RFP 2021

Buyers will need to address a few issues specifically related to Covid-19 in negotiations this year, including:

  • Cleanliness standards. All buyers should confirm cleanliness standards as part of the negotiation process. The enforcement of social distancing and cleanliness standards in guest rooms, meeting rooms and other common areas is paramount, and measures will need to be addressed in contracting.
  • Amenities. The need and availability of hotel amenities will be different. For example, what will free breakfast entail? Will “grab and go” replace the buffet? It may not make sense to negotiate in breakfast or even the shuttle service if buyers are not confident that the appropriate social distances measures are in place or if travelers will not be comfortable using the services.
  • Room availability and upgrades. The fact that many hotels will be operating at lower inventory levels, with many operating at 50 percent capacity, make room type negotiations more challenging for some buyers. The likelihood of securing room types beyond standard will decrease, and it will be incumbent on buyers to sharpen their pencils in to obtain upgrades for their travelers.
  • Cancellation policies. While hotels currently are offering flexibility with bookings to spur demand, they might adjust their cancellation policies down the road, given the planning and costs hotels need to apply to spacing out incoming and outgoing guests and having guests placed in every other room and other measures to manage guest flow. With inventory constraints and social distancing measures, cancelations will be more costly for hotels and they will likely need to apply more stringent penalties which could result in increased costs for buyers in the form of fees. Cancellations and penalties are a negotiable item in the RFP process, and buyers should be prepared to address them.

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Inspiring Leadership

My first interaction with Deepak Parab, the CEO of Metrohm India Private Limited (a leading company in Analytical Instruments and Solutions) happened around two years ago when he called me from his Chennai HQ and said that he would like me to conduct a ‘Managerial Effectiveness’ program for his pan-India team of service managers. “Rajan, I shall ask my National Service Manager, Vinod Salunkhe to get in touch with you to discuss the further modalities.” The call hardly lasted five minutes; a client taking a quick decision in finalizing a 2-day training program was a rarity in my training career of 25 years. I could not help recollecting a MNC client who took approximately six months with more than a dozen meetings to finalize a 1-hour keynote address. (See my earlier blog titled ‘A Tale of Two Key Note Addresses’ – https://rajanparulekar.in/2018/03/29/a-tale-of-two-key-note-addresses/

More than the ability to take the right decisions, the leadership traits I admired in Deepak were:

Focus on results: After he took over as CEO and Managing Director, Metrohm India has progressed very well under him and results have been great. They have been able to capture and maintain major market share for their products and increase the turnover and profitability multi-fold. Today, Metrohm India owns all its offices across India and these were bought in the last ten years.

Retaining Talent: His core team of 30 senior managers including the COO, Branch Managers, Service Managers, Application Laboratory Manager and Product Managers are with the company for the last 20 years. The core team has remained the same for the past two decades.

Creating Value through Service: Peter Drucker said that the purpose of business is to attract and retain a customer, which can be restated by the formulae below:

  • Vc > Vp where Vc is the value perceived by the customer and Vp is the value inside your product or service. You get a customer only when the perceived value is more (short and/or long term) than what the customer pays for.
  • Vc = (Q+U+S)/P where Q is the Quality, U the Utility, S the Service and P is the price. Remember that QUS is not what the salesman claims but what the customer perceives. The four ways to increase the perceived value is either to increase the QUS or to reduce the P. Quite often desperate salespeople reduce price to create value which in turn affects profitability.

Deepak took a different approach to create value. To command a premium, he focussed on the numerator (QUS) rather than the denominator (P). Service was given prominence vis-à-vis sales. In a team of 135 executives for each sales person there are 3 service executives. Normally one service engineer is deployed for 100 instruments, with an equal share of warranty and AMC (annual maintenance contract). Today Metrohm India has 12 Offices and 12 Home Offices from where Service is provided. The home office concept for service was used to extend the reach. For example for clients in Goa, service engineers used to travel every week from Mumbai to Goa. With 250 instruments, 2 service engineers were deputed to Goa, which created value in the following ways:

  • The travel fatigue for service engineers was considerably reduced.
  • Improved work-life balance for the Service Engineers who were back to their home in the evening.
  • Cost of resident engineers was lower than with the travel and related costs.
  • Delighted Customers due to an improved response time and a lower down-time. Customer confidence in Metrohm also increased due to the now closer proximity of the Service Engineer.

Having created value for the customer in terms of QUS, Metrohm was now able to command a premium vis-à-vis the competition. There is a general tendency for companies to club sales and service to control costs, especially in the case of executives operating from home offices. However, Deepak resisted this temptation, as with dual responsibilities, executives tend to focus more on sales and ignore service. Now, dedicated service engineers in turn enhanced the perceived value!

Delegation with empowerment: Ganesha Chaturthi is a major festival in Maharashtra. Deepak belongs to a small village called Hiwale in Sindhudurg District from the Konkan region. For this important festival, Deepak used to take leave for 10 days every year. However as a CEO designate, when he applied for leave now, his boss questioned the logic, considering his elevation to the new role with additional responsibilities. The major concern apart from the leave, was in Deepak being incommunicado due to poor network connectivity at his village. Deepak’s thought process was quite clear. He said, “I shall prepare my team in such a way that my help is not needed in those 10 days.” His communication to his team members went on the following lines:

  • “Please take decisions. I am not going to blame you for the consequences, if found negative in posterity.”
  • “Please think of the worst–case scenario. The company is not going to sink from any such decisions.”
  • “All of you can learn from your mistakes and a wrong decision and its consequence can be termed as the cost of learning.”
  • “If in spite of all the above, you still need my advice, please drop me a SMS. In case I go to the village market (which has a better connectivity), I shall respond.”
  • The discounts and pricing are controlled by the respective Managers and all are empowered to take decisions. As a normal practice at Metrohm India the senior management team does not have any extra power to give additional discounts.

Genuine Concern for Employees: Even though a nationwide lockdown was announced on 24 March 2020, Deepak took the call on 20th March to shut down the company’s offices across the country. Most of his team members who were at different locations then, had enough time to go back home.(Contrast this with the 4 hour time frame given by the PM which affected not only the general populace but also the millions of migrant workers!) He announced categorically that there would be no salary deduction, nor would anyone be forced to go on leave. The salary for the full month of March which normally gets paid on the last day of the month was credited on 24th

Creative Problem Solving: Every year the company used to invite its Pan-India sales and service team in May to the Chennai HQ for training. The month-long exercise for a team of 130 executives used to cost around ₹ 70-80 lakhs; the quarterly reviews used to be around ₹ 5-6 lakhs each. During the lockdown, the time was used for online trainings and reviews thereby saving a big cost for the organisation, while at the same time keeping the employees engaged. They also ensured that all employees are engaged and connecting with the customers, so that they feel like they are doing their routine work and no health issues crop up due to no work. In the earlier phases of lockdown, the instruments which needed attention were diagnosed remotely, thereby reducing the down time. For the Pharmaceutical industry which is a major customer (as well as the sector doing well during the pandemic), Metrohm’s service support was crucial. In a few cases, even the installation was carried out with the help of the customer along with support via a video call by the Service Engineer. Digital Platforms have been used by the organisation extensively to connect its employees and customers.

Effective Decision Making: Be it a minor decision of a trainer selection or major ones like shutdown or salary disbursals, an effective leader does not shy away from taking decisions.

Strong Ethics: Deepak shared that a strong sense of ethics and moral values are a sine qua non for effective leadership. Deepak spent his childhood in the IIT Bombay campus. His father, Raghunath Parab was a governing member of the Co-Operative Society and was entrusted the job of supervising the IIT Staff Canteen operated by the IIT Staff Co-Operative Society. As a principle, his father did not prefer his children to visit the canteen; lest it be perceived that they were availing food free. Some years down the line, when Deepak entered the canteen and when his father admonished him, he told him, “Dad, now I am working as a Technical Assistant in the Department of Chemistry and I have come here as an employee and not as your son.” Caesar’s wife must indeed be above suspicion.

Rajan Parulekar – Director, Hospitality Paradigm

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What makes the World’s Oldest Restaurant Tick?

Restaurante Sobrino de Botin

Six months ago, during the Navidad semano (Christmas week) whilst the Covid-19 pandemic was silently creeping its assault around the world, I was fortunate to visit the world’s oldest restaurant in Madrid, while on a holiday to Spain.

Situated in the medieval Austrias area of Madrid, the 295 year old Botín restaurant was founded by Jean Botín in 1725 and has been in the González family since 1930, now for four generations. The restaurant has been visited by people from all over the world, including royalty, politicians, writers and Hollywood stars and features in the Guinness book of records as the oldest restaurant in the world.

The 430 year old cellar

Though the wine cellar originated in 1590, the restaurant above the cellar was founded as ‘Casa Botin’ by a French Chef, Jean Botin in 1725, who moved to Spain and married an Asturian lady. As they did not have children, Mrs. Botin’s nephews took over after Jean Botin and hence the name you see even today, splayed across the external façade: “Restaurante Sobrino de Botin Horno de Asar” which may be translated as ‘Restaurant Botin’s Nephews – Roasting Oven.’ Interestingly, the restaurant has kept the said oven’s flame burning continuously, never to be extinguished.

Suckling pigs heading into the famed oven

2015 apparently was Botin restaurant’s best year on record with an average footfall of 600 guests per day. At an APC (F&B combined) of €72 that works out to a very decent annual turnover of € 15-16 million (equivalent to INR130 crores). Note that the restaurant menu is not at all highly priced… something they have kept as part of their business strategy through all the years.

We were unable to get a reservation online though I kept trying for nearly a month prior to the trip. However when I visited the restaurant personally, I was able to get a booking only for 2300h the subsequent evening, Sunday. Well, who were we to grumble at the reservation time, as the locals begin their evening dinners only post 2100h? Besides, who would want to miss out on eating in this iconic restaurant?

On the said evening, after a tiring tour of Segovia and Toledo (North & South of Spain) for which we had left our hotel at 0530h, we were back in Madrid at 1730h. Since our hotel was located at another area, we had quite a few hours to spend at our disposal. Though we were really tired, we decided to keep going and browsed around in the heart of Madrid and dabbled in a few tapas bars, the best of which we found at ‘Mercado de San Miguel,’ located just outside Plaza Mayor.

Fresh Tapas on display at Mercado de San Miguel

At 2000h, we decided we would take a chance and check if the Botin Restaurant would accept us as early diners. We honestly expected the service team to be ‘hoity-toity’ about their reputation and expect their guests to grovel for a table, especially if they landed up 3 hours early… after all we were so fortunate to be dining in a piece of history, no?

Luís Javier Sánchez Alvarez ~ Deputy Manager

Fortuitously, we were met by the same waiter who had taken our reservation the previous day and he was kind enough to check his register and then check with the restaurant manager, Luís Javier Sánchez Alvarez, who has worked at the restaurant for 41 years. Alvarez was very convivial and welcoming – he immediately asked the host to accommodate us… so up we followed him to their second floor, thoroughly elated at not just being able to dine early, but also at the warm reception. (Something we had honestly never expected!)

The restaurant has four floors, which maintain the quaint atmosphere of a traditional tavern. Alvarez the manager, explains why the Horno de Asar, the restaurants famous oven’s fire has never been extinguished. “It is our jewel. Our crown jewel. The oven has been burning continuously for 295 years,” he says. “We never put it out. It needs to be kept hot at night and be ready to roast in the morning. That’s the reason why we must never put it out. There is a special aroma in there; it’s truly incredible.”

Cochinillo Asado (roast suckling pig)

Our meal consisted of Restaurant Botin’s famous specialties Cochinillo Asado (roast suckling pig) and Sopa de Ajo (an egg, poached in chicken broth, and laced with sherry and garlic) and these were truly delicious and certainly stood up for their reputation!

Sopa de Ajo (garlic soup)

Our experience was truly delightful right from entry to exit that evening and it set me thinking as to what makes a restaurant succeed for three centuries altogether. Giving importance to their local guests who make up 55% of their clientele and keeping their rates fairly reasonable is part of their business strategy; and while their cuisine is delectable, the ambience outstanding and so steeped in tradition and culture, what also stands out is the warm caring service we experienced – right from the manager to the steward – who in spite of servicing over 600 guests that Sunday evening still made us feel special by heeding to our request for an earlier table reservation and thereafter serving us with the same élan or elegancia we noticed around other tables… it seems they have been living and breathing their ethos to posterity… hence the centuries of successful evolution, whilst yet maintaining traditiciones from the past three centuria!

As long as the restaurant ethos breathes for the customer, long live Restaurante Sobrino de Botin Horno de Asar!

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The aphorisms of Salary

The tragedy of our age is salary”… writes Sunday Adelaja in “No one is better than you”

My fellow hoteliers would have received their April 2020 salaries either in part or in full by now. One’s reaction on a truncated salary receipt, while not initially positive, must needs force ourselves to look at our half-filled glass and consider that we have a salary, if even in part; for there are many who have not been fortunate to have retained their employment in these trying times.

Those of us who have a passion for hospitality have chosen our own area of calling and purpose and we are working and converting our life into that area of calling. If you are such a passionate employee, you will realize that if you genuinely believe you are not being compensated with salary, it is then that you become the boss over your own life, for you have not allowed money to rule your life.

M. Mokhonoana in his aphorismic-style writes “The reason that man is seldom satisfied with his salary is that when it increases, he increases his expenses.” For those who have received a 50% deduction, a positive way of approaching the current salary crisis is to remember how one lived when one’s salary was half what it is now. The answer, perhaps may startle us – we were equally happy and experienced the same level of wants, needs and satiation at that time.

This tells us that money is a means to an end and not an end to a means.

There’s no money in poetry, but then there’s no poetry in money, either,” said Robert Graves, the Poet; while Voltaire, the writer said “Don’t think money does everything or you are going to end up doing everything for money.” ~ Profound statements, both eviscerating the ideal stance in the prevailing scenario.

Most international hotel chains in India have taken policy decisions to cut salaries as per grades and retrench employees in order to stay afloat. These chains are mostly managed or franchised where individual owners come into play. On the other hand, some of the larger Indian chains with self-owned properties like Oberoi Hotels, Leela Hotels (Brookfield owned hotels only) & Taj Hotels (IHC) have not withheld salaries so far (barring performance bonus), making their employees amongst the fortunate few in the industry. An international stand-alone luxury hotel I partner with, has had the courage to pay complete salaries during these stressful times and this clearly reflects the importance they give to their human capital.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are some hotels which have retrenched and cut salaries quite ruthlessly. A luxury chain has rationalized all salaries above Rs. 50000 p.m. to the base amount (a Manager earning 60k p.m. will get 50k, and a GM earning 500k p.m. will also earn 50k) while another luxury chain has asked all its people to leave as they are shutting shop for the next 6 months. Dickson G. Watts, Author states “Not to have the courage to accept a loss, and to be too eager to take a profit, is fatal. It is the ruin of many.”

Such are the vagaries of business that in order to survive, a business has to reengineer expenses in tune with market trends. Frederic Bastiat, a French economist of the 19th century once famously said “Everyone wants to live at the expense of the state. They forget that the state wants to live at the expense of everyone.

Airbnb Chairman, Brian Chesky recently released a note announcing layoffs and the surmise behind it. In the note, he writes:

“We don’t know exactly when travel will return. When travel does return, it will look different. While we know Airbnb’s business will fully recover, the changes it will undergo are not temporary or short-lived. Because of this, we need to make more fundamental changes to Airbnb by reducing the size of our workforce. It was important that we had a clear set of principles, guided by our core values, for how we would approach reductions in our workforce. These were our guiding principles:

  • Map all reductions to our future business strategy and the capabilities we will need.
  • Do as much as we can for those who are impacted. 
  • Be unwavering in our commitment to diversity. 
  • Optimize for 1:1 communication for those impacted. 
  • Wait to communicate any decisions until all details are landed — transparency of only partial information can make matters worse. 

The result is that we will have to part with teammates that we love and value. We have great people leaving Airbnb, and other companies will be lucky to have them. To take care of those that are leaving, we have looked across severance, equity, healthcare, and job support and done our best to treat everyone in a compassionate and thoughtful way.”

The above seems to me an empathetic manner of approaching severance and salary cuts.

In the book To Kill a Mocking Bird, by Harper Lee, Atticus Finch tells her daughter: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

I sincerely commiserate with all industry colleagues in this current crisis and do pray that we all live through this period with grace, equanimity and a strong belief in the Almighty and faith in the recovery to better times ahead. It is not easy to have to receive wages less than what has been contracted for and I trust that owners will feel the pain and empathise whilst implementing such measures.

At the end of it all, we must remember that there is that which is in ones hands and then, that which is not… As an employee, quantum of salary pay out may not be in your hands, but accepting the inevitable is. Invest this time in upgrading yourself in various areas – you are the best judge for what you need to upskill on – professionally or otherwise.

Better is capital in a man’s head than capital in a bank.” – Dickson G. Watts

So, chin up and keep your thoughts positive. “There is little success where there is little laughter.Andrew Carnegie

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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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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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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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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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Pitfalls of a home-sharing strategy

Despite hotel owners’ fears, the hotel players involved in homeshare tend to dismiss sceptics’ concerns about cannibalization. The audience for vacation rentals, they argue, seeks a different product than the business traveller staying a night or two in a city or the young single looking for adventure on a budget. Hotel companies are eyeing potential vacation destinations that wouldn’t necessarily support a full-blown hotel development. Length of stay is probably the biggest factor that separates demand for hotel rooms versus vacation rentals — hotels average less than two nights; vacation rentals tend to stretch out for seven or more nights.

Hotel companies will be weighing their ability to scale and the potential revenues that homeshare affiliations will yield. Airbnb has already set the bar low, so potential fees from renting out a single home or apartment pale versus the management or franchising fees associated with hotels.

For many companies, it’s hard to justify the economics of investing in the marketing and infrastructure to support something that represents a very small share or revenue for the foreseeable future. One way to mitigate the smaller profit is to focus on the upper reaches of the market and destinations where higher daily rates will yield higher income.

Homeshare owners need some love, too. To be competitive and continue to grow the platform, marketshare and units, companies need to make their products more attractive from the top to the bottom for all constituents, both travellers and owners.

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