By Jonathan Lund, Regional Vice President Hotel Operations – Canada, IHG
TORONTO — Unfortunately, we haven’t seen an impact on demand for hotels like this in our lifetime. The hotel industry usually generates more than $660 billion to the U.S. economy/GDP, and that is expected to drop to $160 billion according to the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA). Over the past five years, one in four new jobs were created by the travel/tourism sector according to WTTC. Contrast that to the 7.7 million hospitality and leisure jobs that were lost in April of this year.
The greatest impact is being felt by our small business owners in Canada and globally, as the majority of IHG’s 5,900 hotels are small, individually owned businesses that employ 15, 20 or 50 people. The Government of Canada has put actions in place to help these small businesses; they are listening and don’t want to see small businesses struggle.
Actions put into place due to coronavirus
In Canada, IHG have been acting to support guests, colleagues and hotel owners through this crisis, while protecting the business for the long-term and positioning it for a recovery. The first focus has been on safety of guests and colleagues. For guests this meant flexing booking and cancellation options. We also supported our in-hotel colleagues with PPE, gloves and masks.
Second, how can we play our part in the community focused response? Hotels have always played a key role in local communities, as we are a powerful industry that brings economic benefit into local communities, and it is natural for us to step in. We have been repurposing hotels to provide accommodation to frontline workers and vulnerable groups – for example sheltering the homeless in our Vancouver hotels. We have also been supporting local communities through charity partnerships; offering food, supplies, safe accommodation is a natural way for us to be there for our local communities. We have a partnership with the Global Food Bank Network, and a new partnership with FirstRespondersFirst to provide no-cost accommodations for those on the front lines.
Guest experience evolution
We understand that the guest experience will evolve to reflect on changes to travel industry post 9/11; we’re thinking about how our hotels are going to look – things like check-in, the room, pool areas, elevators, food and beverage. There’s no doubt that people will need reassurance as travel restrictions are lifted. Consumer data tells us that their top priority is to stay infection free, something that wasn’t previously on people’s radar.
Our role will be to give people confidence. We have already flexed booking and cancellation options for guests; protected loyalty status; and have launched book now, pay later rates, with no deposit and cancellations up to 24 hours.
Our global headquarters in Denham, U.K., and Americas headquarters in Atlanta, Ga., have taken a measured response and been thoughtful in our actions throughout this crisis. Our overriding principle has been to keep as many people employed as we can. We haven’t announced any corporate layoffs in Canada; the whole team is working remotely from their homes.
Communications to owners and guests
Marketing efforts have been reduced since the beginning of COVID-19. We are really focused on response to the pandemic, ensuring our owners and colleagues have the resources they need in real time. As we ramp back up on marketing in the near-term, we will be focused more on safety, cleanliness and the guest experience post-COVID.
We are in regular contact with hotels and owners. Our goal is to help them reduce costs and preserve cash. We have done this via a tailored fee relief package, increased payment flexibility; other steps like pausing renovations; securing supplier discounts; relaxing brand standards. Working hard to drive business into their hotels by securing government contact business. Have come together as an industry to work closely with governments – about protecting owners (often small-business owners) and jobs; ensuring they have fast access to help.
We know that the way that we interact with customers in hotels will evolve, and constantly innovate our designs in collaboration with owners, working to stay ahead by implementing new policies and procedures and understanding how our hotels might be designed differently in the future. We plan to incorporate best practices and learnings from the response to COVID-19 as part of our ongoing design process, we know that travelers enjoy social connections and personal interactions and we don’t expect that to change in the long term.
Our commitment to cleanliness and the evolving guest journey
IHG already had great cleaning processes already in place; colleagues have been on front-line since day one; and we have a whole team working on this, thinking it through on every angle and we’re applying learnings. We are also continuing to follow the guidance of health authorities and sharing best practices with our hotels across all areas. Our approach will continue to evolve in the coming months.
We recently announced new cleaning protocols/service standards and Clean Promise to give guests confidence as they return to travel.
IHG has a long-standing commitment to rigorous hotel cleaning procedures, with our institutional programme called IHG Way of Clean launched in 2015. It was developed with Ecolab and Diversey, both world leaders in hygiene and cleaning technologies. IHG is expanding this with additional COVID-19 protocols and best practices, partnering with industry leading experts Cleveland Clinic. Many of these procedures are already in place and reflect the advice of the WHO, CDC and local health authorities in markets around the world. The procedures include deep cleaning with hospital-grade disinfectants.
Regarding the future of travel, we believe domestic/mainstream travel will come back first. This is a huge part of our business in key markets, including the U.S., China, U.K., Australia and Japan. Domestic travel makes up about 95 per cent of our demand in the U.S. Also, our broad portfolio of brands and global footprint will help us in a phased recovery as things come back.