First HFTP Europe Hangout Discussed Hotel Pandemic Response on Global Scale

Presented by: Michael Levie, CHTP, citizenM Hotels

For the first HFTP Europe Hangout, live on Zoom, the featured speaker was HFTP Global President Michael Levie, CHTP. As COO of citzenM, an international hotel company, he was particularly suited to speak on a hotel’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic as the company’s properties have been adapting since the virus started to spread in China. With hotels in Far-east Asia – in Shanghai and Taipei – the citizenM team had to accommodate early and was prepared to translate the operational changes to its properties as the virus moved West.

Michael’s takeaway is to observe externally for ideas and practices, internalize, and adapt them to fit your unique situation. While we are all experiencing a moment like none has experienced before, initially in a state of shock and denial, it is important as leaders to shift focus and act quickly. Looking ahead we need to adapt to a short-term 6-foot-apart economy, but gradually society will forget their heightened concerns of the moment and operations will move back to the way things were. Well, not completely ⁠— there will be lasting standards reflective of the pandemic’s impact. 

Back in December 2019, the citizenM in Shanghai was the first in the chain to have to respond to the growing spread of COVID-19. In response, the Chinese government enforced strict measures. All employees and guests were required to have their temperatures taken, and if anyone was feverish, authorities were alerted. The hotel also had to cover high-touch areas – such as screens and elevator buttons – with plastic. In conjunction, a rigid cleaning / plastic replacement routine was implemented, running every 10-15 minutes. Soon after, the citizenM Taipei came under similar restrictions and operations. That is when the company’s leaders knew that measures would need to be taken for its hotels worldwide.

This is not only a health disaster, but an economic disaster. Michael emphasized that to move forward, you need to be extremely realistic about your company’s financial situation. Be open to your stakeholders, owners and employees, and convey multiple scenarios that lead to recovery. While governments are providing multiple avenues of financial relief, there is likely to be a gap in the timeframe when aid and loans are actually distributed. As an alternative, look at partners to develop ideas and collaborate to help fill in the gaps.

The recovery period will take place over a considerable period of time. Now is when you innovate – assigning a team for just this – and allow for trial and error. As guests start to return, the hotel space will need to be adapted to the 6-foot economy. Enforcing distance will affect check-in, bars, restaurants, meetings and more. While it is likely restrictions will relax and our spaces will eventually look similar to the pre-pandemic era, some things will be forever changed: will buffets be a thing of the past?  

Also, this era of change provides the opportunity to address previous challenges. For example, Michael mentioned that a complete digital program in hotels has been lacking in the industry. Building customer profiles is crucial to have an edge on competition; and as hotels adapt today, integrating a synergistic system will be key. Often though, in the rush to gather data, privacy restrictions are relaxed or neglected. Do not be lax, rather business leaders need to be ethically responsible and conscious of how they are safeguarding their guests’ private information and maintain strict security as they digitize, even if trends go the other way.   

Finally, while the hot topic of the day is building a sanitation program, they are not one-size, fit all. Some organizations can completely develop a program in-house, while others might benefit from third-party assistance.

Ultimately, be sure to be transparent and have a conversation with your guests. It is not enough to implement these new programs, but demonstrate that you are making these moves out of concern for the health and safety of your guests.

About HFTP Hangouts

HFTP is hosting these live, interactive Zoom meetings all throughout May. Sign up to attend.

Eliza Selig is the HFTP director of communications. She can be reached at eliza.selig@hftp.org.

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About the Author: Eliza Selig

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