My previous interview with Noelle Homsy – the first in a series of interviews with hoteliers – established the urgency of pivoting within the industry and taking a more holistic approach to hospitality. Hoteliers must continue to focus on the big picture and innovate beyond the survival stage as they try to manage the effects of the pandemic on their operations.
With this in mind, I interviewed Yagna Prathap, a hotel operations planning and F&B expert with a background in design, technical services, renovations and hospitality project management. As a professional who has experience as both a client (hotel owner) and operator, he brought valuable insights on how hotel owners need to respond and plan ahead with their renovations and designs to reflect the times and still deliver excellent services to guests within the new expectations.
1. Pandemic-proof structural design
Health and safety measures that help to reduce the spread of the virus must be incorporated into the hotel designs. While luxury remains a major aspect of the final look, care must be taken to make design very simple and easy to clean, while shying away from design elements that could be ‘virus attracting’. One example of this shift in design is how the lobby will be treated going forward. Before, it was the primary space of social activity with multiple actions happening simultaneously. Now, the lobby will be designed with more space and limited seating in keeping with the new social distancing norms. Another design aspect would be incorporating spaces for disinfectants and sanitisers while also making sure that luxury is not compromised in the process.
2. De-stressing made simple
The global pandemic has decreased the ability for business and leisure travel, which means hotels must look at ways to capture their local markets. Because wellness is still considered a minor aspect of the entire experience, operators need to look into creating packages that give their local communities a quick de-stressing experience that would normally be found in destination resorts without breaking the bank. Such operations are not meant to turn a massive profit at this stage and so they have to be structured in a way that is affordable to the guest yet still allowing the hotel to at least break even, if not make a slight profit. Practically speaking, these packages need to be refreshed from time to time to keep the local community interested.
3. Wellbeing as a priority
The pandemic has rightly put health and safety, and ultimately wellbeing, at the forefront of everyone’s mind, be it hotel owners, operators or guests. This, of course, largely feeds into the wellness aspect of things (the tools to achieve the ultimate goal of wellbeing). Hotel management must now look at things from the guest perspective and answer the questions that guests would have in this regard. The biggest task we have now is to build trust so that our guests feel comfortable and safe in our spaces. This change will not bring a quick turnaround, but is rather a long and slow process of recovery before we gain traction again. Wellbeing, both of our staff and guests, has to be kept at the focus of every decision.
The potential challenge I see with achieving this ultimate goal of overall wellbeing is the perception regarding the tools (in other words, wellness experiences) required to achieve this goal. Wellness has a perceived (and unfortunately, in some cases, real) low ROI compared to other departments within the hospitality industry. This mindset has largely been fed by the fact that the traditional hotel ‘wellness’ model, essentially made up of an underperforming spa and a non-revenue generating show-piece gym, has always been set up to fail from the outset. Some of the contributing factors include unrealistic expectations, broken business model, operationally ‘unintelligent’ facilities and a focus on profitability of individual product offerings instead of the entire hotel product ecosystem.
However, as Yagna rightly stated, if hotels are to survive this phase, they will need to keep wellbeing, along with health and safety, as top priorities in devising new ways to attract local guests before international travel fully opens up again. A big thank you to Yagna for sharing his thought-provoking views on how to shift perspective and take this time as an opportunity to rebuild a more robust industry.