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Europe’s Hotels Prepare To Reopen

Across Europe, countries and hotels are slowly re-opening. In Germany, hotels reopened on May 29. The country has reopened its borders to tourists from Luxembourg, and will reopen borders with Switzerland, France, and Austria as of  June 15.

Similarly, in Austria, hotels also opened at the end of May, with borders with Germany, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein due to reopen on June 15.

Switzerland will reopen its borders with Germany, Austria, and France on June 15, opening up to the remaining Schengen zone countries on July 6. Hotels, shops, and restaurants are open.

The majority of EU countries have announced that COVID-19 restrictions will ease in the next two months.

As parts of Europe start to open up, consumer confidence is increasing. The latest data from the Duetto Pulse Report shows us that, in week 11 (May 11-17) to  week 13 (May 25-31), web traffic for stays in the months of June to August in EMEA had increased 165% over the week previous. New bookings for stays during the same period had increased by 195% over the previous week. Strong signals that demand is returning, however, these figures still remain approximately 85% behind STLY figures.

In the DACH region (Germany, Austria & Switzerland), we have seen increases in searches for stay dates in the immediate short term with June at a 173% increase since week 11. New bookings for June saw a 343% increase from week 11 to week 13.

In Iberia (Spain, Portugal, Andorra & Gibraltar) web traffic for the summer season from June to August was up 288% from week 11 to 13. Similarly, new bookings for June, July and August jumped 292% from week 11 to 13.

We caught up with clients operating in the DACH region of Europe to find out how they have been using the downtime, what changes they have made to their revenue strategies, and their plans as they navigate the ‘new normal.’

Closing the doors

Gorgeous Smiling Hotels (GSH) is a multi-brand operator with hotels in five countries representing nine brands. When the lockdown was imposed in March the company pivoted quickly to close 90% of its hotels in just three days.

In markets where the company operated multiple properties the team consolidated bookings and inventory, as Nathalie Sauter, Regional Revenue Manager, GSH explained: “In Munich, we have 10 hotels. We use one hotel for all the bookings. We moved every booking into this one hotel. Everyone helped, and in three days we were closed.”

Serviced apartments operator, The Flag has remained open throughout the pandemic, but with some changes to its operations. Its gym and breakfast areas are all closed, but its self-contained apartments remain in use.

According to Florian Kuch, Revenue Manager at the Flag, many of its properties saw a drop in occupancy to 30-40%, but never dropped beyond that. And remaining open had a positive impact on the brand’s online ratings.

“Now we're in the top four for Zurich, for the whole Zurich market, which is great to see,” Kuch said.

While The Flag did not close, it has made changes to its operations, with plexiglass at its front desk, mobile disinfection stations throughout its properties, and one team member now responsible for constantly cleaning all touchpoints on property, such as door handles and elevator buttons.

Preparing to reopen

The team at the Hotel Sacher Wien has been busy painting, waxing floors, polishing chandeliers, and setting tables. The hotel reopened on May 29.

“During the past few weeks, we've pulled together more than ever before. Just as it should be in a family business!” said Paul Sorantin, Head of Revenue, Sacher Hotels.

Founded in 1876, Hotel Sacher Wien is Vienna’s only family-run luxury hotel with 150 rooms and suites. The 110-room Hotel Sacher Salzburg is the city‘s only purpose-built luxury grand hotel.

“All that’s left to do is to put those masks on! The health and safety of our guests and employees is our top priority. We’ve taken all precautions so guests can enjoy their visit as before,” Sorantin added.

Hotel Sacher Wien started opening its F&B offerings in mid-May, with the restaurant Rote Bar, the Sacher Eck, and the Confiserie in Vienna, all now operating.

“The opening of the remaining F&B outlets will come gradually depending when we see demand starts to pick-up,” confirmed Sorantin.

As Germany reopens its borders and tourism builds, GSH plans to reopen its properties in phases.

“It's a really hard decision to say which hotels can come back. But at the end, it's all about costs. We have a lot of hotels which offer just rooms and breakfast, so this is very easy. Then, we have a few hotels with conference space and many restaurants, and we can't open these hotels. They just remain closed until July,” Sauter said.

The GSH team also spent time calling clients and corporate accounts to find out when they were looking to resume travel. This helped them gauge potential demand and shaped their decisions on which hotels to reopen first.

One of the biggest challenges is that restrictions differ from state to state in Germany. Sauter explained how, in Hamburg, hotels are restricted to a maximum of 60% occupancy, while in other states, hotel rooms have to remain decommissioned for seven nights after being occupied.

New segments

In Munich, The Flag started targeting a new segment – young professionals.

“We reduced the month-long rate, from about €1500 to €900, because we wanted to target the domestic market – those people who were currently looking for a flat. For example, people starting new jobs and needing to relocate,” Kuch explained.

The new segment offered a reduced rate targeted at young professionals, offering a one-month minimum term but with flexible cancellation terms. The Flag advertised this offering on housing platforms.

In addition, Kuch created a similar offer aimed at students, with a discount applicable for anyone with a student ID.

Both segments have performed well and created a constant stream of business during this low-demand period.

GSH also resegmented to take advantage of the long-stay market. “For some hotels, we used our bigger rooms for long-term guests,” Sauter told us.

However, the company’s biggest challenge is adapting to a huge drop in Chinese travelers.

“We have hotels where we had 80% Chinese guests. There you have to rethink just about everything,” she explained.

Sauter explained how the group has been focusing on FIT and domestic markets. The company is working closely with local tourism agencies to promote domestic tourism.

Tech investment

GSH used the downtime to speed up its implementation of Duetto. Initially, the company had planned to roll out hotels on a weekly basis, but having properties closed meant that the implementation team here at Duetto was able to complete 35 DQEs (data quality evaluations) in just one week. This was followed by training with the Customer Success team, and going  live for 10 open hotels at the start of June.

“A closed hotel is perfect for the implementation. Nobody gets interrupted. So that was the good thing about the crisis. The best thing I did was the implementation of Duetto,” said Sauter.

At The Flag, Kuch has been using the downtime to work on improving the brand’s content on extranets, GDSs and other distribution channels. Kuch focused on content information, changing pictures, and looking at rate set-ups and rate plan descriptions.

“Generally, I was restructuring the whole rate set-up that we have because nowadays. Nobody's booking a non-refundable rate anymore,” Kuch explained.

Top tips

The DACH countries are among the first in Europe to see hotels reopen. What top tips would these hoteliers give to others who are just starting to prepare for a resumption of operations:

Nathalie Sauter: Be prepared. Buy everything you need really early because now we need masks for our employees – three masks a day. So we need thousands of masks, and some things are really hard to get. So be prepared. And then be brave. Don't be afraid, demand will come back.

Florian Kuch: Focus on your core business. With us, it's long-stay business, so that's what we are putting the focus on now. Also, we did staff training. We used to have one department for the long-stay business and one department for short-stay guests. So we gave the short-stay team training in the long-stay department, and now everyone is able to do everything.

As hotels in Europe continue to open up, the challenge now is to raise awareness, working with local tourism boards and make the most of what little marketing spend is available. The focus should be on those markets that can reach your property by car or train, as air travel remains restricted.

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