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As the world slowly emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic and we begin to return to some semblance of normality, the challenges that the hospitality industry faces as it prepares to reopen its doors are numerous. There will undoubtedly be many changes that the sector will have to become accustomed to. But just how easy will it be to adapt to this ever-changing situation and what will the long-term effects on the industry be? To find out some of the answers to these questions, we spoke to Ivan Kalinov, Group Director of Revenue Strategy at luxury hotellerie brand, The Dedica Anthology.
Q: The hotel industry has changed dramatically in recent months. How are you planning to restore consumer confidence and build up demand?
A: For the last two months we’ve been working on, and planning, our recovery strategy and working out how we can adjust our business to fit with the new normal. One of the most unprecedented things I’ve witnessed during this time is the total diminishment of clearly defined roles in our team. For example, in revenue management, everyone usually has a very defined position. But right now, everybody is just brainstorming and putting their minds together to try to work out what creative ways we can find to bring back our customers’ confidence.
Consumer confidence in our health and safety measures is probably the main factor when it comes to people making the decision of whether to stay in a property or not. By the end of June most properties [in Italy] will be operating again, and so we’ve already got an idea of what kind of common practices will need to be in place. For example, there will definitely be a temperature check for guests and staff, with restrictions in place if somebody is found to have a high temperature. Some hotels are also looking at having a doctor on site at all times for the first few months, in order to give the guests the reassurance of knowing they have a medical professional to turn to or gain advice from, if needed.
We are also looking at the feasibility of testing employees for antibodies before they return to work, as well as possibly extending that option to guests, giving them the opportunity to conduct the test on site. There will have to be changes in other areas as well, of course, but one thing that is key is that we communicate all changes to our customers and remain transparent and honest about everything.
Q: How does the COVID-19 pandemic compare to other crises in the past, such as the financial crash of 2008 or SARS, and what strategies did you use then that might be applicable now?
A: I think this is very different to what we’ve seen in the past, in terms of both the scale and the speed of it - it’s been really crazy! For example, in just two months it pretty much hit most of the world. And that just wasn’t the case with other viruses such as SARS. During the financial crash of 2008, in revenue management, contracts were being readjusted, prices were being reduced, but it was really purely an economic concern. We didn’t have the health and safety concerns that we have now, which makes this a much more difficult crisis to navigate.
Q: Can you explain more about your operational plans and how are you adapting to the new situation that the industry finds itself in?
A: This crisis is difficult because we don’t have historical data to refer to. With the 2008 financial crash for example, situations similar to that tend to historically occur every decade or two, so you always have a previous situation to look back at to guide you. With COVID-19, there is nothing to tap into as it’s such an unprecedented situation. So, one of the biggest challenges we face is the fact that we don’t have any predictable demand patterns with regards to how people and customers will behave.
However, from the trends we’re seeing right now, it seems that the corporate segment will probably be one of the slower groups to come back. So at the moment our primary focus will most likely be the leisure segment, and potentially markets that we haven’t even tapped into before, such as the domestic and staycation markets. We predict that these might become some of the biggest markets soon and so we need to look at completely changing the way we are approaching our segments. I try to remain positive and think things are starting to look a lot better - we are starting to find the time that we didn’t have before to really look at things, try to identify customer behaviour patterns as they arise and respond appropriately.
What we have been doing however, is working on a recovery plan with regards to revenue reservations. Flexibility is the key here, and so we’ve removed all of our prepaid products and are going to offer full flexibility up to 24 hours before arrival for free cancellation.
We’re also going to proactively contact every customer within 24 hours of the booking to explain the new health and safety protocols that are in place. We feel that people will really appreciate that human connection and will be reassured that the hotel is doing all it can to create a safe haven for them, which for us, is a key priority at the moment. Contacting the customers is also a good way for us to find out if there is a real intention to come to the hotel, because a lot of people tend to make bookings without actually intending to go. So we’ll get in touch with them to find out if they’ve actually booked a flight and to confirm that they’ve checked with the airline that they are still flying in line with the government restrictions in place.
I’m a positive person and I like to look for the green shoots in every situation. At the end of the day, June was a test run but I do think things will begin to go well in July, August and onwards.
Hear more from Ivan in our One World, One Conversation, One Industry webinar, now available to watch On Demand. Click here to find out more: https://www.duettocloud.com/one-world-register
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