By Gil Karni, CEO at Leumi UK.
Like most industries, the UK travel and hospitality sectors have been hit at an unprecedented level by the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite lockdown restrictions easing, recovering from existing losses will take time, and navigating the “new normal” will weigh heavily on businesses’ agendas as the threat of a second wave looms. However, by following the example of their international counterparts, explains Gil Karni, CEO at Leumi UK, hotels can learn a lot about how best to deal with impending challenges
After months of uncertainty, hotels are starting to open their doors to guests as lockdown measures across the UK slowly begin to ease. While this presents exciting opportunities for many hoping to still enjoy the British summer, adjusting to the “new normal” is not free from challenges. Indeed, making sure standards of service are up to scratch will be vital to safeguarding business longevity and customer comfort in the weeks ahead, while making up for months of lost revenue will be weighing heavily on many business owners.
The dust of the past four months has not yet settled. Unable to house customers, large numbers of hotels have struggled to fulfil working capital requirements while protecting their staff, while others had to close down completely pending a return to normality. What’s more, for projects still in construction stage, cash-flow shortage issues have proven significant, with many left worried about the financial eligibility of their business in the longer term.
Fortunately, there was help at hand. In many cases, finance providers were able to intervene, postponing interest payments and even extending working capital loans to cover shorter term-losses. What’s more, governments across Europe have stepped up to provide vital lifelines for struggling corporations, with the UK government introducing measures such as the furlough scheme – which has enabled businesses to retain staff – and “bounce back” loans for smaller businesses, enabling them to continue with projects that may have otherwise not seen through the harshest containment measures.
More recently, in a bid to promote domestic movement and relieve the financial burden on local businesses, the UK Treasury announced a six-month cut in VAT for the hospitality and tourism industries. This will certainly provide a welcome boost to morale for both businesses and the public, as establishments look to return to financial independence and consumers – many of whom are also feeling the pinch – will be more incentivised to put money back into the economy.
The “new normal”
Of course, as they reopen, it isn’t quite business as usual for hotels. High sanitation standards have been introduced with rigorous cleaning and disinfection measures an utmost priority in order to ensure the safety of guests and staff. And these will likely remain in place for the foreseeable future – something countries internationally have had to adjust to in recent months as tourism slowly but surely begins to pick up.
Singapore, for instance, launched the “SG Clean” initiative when lockdowns began to ease earlier this year – a certification programme that ensures hotels comply with stringent hygiene practices aimed at restoring public confidence in facilities. The seven-requirement checklist includes an increase in disinfection frequency and appointing an “SG Clean” manager to oversee that rigorous criteria are met.
Now, much of Europe too has opened its borders, with hotels putting in place enhanced health and safety measures to prevent the outbreak of a second wave of the virus. Spanish hotel chain RIU Hotels & Resorts, for instance, which operates in 19 countries internationally – including Germany, Portugal and Spain – has launched a comprehensive manual for post-COVID-19 hotels, comprising 17 protocols that will serve to guide hotel operations as they reopen. Measures include the removal of non-essential items from guest rooms, reduced seating capacity in dining rooms and beside swimming pools, and increased cleaning frequency in these areas – ensuring the use of appropriate water disinfectant products. In addition, it is placing strong focus on staff training – stressing that employees must be up to date on the latest regulation and, in turn, making sure they are aware of how to service clients according to these.
Broadening the scope
In addition to certifying on-site safety regulations are of the highest standards, local initiatives play an equally important role in hotels’ ability to continue to welcome guests in the current climate. Despite numerous setbacks in recent years, the tourism industry in Israel has consistently bounced back and remained profitable by updating protocols, maintaining audience engagement and updating trends. As Dr Eran Ketter, Tourism Resilience Advisor and Author, explains, it is Israel’s readiness to switch focus quickly between being in a crisis and coming out of one that has been key here.
In addition, Israel’s attention to domestic tourism presents an excellent case study for UK hotels as they hope to profit as much as possible from the remaining summer months. Capitalising on local tourism will be key here – despite the fact that international travel is slowly beginning to pick up. Oren Drori, Tourism and Global Marketing Expert and Consultant, suggests hiring an external project manager in the short-term in order to make sure any changes to business and marketing plans are not affected by previous convictions or emotional affiliations.
Of course, the recovery phase will very much depend on the agility of hotel management and their ability to create maximum value for clients while minimising the use of expensive resources. Hotels must remain flexible and strive to adapt seamlessly to societal changes, updating processes and making sure industry standards are met – despite the rate at which they may change. Regardless of the shape the post-pandemic world takes, it’s the hotel business and the people that keep it moving that will ensure the survival of the industry.
Bank Leumi (UK) plc is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority