, the Seychelles and Zambia.
Fine-tune your target market
While an absence of international travellers for the immediate future throws up a major hurdle, Havercroft believes that it is the burgeoning domestic business and leisure market that will reignite the industry, and ultimately help the sector regain its firm footing.
He suggests that hospitality businesses consider refocusing their target market: “The continent has a growing middle class population, now comprising more than 350 million of the total 1 billion people on the continent. Hospitality businesses would be wise to focus on tapping into this market right now as intra- and inter-country travel begins opening up.”
Ensure you’re guest-ready
Safety, safety, safety! This will be the core element for hotels working on attracting guests back – not just into the lobby but making sure they actually check in. If guests do not feel safe from the get-go, not only won’t they stay now, but also won’t return later.
While the hospitality industry is already held to strict hygiene standards, advanced cleaning protocols will be essential to ensure consumer confidence.
“As travel increases, bringing more people through establishments, it is imperative to protect both guests and team members alike. We must be understanding and respectful of the consumer, who will be cautiously travelling further out of their comfort zone than they have for quite some time. Not only will increased hygiene measures need to be in place, but these must be clearly visible to ensure comfort and reassurance,” Havercroft says.
Expand your offerings
It will be a long journey until hospitality businesses see the number of guests they were used to in a pre COVID-19 world. Research from McKinsey on the United States hotel industry, for example, suggests that recovery to prior levels could take until 2023 or even later.
Havercroft cautions that luxury establishments that are unwilling to budge on steep prices aimed at international guests won’t be seeing many guests through the door until the world has begun to recover in the aftermath of the pandemic.
He recommends that all accommodation offerings consider pricing that will attract domestic travellers who are willing and able to travel, but who are likely to be facing economic challenges under the current trying conditions.
Focus on community
With the world united in the battle against COVID-19, the desperate plight of so many of our fellow citizens has been brought into sharp focus. One easy way for the average person to feel like they’re giving back to those less fortunate is to support businesses that they know are making a difference in their communities.
Havercroft notes that Minor Hotels is dedicated to both sustainable hotel development and corporate responsibility, ensuring positive contributions to both economies and ecosystems.
He adds: “Now, more than ever, businesses must be using their platform and industry status to help others. By setting the bar high, companies encourage others to do the same. People want to know that their money isn’t just being spent for themselves, but that it’s also helping create jobs, boost communities and put food on the tables of local families.”