By Michael Linczyc
From the August 2020 Issue
Over the last 30 years in the hospitality industry, The Hardy Group has been involved in the development of thousands of hotel guestrooms; whether new build, renovations, adaptive re-use, expansions, or entire portfolio repositionings. These have all had one thing in common: there was never a lock on the main entrance doors. Why would there be? From when the first guest walks through the doors to the wrecker’s ball leveling the property many decades later, hotels were always open for business, 24/7/365. Then came the COVID-19 pandemic.
From the moment the World Health Organization declared a global health emergency on January 30, 2020 hotels began to close across the United States, reaching a peak in mid-April with revenue per available room (RevPAR) down an astonishing 84.9% in the top 25 markets. Weekly data as of June 20 shows that top 25 RevPAR is now down 73% year-over-year, driven by a 52.7% decline in occupancy (to 35.4%) and a 43% drop in average daily rate.¹
Over the intervening months, The Hardy Group has assisted a number of our clients and advised them on the optimal ways of closing down and maintaining their temporarily shuttered properties while we all waited for the curve to flatten and individual jurisdictions to allow businesses to re-open and welcome their customers back to the new normal.
Now as the U.S. is fully into the sixth month of COVID-19 closures we are beginning to see hotels reopening. Many states throughout the nation have eased prior restrictions and have welcomed back travelers, who are primarily visiting drive-to destinations and taking extra precautions while they enjoy some long-anticipated rest and attempt at normalcy. While much remains unclear about the pace of recovery for the hospitality industry, one thing is for certain—any guests visiting a hotel will benefit from the countless changes, updates, and protocols to make staying at a hotel as safe as possible.
Hospitality Or Hospital?
Many hospitality facility managers are struggling with how to reconcile the need for cleanliness and concurrently maintaining the warmth and care which resonates with hotel guests, and which is the cornerstone of many operating philosophies.
Some familiar aspects of a guest’s arrival check in and stay will be gone or modified. Valet may be replaced by self-parking and a guest may not see a bellman rushing to grab their bags as they enter through the automatic doors already wearing compulsory face masks. All staff will be masked up, and many will wear disposable gloves for additional protection. Guests will probably skip the front desk as they have already chosen a room online and prepare to stand on the outline of socially distanced feet or lane markers in front of the elevators. A staff member will be busy wiping down and spraying the call buttons and the elevator cab on the hour. This is about cleanliness but it’s also part of a public relations and marketing campaign to reassure guests that the hotel operator is careful and diligent about cleaning and safety.
After a hopefully short wait to board an elevator, now restricted to two or four occupants, guests will open their rooms with a click of an electronic key on their cellphone. One change which may be welcomed by the traveling public will be the removal of all the tent signs and brochures cluttering the in-room desk. The minibar will be bare, and there will be an amenity pack more familiar to someone visiting a hospital than taking a business trip with sanitizer, disposable gloves and a face mask (no doubt embossed with the brand’s logo).
Guests will also be greeted by the welcome addition of extra towels and toiletries in the bathroom to avoid the need for room cleaning and turndown services during their stay. This is both a cost saving and hygiene effort though there have been several anecdotal reports that, counterintuitively, guests have recently pushed back on this economy. Service has long been the cornerstone of hospitality and old habits (or expectations) are still highly valued by guests.
Probably the most drastic revision will be the restaurants, bars, and lounge areas of the hotel, as the social aspects of life in the public areas will have to be curtailed and adapted. Gone will be the generously appointed buffet, most likely replaced with a boxed preparation or a grab-and-go option. Boisterous gatherings of name tag wearing conference attendees may not reappear until well into 2021, and visiting the gym (if it is open) may require a booking time and being trailed by a solitary staff member continuously disinfecting the equipment.
The Way Forward
It is unquestionable that the COVID-19 virus and consequent pandemic has had a catastrophic impact on the global economy. Hospitality has seen the largest revenue displacement in the history of the industry, and the long-term impacts may only be known or fully understood in hindsight.
At The Hardy Group we have been tasked by our clients to help them navigate through the uncertainty. In many cases, that involves strategic understanding of physical building systems and processes. Historically, our focus has been getting guestrooms ready for business as quickly as possible, but our goals have shifted slightly. The core focus now is having guestrooms ready when they are as safe as possible.
Perhaps the only certainty we can rely on is our faith in the resiliency of the hospitality industry; it’s owners, managers, consultants, vendors, and the amazing on-property staff who work every day for excellence despite the inherent risks which exist. And while guests may not be able to see the smile of the front desk associate behind their N95 mask, I can assure you with certainty, it has not gone away.
¹ STR© 2020 CoStar Realty Information, Inc.
Linczyc is managing director of the New York office for The Hardy Group, a strategic development services firm for investors and brands engaged in hospitality real estate. With more than 25 years of leadership experience, the hallmark of Linczyc’s success is his ability to translate sophisticated business strategy, design, and technical knowledge with market and competitor insights to deliver world-class hospitality projects in the U.S., Europe, Middle East, and Asia. Leading the company’s New York office, he oversees all of the JHG Eastern region projects. Prior to JHG, Linczyc has had senior positions with creative innovators Rockwell Group and Wilson Associates, brand leaders Starwood and Morgans Hotel Group, as well as working with Clients including Kushner Companies, Tavistock Development, and the governments of the UAE and Qatar. Some of his iconic projects include the New York Palace Hotel, W Times Square, and Mondrian South Beach and Scottsdale. Having originally qualified and practiced as an Architect in the UK, he moved to the U.S. 20 years ago.
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