On 4 March 2019 something monumental happened(1) – for only the second time since the global pandemic began, a person was cured of the virus. There are two current global pandemics, one is COVID-19, the other is H.I.V. Aids – one has been around since 1980, the other since 2020. The news came nearly to the day, 12 years after the previous successful cure. Two people cured, 39 million deceased and forty years on. The idea that we will have a cure to this terrible Coronavirus in the next weeks and months let alone years is unlikely. That said, it is wrong to speculate on such things with no medical knowledge. It would be a wonderful surprise and relief to be wrong. We are going to have to learn to live with the virus, our parents and children will have to learn to live with social distancing. Is this the end of the French style greeting of kisses on the cheek?
The consequences of the impact of the lockdown are as yet unknown. It is quite clear that while some markets and industries will be protected by the initiatives and coordination of governments around the world, there are other governments incapable of supporting the backbones of their tourism economies – the small and medium businesses – restaurants, bars and hotels.
Most businesses like RegiÔtels will be left with three choices at this current time:
- Deplete the cash reserves and hope to ride out the storm
- Borrow cash to ride out the storm – risking colossal debt if not enough is borrowed or the storm lasts longer than imagined
- Cease trading
On account of the team, our combined abilities, our adaptability, speed of reaction and our common goals, RegiÔtels is going for option (ii) for as long as we can find support in the vision that we have, collectively. Not so many around the world are as fortunate as we are and went straight from a healthy balance sheet after many years/decades of trading to instant cessation.
While the future of the tourism sector is in doubt, it is worth remembering that for as long as time, there has been travel… 2020 years ago, Jesus was born in a stable as there was no room at the Inn. Independent hotels will be here long after COVID-19 as they were for the centuries before. What is certain however is that hotels will need to completely change their modus-operandi to get new clients and stay in business.
COVID-19 has had a great many impacts but one of the most noticeable is that it has forced more than a third of the world’s population to go into isolation and for those that could, they went online almost all-day throughout this period. These habits will not die down as lock-down ceases and if the digital revolution was slow in being adopted, for any business to survive in the future, it will be essential to embrace, NOW. Having a website is not enough.
An interesting image that is currently circulating:
There could be no clearer image to highlight the problem facing many independent hotels. Their very survival depends on being visible online with a clear and coherent message tailored to their target audience.
The combination of rate distribution, dynamic pricing, engaging social media presence, compelling designs for the digital marketing and experiential travel are all factors that are going to play in the new economy we are entering into.
With the end of the lockdown being envisaged but a return to normality unlikely in the very short-term, airlines will also be forced to respect social distancing. It is a very brave person that considers a cruise holiday anytime in the next few years meaning that all of the major travel options we have left are planes, trains, and automobiles. For the planes, they will need to resume flights, uncover the planes from the dust sheets and get them ready to fly once more, but with social distancing, seats will need to go unsold – the middle seat for instance. Everybody in short-haul flights is set to be given the ‘business class’ experience – more space & higher cost. An airplane having to remove 30% of its inventory to ensure space for its passengers will have an impact on price and already, it is being forecast to be up to 50% more than before the COVID-19 pandemic(2). An Airbus A320-200 airplane with 180 seats will be reduced to 120. It is unlikely that this means more flights will be put on the same routes as the landing spots are in such short supply across airports generally – the only obvious conclusion is that there will be fewer people flying.
Jobs are going to be affected, with already 26 million unemployed in only the last 4 weeks in the US, Europe does not coordinate numbers in quite the same way, but it would not be unimaginable to have similar proportions as a percentage of total population. To put those numbers in perspective, 26 million is nearly 8% of the total population of the US, but more importantly, it is very nearly 17% of the work force – ie not pensioners, students and children, lost in only 5 weeks.
Unprecedented is a word used a lot these days, but there are few better words to describe the current situation. Every other economic shock in world history rippled out over months and years, not days and weeks. We live in a truly connected world.
Job losses will impact the spending capacity of potential clients as they are no longer able to afford what they once were. With short-haul flights, and mini-breaks potentially out of reach of the clientele that there was pre-Coronavirus, there are few other options than to return to a simpler time, the 1970s and 1980s when local and national holidaying were all the rage as family units stayed in independent hotels.
It is inevitable that people will want to escape the mundanity and repetitive nature of the Coronavirus lockdown in the immediate aftermath and so one can hope that regional tourism will benefit in the short-term as flights will not have resumed their schedules in time.
While a great many individuals proved creative online during the pandemic, their holidays will, in future, start to become equally creative and undoubtedly will become exclusively organized online. Regional independent hotels throughout the European regions previously depended on the older generation to survive. Not so many millennials pre-covid19 were thinking of hiking weekends in the Mullerthal Region of Luxembourg, or an escape to the Black Forrest or even the Lake District. This was perhaps a more experienced pursuit, based in part on memories of family holidays 50-60 years ago when the world was smaller and the idea of flying away for the weekend was unimaginable. Those same hotels are going to have to alter their marketing and targeting to cater to a new audience simply to survive.
The older generation not previously so internet savvy have had a crash-course online in March & April 2020 and now it is often the Grandparents leading the charge in Houseparty group chats, Whereby family gatherings, WhatsApp viral videos, Facebook live streaming and Zoom meetings. The idea that these individuals, previously so relied upon by small independent country hotels to telephone and write an email to book a room, will go back to their old ways is not going to happen – they have already made the jump. This new internet-savvy Boomer generation is now firmly implanted in the 21st century. A great many businesses, in particular independent hotels, dependent on this client segment are not ready and will not survive if the selected options (i) or (ii) from above are their only strategy.
Most independent hotels need to ask themselves these five questions:
If I did not know the name of my own hotel, would I be able to find it on Google in less than five clicks? (most people and all new potential clients do not know your property, you will need to stand out from the crowd)
What do the developers at Google think of my current website both on mobile and tablet devices and desktop computers? Please click on this link and check your website – https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights/
How easy is it to book my hotel online on a mobile device?
What was the average age of my clientele before Coronavirus? How many of these people will feel comfortable leaving the security of their own isolation to travel, or worse, still be able to travel at all?
What am I doing to engage conversation with potential new clients?
RegiÔtels predicts that there will be an increase in demand to regional and national tourism once more – both initially after the lockdown period but thereafter throughout the whole uneasy period of life with Coronavirus (it is a little too soon to speak of life after just yet, at least in 2020 given that Japan as of 22nd April declared their intention to consider a second lockdown owing to a resurgence of the virus). Travel will be driven by family groups and couples, individuals and perhaps even larger groups, but most importantly, they will all be from less than 3-5 hours travel away by car or train.
Coronavirus is a game-changer in that it is imperative to find new business to survive in the market after this pandemic. All previous sources of business will be affected in the extreme. Preparation for the acquisition of new business does not take minutes but many weeks, at the very least, a month.
Now is the time to build, to prepare, to adapt, to create and to develop.
There are a number of ways that RegiÔtels can assist in the process of building new digital infrastructure, finding new clients and appealing to a wider audience. Please get in touch for more information at [email protected] or visit our website www.regiotels.com