Navigating the downturn: an Emergency Toolkit eBook for hoteliers

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The Growth Works, a business management consultancy firm specialising in the development and delivery of partnership strategies, has launched an Emergency Toolkit eBook that features expert advice and solutions to help hotels navigate the downturn and prepare for recovery.

James Lemon, The Growth Works’ founder, spoke to BHN about the key areas causing concern for hotels, and the ways in which hoteliers can effectively make the most of the current climate.

What is The Growth Works, and what services do you provide to the boutique and lifestyle hotel sector?

The Growth Works is set up to help hotel chains and independent hotels unlock the potential of partnerships. There’s a wealth of providers and technology companies that have spun up to make the travel industry better, both for travellers and hotels, and yet so few hotels seem to be embracing them. Partly that’s to do with time, and partly expertise. 

The reason why we are relevant to boutique and lifestyle hotels is because, I believe, the future of the industry is going to be all about the total guest experience and journey, and for our owners, much more about total asset returns and maximising use of the whole hotel. I think for too long the industry has been obsessed with just room demand and room revenue, and that is not always a great guest experience because we’re not helping them explore the whole of the hotel or its surroundings.

Creating and delivering a plan to create a great experience and drive revenues across the whole hotel can be done with an internal team, or it can be delivered with external help. I think that those who use a third party tend to think it’s ‘one and done’ – for example licensing a restaurant to a third party -  and they miss an opportunity to embed it properly in the guest experience – for example, tailored restaurant engagement for hotel guests. I don’t think it necessarily matters whether you partner with someone or do it in-house, but I think you need to keep alive the culture of integration, which is a challenge to some hoteliers.

The Growth Works therefore exists as a consultancy offering for hotel chains, owner groups, and hotels - to come in and work right from strategy and priorities to identifying, vetting, testing and then hopefully implementing partnerships that will be really valuable to them. 

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, what have you identified as the main areas causing concern for hotels?

During the six weeks or so that Europe has been taking the outbreak seriously, almost every day there emerge different priorities. Now, the overall theme is about survival. We’re in a place that the industry has never seen before, and from the most junior team members to the hotel chain’s CEOs, we recognise the whole industry is fighting to survive.

First and foremost, every general manager is thinking about cost management. The big items are rental / mortgage;  taxes and rates; and other large fixed monthly outgoings like asset or technology rental. Instantly, we need to be in discussions with those kinds of institutions and suppliers to delay any payments. There are procurement agencies in many cities who can come in as experts, look at all your spend as a hotel, and help you negotiate cost-savings and ways in which you can save money on supplies. This is something we definitely recommend starting with. 

Preparing for recovery is all about reading the signals from China and Asia - we can see that guest travel is slowly rebounding and hotels are reopening. So now is the time to look at other priorities - perhaps engaging a technology provider to understand, when guest footfall starts to pick up again, how processes can be automated? Do we want to simplify check in? Do we want to update rooms with a tech refurb? Some ideas we really like is the live booking of meeting spaces, or the live reservations of restaurants and bar bookings, which many hotels don’t yet have on their own sites. 

In terms of opportunities right now, one that I think works well in the boutique and lifestyle sector is gift vouchers. It amazes me that some hotels do not have live vouchers ready to purchase on their website. We have hotels that are potentially earning £15,000 a month even when their occupancy is in single digits, or if they are closed. We are in the experience economy, so people are still buying gifts for further down the line and planning for when they can travel again. Projects like this are a great way for the team to learn something new and support the business by directing guests towards gift vouchers.

Another revenue opportunity is food delivery. Some hotels are already looking at this option, and it can be as simple as listing the hotel restaurant on a food delivery channel, or hotels can take on a simple ‘delivery franchise’ and run a food concept developed by one of the large food delivery businesses. Not only does this bring some revenue into the hotel, but more importantly it retains the team. We’re hearing hotels that are mobilising its staff to even deliver meals to the vulnerable - this community work could be in operation during the day, and then the kitchen can be commercialised in the evening for a different audience segment.

How can the industry effectively manage these concerns? If you could summarise any advice, what would it be?

Now is not the time to close your mindset and think only internally. If you only rely on the experience of the leaders around you, you’re probably going to have the same ideas as you’ve always had. There’s such a ground swell now, across the industry, of partners who are offering to give their time and expertise for free - to share ideas and opportunities, and to back that up with no risk trials on some products. Now’s the time to have those calls, hear those ideas, and make a plan for your business.

We are hearing a huge focus on training and development right now, as teams are isolated at home and workloads are lighter. Teams should be set projects to plan and discover what partnership opportunities are out there for the recovery, and putting their energies into learning how to strengthen the business and enhance the guest experience when guests start returning.

My worry about the hospitality industry is that we’ll forget to keep that entrepreneurial zeal. As an industry, we only ever think about rooms demand, and that’s now disappeared. But we still have assets at the heart of communities that can be useful, and a team that are trained in customer service.

It’s time for hoteliers and general managers to lead. Those who were around at the last downturn, the perspective that they have can lend itself to prepare for a recovery. We’re not an industry that loses hope.

The market will inevitably bounce back. Given that travel trends will also rebound, what can the hotel sector expect in a post-pandemic world? How might the crisis alter the way in which business is conducted in the future?

We’re clearly going to be more digitally savvy. I think that after a prolonged period of time working from home, overall travel trends might not bounce back to the levels that we’ve seen before, particularly around business travel. At the same time, I think that the need for human beings to get together is not going to disappear. Travel is at the heart of who we are as a species, but these digital ways of how we work will also maintain some value as we become more comfortable with the idea. 

What this crisis will teach us is that we’ve all got our specialisms, and we’re all good at certain pockets within the wider industry. I think we’ll be more open minded to grabbing time with specialists and experts and hearing other people’s perspectives. Think of how fast we’ve had to learn about the coronavirus - we’ve seen politicians, scientists, and business leaders all working side by side.

If we open our teams to bringing in external specialists, I think we’ll realise that this is a stronger way to build the business. Let’s stick to what we’re good at (that is, serving the guest) and let the rest be taken care of by someone else.  

The Growth Works’ Emergency Toolkit eBook can be downloaded here. 


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