Op-Ed: How you manage and adapt to this change is critical to survival

Shrouded behind masks and Perspex screens, is hospitality really hospitable now?

How willing will people be to risk international travel in the future? Will airlines survive this crisis? Will visiting a hotel be considered a relaxing travel experience and not a risky proposition? Can small cafes survive for food service if social distancing is in place as a norm to avoid future outbreaks of similar viruses? Will businesses resort to Zoom for future conferences?

The fundamentals of hospitality industries and travel are being questioned in this crisis. The answers will define the future of these sectors (both travel and hotel industries). What is apparent is things will change. And you need to be ready for it.

The tech revolution

The technology industry has been built on a culture of change management and constant innovation. The start-up philosophy is rooted in how the industry works and responds to changes – even crisis. It prospers on its lean and agile approach to development, pivoting constantly to its dynamic environment and audience needs.

As the travel and tourism industry faces what is possibly its biggest crisis yet, it needs to adapt and change in response to the changing world. It could learn from the tech businesses and get into a start-up mode.

Let’s look at a few strategies that could inform this shift in thinking and how to manage it.

1) Understand your target audience

Go back to the basics of marketing – the 5 Ps, first of which is the product. Understand your business, evaluate its strengths and identify your unique selling point. Then look into your data – from your property management system, channel manager, website analytics and other sources to understand who your audience is?

Spend time in researching what the needs and issues of this audience are. For instance, you may be targeting professionals whose current problem may be working from home – it just isn’t easy when you have families to cater to. Perhaps you can offer your hotel/resort rooms as a peaceful home office for these professionals? Or you may be a family-friendly accommodation provider – sell staycation to this audience.

To be able to sell the right service, at the right time, you need to understand what is right for your target audience.

2) Be more targeted in your marketing

Carrying on from the above, don’t try to be everything to everybody.

Hoteliers have been known to have a broad targeting base – from business travelers to leisure, local to international, everyone welcomed.

When the going was easy, this approach was fine. Now, you need to be to the point with your marketing approach. Choose which audience set brings in maximum revenue to the business (consider overheads, operations and marketing when evaluating), then align your business and communications to go after this target audience. If that is business people, seeking a quiet sanctuary to work, then go after them. Don’t try to target noisy families too.

3) Listen to the team

A 2017 Google study showed that the company’s most important new ideas came from B-teams comprising employees exhibiting a wide range of skills including: equality, generosity, curiosity toward others’ ideas, empathy and emotional intelligence. These teams may not have had the top scientists, but when team members feel confident speaking up and know they are being heard, great ideas are born.

As your industry goes through this massive change, invite your team to contribute. It may not be their core job, but you’ll be amazed at the feedback you could get and how you can convert it into a business opportunity.

4) Get the right technology

It has never been more important as now to be efficient. Technology enables efficiency and you must adopt it. Evaluate what you have – do you have the tools to understand your audience (data analysis), are you set up to efficiently deliver (distribution and revenue management), how is technology supporting your marketing (gift voucher management, review tools, social media management, etc) are you ops teams supported by the right level of automation?

Many new solutions carry little to no upfront cost and can cover their ongoing cost almost immediately, yet in normal times, who has the time to assess and integrate? Now that you have the time, evaluate your technology and ensure it is set up to meet your evolving needs.

5) Evaluate your process

Change is a process in itself – and different levels of a hotel organisation are going to be impacted by the progress of change. Outline your current state, transitionary periods and desired future outcome. Then involve every layer of your business to help them understand how this change will affect them. Identify training needs and maintain regular communications as you go through this change.

Don’t fallback on “how things were done”. Look ahead. Be agile in your service delivery. Most importantly be ready to pivot even the most recently implemented process if that gets you closer to your goal quicker.

6) Garner feedback

Change is driven by understanding the need for it. To get this market intelligence listen to your stakeholders. Talk to guests and understand what they expect from your property in this COVID world? What would they like changed? What they love?

Your sales team can provide business intelligence, understand your real audience better and provide key insights. The operations team is closely aligned to the product and can inform how your services can be evolved to have a greater impact. With the right feedback, change becomes a lot easier.

To conclude

Change is never easy, especially for an industry that has not ranked well ever for its agility. However, change is now critical to survive. Instead of trying to fight it and aim to get back to what things were, reimagine what the future and your role in it would look like.

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