There won’t be a Grand Reopening

By Joe Baker

If there is one thing the hospitality industry is universally known for, it’s our ability to celebrate.  On a small scale or on a large scale, we add value to our guests and clients when we help them celebrate together. We amplify the moments and milestones in people’s lives. And we love to do it for ourselves and our businesses as well.  As we re-enter the realm of a post-COVID19 world, I believe we need to temper our expectations of the grand reopening of Tourism 2.0. It doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate. It just means we need to help jumpstart the world in a measured and controlled way to ensure we get this right.  In fact, I would argue that the next few years may see the world opening and closing again and again as we wrestle with COVID19.  So we may even get good at it. 

OK so what now?  What does this mean for hospitality businesses?  For those of us who are organizational leaders, it means we have the opportunity to prepare our teams for a slow and gradual re-opening. It means we as leaders need to exercise our emotional intelligence and discipline, knowing that rushing into “doors wide open” could put our teams and our clients at risk. So how do we re-open with hospitality industry panache while preserving the safety of our people?  We do it the way we have always done it. But with a twist. 

Planes will hit the skies, hotels will open, restaurants will serve, and tour operators will guide us.  With the time tested principles of service quality and with the newest addition to our collective repertoire – an elevated safety experience. We will have to learn and show others how safety can become a big part of our service promise.  I envision branded, stylish facemasks, a resurgence of the white glove service standard. I can see hand sanitizer and hand washing equipment being elevated to match brand standards. And I see a great opportunity for service teams to take a concierge approach to safely gathering and physical distancing, not to mention an even bigger leap into leveraging technology as part of our service experience. 

Let’s face it, this is a less-than-ideal way for us to emerge from this pandemic.  But it does present an opportunity. And in the competitive industry we work in, there will be early adopters and market leaders. So as we find ourselves with more time to think these days, we might want to put our focus on how to embrace the new reality we are about to enter as physical distancing measures are gradually lifted, as travel restrictions are lessened and as we fight to get back to what we love to do best – serve others and thrive while doing so. What can you and your organization do now to prepare to re-open, knowing we will not have access to our usual “grand re-opening” technique? What can we do to dig deep now, learn something new, and create memorable experiences for a world that will need hospitality and celebration more than ever?  

Joe Baker is dean, School of Hospitality, Tourism and Culinary Arts, Centennial College, Toronto. He is also on the Board of Directors of Tourism HR Canada. Follow Joe @thejoebaker.