Rightsizing Marketing Spends in Crisis

History reveals that brands that actively market during a time of crisis experience higher sales than those going off the radar. Also, can brands now build connection and trust with people instead of brazenly attempting to create a demand for their products and services?

I am reading a lot nowadays of how hotel companies all over the world are putting a freeze on their marketing spends during the current pandemic and it leaves me wondering whether it is the right direction to tread. Pure economics does dictate that if consumers are not spending money on products and services, there is apparently no sense in spending on marketing them. This is why when a crisis hits, the marketing budget is normally amongst the first to go. However, across the board marketing cuts may reflect a short-term view of the ongoing global pandemic’s implications.

Historic data and research have proven time and again that companies that actively market during a time of crisis experience higher sales and net income than those going off the radar. While brands may think that when consumers are ready to purchase again they will begin marketing them, in reality it may take a long time for the crisis to be over, and during this time a customer recall for a brand may have dipped drastically. In the current crisis of the global pandemic we are not in a short-term emergency and hence we need to have a longer term vision and before cutting expenses we need to understand both short-term and long-term revenue implications of such drastic pull back measures.

How much a brand invests in maintaining its relationship with its customers during the crisis really may define its long-term success. Last month, Airbnb was forced to decrease its internal valuation by 16% as a result of a 40% drop in bookings. Airbnb hosts are angry about the company’s recent rescinding of cancellation fees and guests (post lockdown) are also now wary of using Airbnb as Airbnb hosts may back out of commitments and even their relationship with Airbnb, preferring other long-term rentals in the current scenario. If there was ever a time Airbnb needed marketing, it is now to keep both sides of its customer base (the hosts and the renters) going. Instead, it has failed to mitigate the damage of a negative impression amongst guests as well as hosts. The result is that as hosts lose revenue and feel unsupported by the company, they will leave (the exodus has already begun) and may not return.

What would have saved Airbnb from a very public backlash is a shift in how they think about their marketing actions: from creating a demand for their products and services, to maintaining their relationship with both customer groups. 

While one certainly needs to control costs in these war-like days, marketing budget rightsizing must reflect the shift from spurring demand to maintaining customer relationship or else marketers are in danger of losing the connection with their business partners and customers, as the Airbnb ordeal shows. Actions and not words are most effective. Though we are seeing most brands attempting to outdo each other through their creative campaigns as public service announcements, potential customers in quarantine don’t necessarily need a reminder of their dire situation. We are already seeing how entertainment, exercise and any sort of distraction works better than polished imagery and advertising. Whilst everyone is in quarantine, customer oriented gestures work better than being bombarded with promotions. Brands need to think about what would make their customers feel good or how they may bring them joy and distraction, or even what is the task which is required to be done for their brand community right now.

Ideas like recording videos for social media, enhancing digital marketing, making FAQ videos, interviewing guests and employees, using SEO and online marketing as solid avenues to build connection and trust with people or hosting an online video space once a week for people to check in and have a light discussion are already being implemented by some self-starters in the hospitality space and more brands need to ideate on such marketing initiatives to keep up their ‘mojo.’

As rightly said by Brand Gurus, here is an opportunity for brands across the globe and across businesses to capitalize on the shift from products to content, from physical stores to virtual membership, from transactions to inspiration, from buying to socializing and brands must consider this a necessary and holistic business adjustment. Even as hotel companies are adapting and evolving through these extremely trying times, it will be interesting to follow their marketing ethos and its evolution thereof.

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SOPs for future hotel operations

With proper updates to hotel operations and smart marketing tactics, a hotel can possibly succeed in the post-COVID hospitality landscape if they are able to implement new SOPs to reassure their guests.

  • Make sure that housekeeping and public area cleaning SOPs are state of the art, as this is one area where sharing-economy locations may not be able to match you.
  • Promote these new SOPs consistently and repeatedly through all marketing channels so that guests understand you are addressing this issue with the utmost seriousness.
  • Embrace the concept of “cleanliness theatre” whereby it’s no longer just about having your flawless but ordinarily invisible cleaning practices visible to guests (for example, having your front desk associates clean the front desk during peak check-in and check-out times as well as in the middle of the night)
  • Deploying many “people-free” technologies like a self-check-in station dilutes the perception of great service inferred by a smiling front desk associate, but now we need to see this from a new perspective post the Covid-19 situation, and hence consider this as a good distancing tool.
  • See what changes, if any, you can make to the furniture in your public areas so that visitors are more socially distanced from each other
  • Relook at traffic flow within your restaurants and meeting spaces to attain fewer instances of mass groupings through the staggering out of dining covers and conference break periods or by removing corridor-narrowing obstacles.
  • Implement new technologies to enable more work-from-home situations so you can maintain service delivery on a leaner team or so you don’t have to scramble once more if another lockdown occurs in the near future.
  • Again, be prepared to start advertising any new protocols and SOPs directly to customers who nowadays will be keenly receptive to this type of messaging.

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The future of social distancing

COVID-19 is forcing humankind to innovate and change the way we work and live. Individuals and corporations will be more resilient in a post-COVID-19 world. Once we have left this pandemic behind, there is a high possibility of the following disruptors coming into play:

  • More Online Shopping
  • Rise in Esports
  • More Digital Events
  • Increased Reliance on Robots
  • AI-Enabled Drug Development
  • Telemedicine
  • Better Monitoring Using IoT and Big Data
  • Strengthened Digital Infrastructure
  • More Contactless Interfaces and Interactions

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What Hotels could do in a pandemic

Hotels can offer significant value to authorities, whether through government procurement or voluntary offerings during the current pandemic, including:

  • To house quarantined individuals with actual or suspected COVID-19 infections.
  • As hospital facilities to treat COVID-19 patients and others.
  • To house doctors, nurses, and other health care workers, including potentially allowing them to remain close to medical facilities.
  • To house National Guard troops or government workers.
  • To provide food and beverage facilities for overflow meal service for patients, health care workers, and others.
  • As laundry facilities for the overflow of hospital linens.

Hotel owners and their counsel should seek to secure strong indemnification and insurance requirements, including additional insured status, waivers of subrogation, and primary and non-contributory wording. In certain cases, government contracts may not allow for alteration, but private party contracts generally allow for amendments.

Areas of ‘Property Insurance’, ‘Workers Compensation’ and ‘General Liability and Umbrella and Excess’ need to be worked on. The pandemic remains a fluid situation for many businesses, including hotel operators.

The answers to critical risk management questions — along with government policies and support — will continue to evolve as conditions change and potential losses develop. Hotel companies should work with their advisors, including insurance brokers and legal counsel, to manage contractual risk, understand how insurance policies will respond, and seek to ensure seamless operations and risk mitigation while COVID-19 remains a threat.

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Travel Industry response to Coronavirus

The travel industry is responding to reduced bookings, increased anxieties, and extra precautions relating to the coronavirus pandemic. Airlines have slashed ticket prices and the hotel industry as well as Airbnb are detailing cancellation policies and enhanced cleaning procedures.

Marriott International, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, Hotels by Hilton, and more are waiving cancellation fees for hotel stays through March 31 booked by guests traveling to or from countries such as China, South Korea, and Italy.

Marriott officials said its crews are cleaning and disinfecting more often and focusing on elevator buttons, door handles, front desk counters, public bathrooms, room keys, and “high touch items” in guest rooms. Marriott employees are also attending an “enhanced COVID-19 awareness training,” according to the release.

Travellers booking Airbnb will now have increased flexibility for “more peace of mind when booking,” Airbnb wrote in a press release posted Tuesday.

The company is offering a “More Flexible Reservations” system, which is “a suite of tools and programs we are developing to help hosts and guests navigate uncertainty and meet their needs to cancel or postpone their hosting and travel plans,” according to Airbnb in the release. Here’s what the system will do:

  • Travellers can filter their searches by type of cancellation policy: flexible, moderate, or strict.
  • Airbnb will reward flexible hosts by increasing visibility for those listings and waiving its standard 3 percent host fee on new reservations for those listings through June 1.
  • Guests who book by June 1 and need to cancel who are not due a refund of the Airbnb guest service fee will receive that fee as a travel coupon that can be used on a future trip.

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Death of in-person conferencing?

Globally, 52% of staff have already been working from home at least once per week. The coronavirus outbreak has forced far greater numbers into remote working than otherwise would have been the case. The pandemic has only served to accelerate a transition that was already underway on a global scale. The current circumstances, millennial sensibilities and drastic improvements to cloud-based services combine to create the perfect storm. 

The impact of large-scale events on the environment has also been called into question in recent years. For example, accusations of hypocrisy were levelled at attendees of this year’s World Economic Forum summit in Davos, many of whom travelled to the climate-centric conference via private jet.

The coronavirus pandemic could herald the demise of traditional, in-person conferences. This could absolutely be the start of a trend that sees the world’s largest conferences take a different shape going forward. We are now lucky enough to have workplace apps and online services that allow people to connect regardless of location, so large scale conferences are more feasible than ever before.

Immersive technologies such as virtual reality (VR) have waited patiently in the wings for an opportunity to seize the enterprise stage. Attending conferences via VR headsets could solve a host of challenges associated with public health, but also with travel costs, the environment and engagement.

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Virtual Escapism

While regular travel may be off the cards for the foreseeable future, virtual escapism is open to everyone with an internet connection. Some of the world’s leading galleries, museums and national parks are all just a few clicks away. Here is a selection of the best VR travel experiences to keep you sane during lockdown.

  • Le Musee du Louvre, Paris: The Louvre, the world’s largest art and antiques museum, was forced to close its doors as Paris went into lockdown. While you can no longer waltz into its famous glass exterior, you can learn something of the phenomenal collection via a number of virtual tours, charting everything from Egyptian antiquities to the Galerie d’Apollon… louvre.fr/en/visites-en-ligne 
  • British Museum, London: The UK capital’s famed museum has hooked up with Google Arts & Culture, along with more than 2,000 other leading institutions, to offer an interactive tour. Wander through time and click on different artefacts to see them up close, read up on their history, and hear more information with an audio guide… britishmuseum.withgoogle.com
  • Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam: Stuffed with masterpieces from the Dutch Golden Age, the Rijksmuseum is one of Amsterdam’s most popular attractions. Online, it offers the chance to explore 11 “exhibits”, where you’re able to interact with various works from the museum, read about their history and see close-ups of the pieces. They include Vermeer’s The Milkmaid and a breakdown of the work of Jan Steen… artsandculture.google.com/partner/rijksmuseum
  • Musee d’Orsay, Paris: Housed in the fabulous former Orsay railway station, the Musee d’Orsay displays art dating from 1848 to 1914. An online tour goes through the history of the building, first constructed for the Universal Exhibition of 1900. Viewers can also explore some of the most famous pieces in the collection, including one of Van Gogh’s self-portraits, and take a virtual wander through the galleries… artsandculture.google.com/partner/musee-dorsay-paris
  • Guggenheim, New York: New York City’s iconic gallery has a Google Street View tour where you can “amble” along its winding corridor and view works up close, such as Catherine Opie’s daring Self Portrait/Pervert triptych; Ivan Navarro’s installation Homeless Lamp, the Juice Sucker; and Ovitz’s Library by Jonas Wood. On top of that, you can also simply gaze upon the building’s remarkable architecture… artsandculture.google.com/streetview/solomon-r-guggenheim-museum-interior-streetview
  • Uffizi Gallery, Florence: This gallery houses the art collection of the Medicis inside a 16th-century building. Online, there are four exhibitions that take viewers through various works, explaining their significance and showing close-ups of important details within the paintings. See such works as Piero di Cosimo’s Perseus Freeing Andromeda like never before… artsandculture.google.com/partner/uffizi-gallery
  • Central Park, New York: NYC’s green centrepiece is available to tour online. Not only does it show you the sites, it also comes with a guide who talks you through significant events in Central Park’s history as you “travel” from the West 72nd entrance… youvisit.com/tour/centralpark
  • Grand Canyon, Arizona: There are plenty of pictures of the famed canyon online, but get a little deeper with a VR archaeological tour. This allows armchair travellers to explore and learn more about the history behind the canyon’s formation by clicking on different geological features… nps.gov/features/grca/001/archeology
  • Yosemite National Park, California: Experience this natural wonder in real time by clicking through to its webcams. The views include Yosemite Falls, the view of the Half Dome from the floor of Yosemite Valley, and vistas from the High Sierra captured at 8,000 feet… nps.gov/yose
  • Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado: One of the best things about being in the great outdoors is the way you experience it with all your senses. Rocky Mountain National Park has allowed virtual visitors to use their ears rather than their eyes, with an online “sound library” that features an array of birds and wildlife found in the park… nps.gov/romo

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Post-pandemic Travel needs

While people will always want to vacation in far-off lands or visit new cities for business trips, the new normal of social distancing will result in many travellers developing a profound and lasting stigma against widely shared spaces including hotel lobbies, packed restaurants, communal office setups and even guest rooms in properties with high turnover.

In the short term, this favours properties of the following characters:

1.     Small or boutique hotels of roughly 75 rooms or less, where the lack of size naturally inscribes fewer human interactions and less crowded spaces

2.     Rural properties within a comfortable driving distance from a major urban centre so they can capitalize upon the staycation renaissance

3.     Resorts where there is a strong feeling of remoteness and less direct contact with the outside world, especially properties that have a natural geographic barrier to provide isolation from neighbors

4.     Cabin-style properties that encompass a collection of fully detached buildings rather than a single structure where guest rooms abut one another

5.     Hotels with large, open restaurants (or other trafficked outlets) where management can afford to remove some tables and increase the gap between dining groups

6.     Home-sharing platforms where the prospect of staying in an apartment or house implies more separation from others due to the lack of contact with staff or other guests

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Travel post Covid-19

Here’s how people will travel after the coronavirus:

  1. They’ll stay in the country. International travel will fall out of favour as people stay closer to the safety of home. 
  2. They won’t travel far from home. “Staycations” and road trips will be favoured over flying or cruising.
  3. They’ll make it quick. A softer economy will mean the traditional two-week summer vacation could turn into a long weekend.

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Tips for Hospitality Sales Persons post Covid-19

1. Work on building relationships with organizations. When the outbreak has lessened and customers are considering rebooking, they are going to remember how you treated them. Focus first on maintaining relationships and then on prospecting in the future rather than trying to do any hard sells. Check in on customers to see how they are doing and find out what specifically they need. Focus on what we can control right now. What we can control is having conversations with customers and getting their feedback by asking the right, quality questions.

2. Be aware of new and current opportunities. Airline fares are extremely low right now and people are still taking advantage of that. If you recollect, after 9/11, leisure travel was one of the first segments to come back. People are stressed and they need to get out there and blow off a little steam.

3. Businesses are going to change the way they operate. This is going to be a completely new world that our sales organizations are going to be facing. Some may be naive and say that the virus is gone and it is business as normal, however it’s not going to be business as normal. You are going to have to rearrange your whole sales strategies, your staffing levels, and your business mixes to really recover what you can on the back end of this. As more people are working remotely, it is possible that business travel may decrease, possibly even permanently, but because this crisis has taught us to work more efficiently from a distance, there may be more of a need for us to convene in person at conferences in the future. The possibility of renting out boardroom suites to employees who need a place to focus on their remote work instead of working from home may emerge. Hotel rooms may have to become adaptable to conversion to such needs.

4. We’re in uncharted territory. Some people are predicting that the coronavirus will affect the industry for just a few months, while others have heard that it could last up to a year. This is something different than anything the industry has faced before. It is quickly becoming apparent that this is less SARS and a lot more 9/11 in how it feels. People are scared to fly or they are being restricted to fly. So that’s a different set of changes in demand and hotels will have to deal with that.

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Confused travellers seek definitive answers

In these uncertain times, it is becoming likely that travellers will desire more direct communication from online travel agencies (OTAs) soon.

According to GlobalData, 44% of global travellers typically booked with an OTA in 2019, whilst only 17% would consider using an in-store travel agency.

However, recent events, including the demise of Thomas Cook, Brexit uncertainty and now Covid-19, have raised concerns regarding the reliability of an OTA in terms of direct communication.

Confused travellers seek definitive answers

Upon discovering holiday plans will no longer take place amid global travel restrictions and mass flight cancellations, travellers seek advice from the platform they booked with.

The majority of travel companies that offered direct bookings are now allowing travellers to change or cancel reservations without any additional fees. However, if a consumer has used a third-party agent, it can make the cancellation process drawn out and complicated.

With Expedia, bookings with an array of airlines cannot be adjusted or cancelled through the platform itself. For some bookings, travellers will have to contact the airline to make changes. Booking.com has introduced ‘forced circumstances’, expecting companies to refund prepayments and waive any cancellation costs for travellers that have pre-booked. This may end in disputes regarding liability, leaving the customer in the dark for longer.

At times like this, travellers will seek more direct communication and definitive answers regarding holiday plans. If they had booked directly with a package provider or flight operator, the communication process between agent and consumer may have been more streamlined.

A personalised approach remains integral, as well as direct communication

Personalisation is a key theme driving the future of travel services. According to a recent GlobalData survey, 89% of global travellers are now ‘always, ‘often’ or ‘somewhat’ influenced by how well a product or service is tailored to their needs and personality.

Online travel giants, such as Expedia and Booking Holdings, are at an advantage with this theme as data and personalisation go hand in hand. With access to a large number of customer records, OTAs can offer personalised experiences tailored to each specific traveller.

In a post-Covid-19 world, however, one to one communication could become of greater importance, working in the favour of more traditional travel agencies.

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AirBnb’s Financial Drain

Airbnb is losing money at the speed or light and that will only get worse over the coming months. What is the financial future of Airbnb?

Airbnb allows renting of a room online. It’s a very simple platform to connect prospective travellers with room owners. Airbnb’s entire value resides in being an escrow. They provide a layer of trust and handle payments.

For this simple activity of listing rooms and holding transactional payments, Airbnb takes a fee from 20% – 30% of the booking.

As a traveller, you want to have Airbnb as a middleman every single time as you do not want to send cash directly to a stranger in advance.

As a room owner, you want to have Airbnb as middleman as they give you a minimal guarantee and somebody to sue if the property is damaged after the guest leaves.

The two closest businesses are hotels.com and booking.com. They are similar to Airbnb though they rent hotel rooms instead of private rooms. Booking hotels through hotels.com and booking.com makes sense, more so when it comes to business travel or for large hotel chains with customer accounts. These platforms have a bit more focus on searchability, ratings and a seamless booking experience that Airbnb or even regular hotel sites do not have.

As Airbnb grows and gather more and more customers, hotels will start listing on Airbnb and Airbnb will then have to adjust its experience to cater to hotels.

On the revenue front, Airbnb makes US$ 3 billion per annum while hotels.com and booking.com each make up to four times this revenue.

Commission is 20-30% per booking. A bit less sometimes for hotels due to (large) deals with (large) hotel chains. Pretty much all of it is operating margin. It’s a tech company, a simple website. There are no costs like real estate or machinery or physical goods or storage or shipping. It’s all profit hence they’re all very profitable business. More importantly, while hotels.com  employs only 500 employees, Airbnb employs 15000 employees – a single company running a single website!

Airbnb’s strategy has been to burn as much VC cash as possible and hire as many employees as possible – A standard strategy to inflate valuation and raise even more money. Remember as a thumb rule, every dollar of VC funding you use now, you will get five in the next round. The fact is, there is nothing for these 15k people to do. Experts say that Airbnb could operate just as well (probably better actually) with a third of that, or go lean with as little as one tenth if the situation required it.

The coronavirus has cut Airbnb revenues in half. It’s unknown how long it will last but could be years. Airbnb will be haemorrhaging money at an unprecedented rate. Their fixed costs are simply too high. Airbnb will have to cut the fat sooner or later. Meanwhile middle level employees are reportedly being hired with offers in excess of $400k. It’s going to be a rough awakening for employees. Forget about any bonus. Half of the offers were imaginary money in illiquid shares. It’s hard to estimate what shares might be worth at this stage if anything, without knowing the fine print. They’re likely to never materialize, between VC shenanigans against common employee shares, probable lay-offs soon and any prospect of IPOing in the coming years down the drain.

Twitter used to have 4000 employees many years ago. Most of which were doing nothing and notably self-reporting to be playing Ping-Pong in the office waiting to cash on their shares… a typical case of a company inflating headcount to inflate a future IPO, which of course the market didn’t buy. They had to reduce expenses in the following years while increasing revenues. The headcount was frozen for years and it’s hardly bigger now than it was back then.

Rest assured. Airbnb is a solid business that is at no risk of disappearing. They are burning money for the sake of VC growth and valuation. Can they afford to employ evermore thousands of people for up to a half a million dollars each? Expect a reality check as most unicorns playing the VC game get sooner or later.

What if Airbnb were to run out of cash? It’s not a problem because they will be able to get more very easily. The business is extremely solid and sustainable as explained. The brand is strong and well established worldwide.

The only downside is unbelievably high fixed-costs (workforce) in the face of all travel revenues grinding to a halt from the coronavirus. This means a couple of bad years to go through, easily withstandable with cash reserves, debts and cost reductions, in some combination thereof.

There are hundreds of billions in cash sitting idle in the world with nowhere to invest in. Equities are crashing. Bonds have near zero returns. Cash has negative interest.

Airbnb needing few billion dollars in cash is a godsend for an investor on a 5-10 years horizon. It is ripe for an hostile takeover from a Vulture Venture Capitalist. Get as much control as possible, lay off one third of the company, freeze headcount for 2-3 years. It will be printing money soon enough. Alternatively, it could be financed by debt. Banks like Softbank, JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs can arrange corporate loans in that order of magnitude. They do that regularly when financing factories for the oil or car industry for example. Banks are less invasive about how the company is run and don’t try to take it over.

The future of Airbnb depends on how greedy VC and owners are really (normally they are always ruthless by nature). If Airbnb still has billions in cash from their last funding, the company can withstand a bad year or two doing nothing. If not, the company might re-raise money from a VC and it’s likely to impose strong terms to cut the workforce. Either way, the board might self-seize the opportunity to cut the workforce by one third anytime. Lower running costs, no loss of productivity raises a better outlook both in the short and long term.

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Brands with a Social Cause

For so long now we have taken the ability to explore and discover the world for granted. We are already seeing some interesting trends shaping the travel and tourism landscape. Global travel technology company Amadeus declared 2020 the  year of ‘conscious travel,’ reporting that a significant percentage of travellers now factor in sustainability when choosing how and with whom to travel. Meanwhile, Skyscanner’s APAC Travel Trends report revealed slow travel as the type of trip most desired by travellers in 2020.

Amongst the youngest generation of travellers, Gen Z, an even greater sense of ideology is emerging. Dubbed the ‘we generation,’ they are purpose-driven, caring deeply about movements far bigger than themselves. Two thirds are more likely to buy from a company that contributes to social causes, while a third have stopped buying from a  company that contributes to a cause with which they disagree.

Success will lie with those brands that recognize the volatility of the industry – and the world – we live in. They will acknowledge and embrace the huge responsibility we have to create meaningful travel experiences driven by a cause that reaches far beyond our guests, a purpose that goes much deeper than a great breakfast or a comfortable bed.

The future of travel lies with those brands that stand for something, those brands that lay down roots and seek to make a positive and lasting difference in the communities and environments in which they operate.

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Slow Travel

Slow Travel is a mind-set that rejects traditional ideas of tourism and encourages you to soak in your environments and keep yourself open to new experiences. Slow travel is for you if you want a balanced itinerary where you can pace yourself and eliminate the stress of rushing around. It’s intentional and immersive — allowing you to go deeper on the things that matter most to you while traveling. It’s conscious and connected — connected with yourself, those around you, and the world.

There is something undeniably romantic about taking things slow. It is this allure that forms the basis of slow travel – a growing trend that’s swapping whistle-stop city tours for leisurely strolls, and red-eye flights for low-key cruises. Travel should be so much more than lurching your way frenetically around a destination, trying to scratch things off a tick-list (a sure fire way of reaching ‘tourist burnout’).

On paper, slow travel is an offshoot of the slow food movement – a focus on local farming, regional cuisine, communal meals and traditional food preparation methods that began in Italy in the 1980s as a protest against the opening of a McDonald’s in Rome. This cultural initiative has evolved into an entire way of life known as the Slow Movement, which aims to address the issue of ‘time poverty’ through an increased focus on making connections; with people, places and things.

In its simplest form, slow travel means travelling by particular modes of transport such as train, horse, walking, biking and boating. It’s all about appreciating the landscape as you go, and being at one with it – which you don’t get by flying or driving when you’re seeing everything from behind a pane of glass.

Another perspective  is that slow travel is a mindset, not just a series of choices. While physically slowing down is necessary, slow travel is more mindset than velocity. Slow travel is to tourism what meditation apps are to our lives. In it, connecting to the soul of a place through its history, food, language and people becomes more important than chasing bucket list ticks and Instagram photos. Slow travel enables us to learn, relax and rejuvenate; to be part of a place for a short period rather than just crash through it. Done responsibly it allows us to go beyond the ‘leave only footprints’ mantra that has long been associated with ecotourism. When done right, it can leave positive impacts that will last long past your trip, benefiting the local communities, economies and wildlife.

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Rethinking complimentary WiFi in F&B areas

Offering free WiFi to hotel visitors has been a strong value-add to the guest experience pretty much since the inception of wireless connectivity itself, right? However, as we are all addicted to our phones and WiFi access incentivizes us to use these devices even more, having this service readily available in restaurants can slow down food and beverage delivery to ultimately limit the seat turnover as well as the average daily restaurant seat revenue.

More time spent by diners on phone equals slower seat turnover and reduced revenues. Humans are horrible multi-taskers, hence when patrons are focusing to their screens, they are not looking at the meal and not thinking about what they want to order, delaying the whole process. Moreover, because a device competes for attention with the server, it will unconsciously deter guests from understanding the full value of a menu item based on the in-person conveyance of said dishes or drinks. This can result in such behaviours as no pre-meal cocktails and fewer appetizers or desserts ordered, not to mention that such patrons will consume more time per table overall.

Given such outcomes, there’s a strong case to be made for purposefully not setting up an internet portal for paying customers, with some places even going so far as to strategically position their restaurants so it is out of range of the regular lobby WiFi range or in an area with weak 4G/LTE signal.

As a concurrent trend taking place in downtown urban centres, many cafés (mainly independents) are banning laptops on their premises because the standard behaviour here is to order a coffee and then occupy a seat for well over an hour when that spot could instead rotate through several other paying customers who aren’t looking for a free offsite workspace.

To point out the contrary argument to all this, many restaurants intentionally offer ample WiFi because that’s part of the environment they are trying to create. Such outlets are typically borderline busy during peak and half-empty at every other time slot. In these cases, allowing patrons to take their time is perfectly acceptable because there’s no rush to accommodate another party. Still, too much focus on the mobile device will mean increased work from the staff, who have to more frequently return to a table because its attention is not firmly on ordering, along with the aforementioned reason of decreased average guest checks. This could also be time spent by servers having to explain how to access the WiFi or spell out the password – and those seconds add up!

So, how do you rationalize which route to go for your restaurant? It depends on what sort of atmosphere you are trying to create. If you’re aiming for that lackadaisical brunch-rolls-into-happy-hour vibe, give away all the bandwidth you want. If, however, you are hoping to foster a hot spot where reservations are a prized possession, my recommendation is to ditch the WiFi and discourage phone usage during mealtime altogether.

Another advantage, and this time from the diner’s perspective will be that they would be able to enjoy the meal and conversation with their colleagues/partners much more when they do not have the option of using their phones/gadgets.

Another point is that if the kitchen is passionate about their product, the chef and his team would feel more honoured if their guests were to concentrate on their meals.

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