How Hotels Can Optimize COVID-19 Downtime
By Mark Heymann Chairman & CEO, Unifocus | May 03, 2020
It's no secret that the hospitality industry has plummeted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with looming uncertainty as to when it will regain its footing. Although expected, hospitality's free-fall was rather jarring. In a matter of days, an industry that accounted for 1 in 25 U.S. jobs totally shut down as occupancy rates dropped. People quickly became reluctant to travel while the virus spread from state to state, and government officials ordered social distancing initiatives and shelter-in-place mandates in most urban areas.
As a result, large companies like Marriott, Hilton and Omni Hotels were hit hard -- forced to furlough employees by the thousands like nothing we've ever seen before.
However, in some places, empty hotels have provided relief to their health care neighbors in this extreme time of crisis. The city of Chicago is enlisting five local hotels for room rentals that will create 2,000 additional beds for COVID-19 patients and health care workers by March 27. Similar partnerships are happening in New York and other cities across the country. And in addition, Congress just passed a $2 trillion stimulus package that will provide small business loans and tax breaks for hotel owners to help them weather a storm without a clearing in sight.
You can call them silver linings amidst these unprecedented times, or just Americans helping fellow Americans who need it most right now. As the late Fred Rogers once said, "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would tell me to look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping."
But the COVID-19 down period is also a chance for hotels to help themselves. Whenever the country does make a return to normalcy, hospitality will need to have structures in place to gradually restore the industry. It's certainly not going to happen overnight. So, these next few weeks – or perhaps months – of downtime will be essential for companies to strategize their multi-year rebuilds like a struggling sports franchise does in the offseason. If they do it right, a major comeback can succeed these major setbacks.
A hard look especially at the entire service delivery process will be needed. Historically, hotels constructed their staff with skill-specific roles. You had your front desk attendees, your housekeeping personnel, your cleaning staffs, your banquet staff, your food and beverage team, and so on. Some roles were more expensive than others, and each subset generally had a specific manager. But the dramatic reductions in hospitality has forced companies to formulate a proactive plan for when the pandemic subsides. It requires rethinking old assumptions of their operations and finding where strategies can be altered to fit present needs.