How was the re-opening of your business and how was it carried out in line with safety procedures put in place to allow social distancing?
Safestay opened the hotels first in Berlin and Vienna. Less affected by Coronavirus and exceedingly pragmatic about the risk. That taught us to approach each country in tune with public sentiment and guidelines, whilst accommodating the concerns from guests travelling from different Coronavirus experiences.
We felt that restricting capacity, selling dorms as single units and allowing 48 hours in between each guest was appropriate and aligned with demand. In public areas we have adopted supermarket’s best practice with clear signage, reconfiguration of guest flow and capacity management.
Our teams were trained to improve their alertness to health and safety, and we hand out safety packs with masks, hand gel and gloves. Some markets have already come back to 40% (which alleviates the cash burn) some other markets will simply not come back this year. With tourism being a key source of revenue for European governments it will have huge impact to livelihoods. The UK government has been far and away the most effective in its support, but we are hoping that the EU’s relief package approved last week sees some important support coming through.
How is the general feeling and feedback from your team members and your customers now the lockdown is over?
Teams are very apprehensive. Not seeing the volume of business, they were used to creates employment fears and plays heavily in their minds.
We have asked for vigilance and supportive behaviours from those in the team that seem to be more relaxed so that we instil the belief that things will get better. And we are all working as hard as ever to make good decisions and protect their employment. At times like superstars will flourish.
Those with a positive and resilient mindset have been moving the business along but also providing a healthy mindset for those more concerned.
What role has technology played in supporting your re-opening plan?
We have not invested in technology as much as we would have liked as obviously resources are strained. Protecting our people is paramount to us and we have been making decisions balancing cash burn but also preparing for a competitive recovery.
With that in mind we have thrown all available funds at digital and content development and are installing digital locks to reduce plastic consumption and improve the guest journey. That is as far as we could reasonably go for now. If we do all the right things now, in March, when we believe the market starts recovering, we will be in a great position to get ahead in tech.
What market trends are you seeing since re-opening?
There is huge uncertainty across the European markets we operate in. That creates a reluctance to commit to bookings that will linger into the winter. So, we are not seeing a long-term build-up of business on the books but short lead bookings are 80% year on year. That results from having availability with short lead, which didn’t happen last year but also a significant shift in travel planning behaviours. Guests seem to be more adept to drinking experiences but more reluctant to eat, including breakfast. Ancillary is growing exponentially with guests avoiding surgical masks for something trendier. As expected, domestic tourism is prevalent and changes the dynamic of the property. The vibe is domestic and culturally very well defined as opposed to the melting pot we experienced before.
What positive lessons do we need to learn from what the industry has been through?
This pandemic is so unique that it may be that whatever we learn is redundant for the rest of our professional lives. Businesses are highly resilient with great leadership but very vulnerable with uncertain direction. Working out a plan, staying nimble with it and avoiding emotions dictate every next step may just be the way to get out and come back stronger.
Date Published: 28th July 2020