More authenticity will be part of COVID legacy

Dorothy Dowling at the recent Best Western Virtual Convention.

PHOENIX — As a Canadian who now lives in the U.S., Dorothy Dowling, senior vice-president and chief marketing officer for Best Western, has one foot on either side of the border. Throughout the COVID pandemic, she has noticed differences between how Americans and Canadians have approached the pandemic.

Obviously the travel business has been depressed on both sides of the border, and the pandemic has meant the tragic loss of some very talented associates, some of whom will never return to the hospitality business, Dowling told CLN in an interview. In the U.S., analysts are predicting a 50 per cent unemployment rate for hospitality workers by the end of the year without government stimulus. There are real estate losses as well, since hard-hit hotels are turning to other alternatives including multi-family housing and other business models that are more feasible at this time.

“The part that is so difficult is the impact on talent, how many people we have had to separate with and how painful that was. We had to separate from some really extraordinary team mates. It’s tragic for us, and there’s the risk that some of those team employees will not return.”

Yet, Dowling feels that the industry will make a strong comeback, and that even the conference business will return. “There is nothing like peer-to-peer interaction,” she said. “There’s just something magical about a group environment from a learning point of view,” she said.

“This has been a profound change for hoteliers,” she said. “They have had to reevaluate their business models with continued focus on the value-creation experience. Best Western has long been at the forefront of cleanliness, and now other companies are doing the same. Companies are examining their breakfast offerings, and will be led by the consumer in this regard.

“We believe that travel is essential in the pack of goods for all consumers, and we fundamentally believe that the mid-scale and upper mid-scale properties will come back faster than others. I’m an optimist and fully expect that the industry will rebound, and will do so very strongly because of the nature of our experience-based economy and travel.

“We are all going on personal journeys as we navigate COVID, and people have a heartfelt approach to customer care.” Because we have all experienced COVID, we are leading with much more authentic messaging, she said.