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With Germany being one of the first markets to begin allowing hotels to return to some semblance of normality, it’s only natural that hoteliers around the world might be looking towards German hotels to see how they prepared to reopen and how they pivoted on their offering.
To this end, we spoke to Florian Kuch, Revenue Manager at THE FLAG, which offers serviced hotel apartments in Munich, Frankfurt and Zurich. He tells us how his sector has been affected by the pandemic, how they’ve had to adapt and what advice he would give other hoteliers across the globe as the industry begins to reopen.
Q: What’s the current state of play with your properties and how have you been preparing for general reopening?
A: The good news for us during this pandemic is that we never had to close all of our properties 100%. Of course we had to shut off areas like the fitness gyms and breakfast areas, but everything else remained open. We did of course get a lot of cancellations, but it never got to the critical stage of reaching below 10% occupancy, thankfully.
We remained at around 50% occupancy throughout the crisis, so we did fairly well compared to others. I think the main reason for this was our long-term guests. Because they have a long-term contract with us, and it is home for a lot of them, they were entitled to stay. Plus, they were able to self-isolate because those units are very much self-contained with kitchen facilities and living space.
We did have some cases where guests wanted to leave, but then the borders closed and flights got cancelled, so they had to stay with us. We did compensate those guests a little by giving them a small discount to make up for the fact that there was a more limited service on offer than usual, i.e. no breakfast or gym.
Q: So what are you focussing on moving forward?
A: The main focus for us now is looking at our properties in Frankfurt and Munich. One of the best things we’ve done in Munich in my opinion is to reduce the long-term, monthly rates from between 1500-1700 euros to between 750-900 euros, depending on the room type. We did this because we wanted to target different segments, and so we decided to target young professionals, many of whom are starting new jobs during these strange times and need apartments. But, they don’t want to be committed and so we’re perfect for them because we still offer 100% flexibility in terms of cancellation and length of stay.
So to attract these individuals we advertised the lower rate on several housing platforms and highlighted the fact that there’s full flexibility, a cleaning service and a concierge service, and as long as you stay for at least a month, you can leave any time you want. We also offered a similar service for students, with a discount.
Q: Sounds great! Did you get much pick up on these offers?
A: We got a fair amount of students but many more young professionals. It was a good move and it’s certainly helped carry us through the uncertainty. I think it’s definitely a business avenue we will continue to explore in the future, even after the pandemic.
Q: With regards to cleaning the apartments, what extra steps did you have to take to ensure you met all the regulations?
A: Many of our staff have either been off work or working shorter shifts and so it was certainly an issue to consider. But health and safety and cleanliness have always been high up on our priority list from the very beginning. For example, our manager in Munich was one of the first to suggest installing Plexiglass screens in front of the reception desks. Similarly, we were some of the first to place disinfectant stations at all stop points such as elevators, exits and entrances.
In terms of cleaning, we have someone on site who spends all day going from A-Z cleaning all touch points - as soon as he finishes it’s time to go back to where he started! So, he’s very busy right now!
We also put social distancing markers on the floors to remind everyone to keep the correct distance, and we removed all the extras in the rooms such as shampoo and shower gel bottles. Perhaps this is even something we will continue to do, in line with reducing our plastic use! It’s certainly something to think about.
Q: Many other countries will be looking to Germany to see what to do as things start opening up again. What advice would you give other hotels?
A: Firstly I would tell them to simply focus on their core business. For us, it’s the long-stay market, so that’s where we’re putting our focus right now. For example, we used to have two departments - one to look after long-stay, and the other to look after the short-stay guests. Since the pandemic started the short-stay team obviously had nothing to do so we trained them up on the long-stay side of things. And now, everyone can do everything! It’s helped everyone work together better as they all understand each other’s role and can help one another out. There’s also less misunderstandings and errors between teams.
I’d also advise them to make it really clear on the hotel’s website that they are open. We had lots of people calling us after they’d booked, wanting to check that we definitely were open. So we put up a big banner online confirming that we were open and directing customers to a specific page where they could read the new health and safety regulations we’d put in place. That definitely helped a lot, and so as simple as it sounds, it’s worth doing.
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