While the Covid-19 Pandemic has devastated our industry in many ways, it has also served as a terrific opportunity to “get ahead of the curve – allowing us to operate from a much stronger position when the tide turns.  We have had to learn how to operate in a drastically altered environment, changing many of the ways we approach our business and customers.

However, there is one thing that has not changed: the best performing hotels aren’t a lot different than a successful sports team.  Great hotels operate from a solid foundation of sound fundamentals developed through repetition and consistent performance“Blocking and tackling” becomes second nature.

Game Plan for Hotel Recovery Success

“We do not excel at doing the extraordinary but excel at doing the ordinary extraordinarily well”.

As a leader, if you and your team are doing the ordinary extraordinarily well, you will have much more time to focus on acquiring/keeping customers, optimizing revenue, and driving the business.

What can you do to make sure your team is best equipped for peak performance?  Ignore the so-called glamorous side of our business – marketing, positioning, or driving customer decisions. Instead, dig into the day-to-day blocking and tackling it takes to operate a hotel.

Many hotels know the basic checks and balances and what they should be doing on a regular basis. But, for whatever reason – business levels, staffing challenges, budget cuts, lack of being held accountable…. we’ve all been there – they get away from consistently doing the ordinary things they know they should be doing.

If there has ever been a time when unpredictable demand patterns and rapidly shifting operating models were the rule rather than the exception, the last year is it.  Even though many hotels are operating at greatly reduced staffing levels, and many managers are wearing more hats than normal, now is a perfect time to assess some of your vulnerabilities (and yes, liabilities).

The Hotel Playbook for Recovery

In order to build an overall successful game plan in strengthening your foundation and improving your hotel’s operational performance, here are the top ten proven “blocking and tackling” areas in my playbook:

  1. Departmental / Shift Checklists – It’s not enough to have an opening checklist in a manual somewhere; it must be completed and reviewed religiously. If your restaurant manager quit today, could someone unfamiliar with the operation walk in and not miss a beat? Checklists represent the road map to “how to operate” effectively, focusing on critical processes and touchpoints.  As we have seen hotels forced to operate with significant reductions in staffing, these tools make the difference between surviving and thriving.
  2. Human Resources File Audit – Audit personnel files. Are they set up correctly?  Are they being maintained with the required documents?  Most importantly, do they comply with legal and governmental regulatory statutes?
  3. Customer Relations Management – Whether this is automated or manual, are you doing everything you can to address your customers’ expectations and respond to feedback? Do you respond to every guest comment / review? Are your service recovery efforts documented, analyzed, and quantified, and do you alter behavior through training based on this data?
  4. Key Financial Controls – Do you have written Standard Operating Procedures addressing all aspects of financial integrity? Are people held accountable for violations / non-compliance?
  5. Balance Sheet Account Reconciliations Bank accounts tend to be the biggest offenders. These can be very boring and / or all tangled and a mess. But how many times has your Director of Finance gone to start year-end closing only to realize they are HOW many months behind in reconciliations?  More to the point, how many sins can be hidden if these aren’t done on a monthly basis!!??
  6. Brand Loyalty Account Reconciliations – You keep carrying that balance from month to month, but what really is below the surface? Until you dig out, you don’t know if your revenue reporting, tax reporting, ADR, or a number of other critical items are accurate. Reconcile these on a monthly basis!
  7. Preventative Maintenance Guest rooms, public areas, and major mechanical should all have preventative maintenance schedules. Huge dollars are at stake when it comes to protecting your assets and extending the useful life of equipment and FF&E.  First, make sure you have a comprehensive program (whether automated or manual) that allows you to track and plan.  Know when something is scheduled, so you can budget and staff for the work.  And INSPECT and track completion so you know the work was completed. In other words, “Inspect what you expect.”
  8. Standard Operating Procedures – This is a great time to review and revise all Standard Operating Procedures. Are they still relevant?  Do they allow for the level of empowerment you want to give your team – too restrictive, not specific enough? Are the important, meaningful areas covered? Are they reasonable and do they reflect the “new reality” of today’s environment?  Are there too many?
  9. Revenue Generation – Work closely with your revenue optimization team to set yourself apart from the competition.  Unlike traditional (pre-COVID-19) times, where understanding market dynamics built on historical trends often defined the strategy; in today’s reality there is little that can be counted on, and the past is irrelevant. The team must be laser-focused on looking forward beyond today, tomorrow and this week.  While booking patterns have shifted, we must stay focused on pace and how we are trending within the market. Take some risks, be proactive and innovative, and invest in targeting your customer.
  10. Employee Engagement – This is arguably more important now than ever before….and it will continue to influence the quality of your work force going forward. Do you have a plan?  It should be no different than your Hotel Marketing plan – built from a thorough evaluation and honest assessment of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT). What activities, efforts and initiatives will have the greatest impact (and reinforce / address the findings of your SWOT analysis)?  Now is the time to build, engage, motivate, train, and “let loose” your team of the future.  A cautionary note: BE SENSITIVE TO COVID FATIGUE and the impact it has on your team.

The ten suggestions above should encompass the main areas where you can protect your hotel and play defense.  If you take the time, you can expand this list exponentially. Just remember, pick the most important things that will have the greatest impact on your operation and devote your efforts there.

And when you are ready, you can begin to play offense with greater confidence.  As vaccines become more available, it’s important to meet all of the players back on the field.  We can’t control the speed with which travel will return, but we can control the way that we rise to that occasion.

Start with communication.  You should be communicating with travelers and clients through social media and direct contact so that your hotel is an easy, top-of-mind choice.  Start in your lobby, by talking with arriving guests about their purpose of visit, colleagues in the area, and other needs.  If you can improve an existing guest’s stay, it is that much more likely s/he will encourage a fellow traveler to book your hotel. Reach out into the community so that key decision-makers are aware of the hotel’s status.  And by all means, do not neglect your team, especially those that may be furloughed.  An investment in communication now will pay off when people are back on the road.

Flex your creativity.   How has your hotel re-imagined its use of space and facilities to fit the new normal?  Spread the news about your contactless check-in or enhanced sanitation protocols, and share diagrams of how meeting rooms can be set to maintain social distancing.  Lean on the resources of your team to generate initiatives, find new sources of revenue, and maximizing existing sources of business.  Ask the question of your team (and not just the sales team), “What would you do if you owned this hotel?” And most important, listen to the answers!

We’re all in this together.  This has been a popular refrain over the last year, for good reason.  If we have learned nothing else during this difficult time, we have all experienced how important it is to have friends, family, and colleagues to lean on.  Stay engaged in community initiatives and volunteer efforts as a hotel.  Making a difference in your community is never the wrong move, and people will remember who stood by them in difficult times.

However you decide to approach the next several months in your hotel, don’t make the playbook too complicated.  In order to successfully position your hotel for a recovery, you will have to dust off the basic moves and make them second nature for your operation. When these items are managed effectively, it strengthens the foundation of your hotel’s success and opens the door for growth and recovery.

Concentrate on the basics first, and know that success will follow!

*This article was originally published by Hotel Executive on February 21, 2021