HB Exclusive: Virtual Town Hall Talks Pandemic Issues

NEW YORK—During the NEXT Virtual Town Hall, hotel industry experts provided insight into the issues facing the industry during the COVID-19 pandemic based on questions provided by the audience.

The virtual conference, sponsored by Access Point Financial, included nearly 600 registered attendees and roughly $5,000 was raised for Hospitality Cares. Those interested can still make donations at https://hospitalitycares.org/.

A major theme of the town hall, moderated by Christina Trauthwein, editor-in-chief of Hotel Business and InspireDesign, was how important cleanliness of properties will be to guests and changes that may need to be made for the sake of guest safety.

“Clean is the new green,” said Alan Benjamin, ISHC, president, BenjaminWestUSA. “…I think it is a great opportunity for the hotel industry to redefine safe and secure as clean.”

John Hardy, founder/president, The Hardy Group, expressed his feeling that health consciousness and safety are going to be big factors in how people decide where they are going to stay. “I think there is going to be a change in people’s comfort levels in terms of sanitation,” he said. “Every one of these crises changes the market somehow in ways we didn’t anticipate. You can already see it where Marriott has published these new standards it has created for housekeeping that is going to change housekeeping significantly. Wynn Resorts is doing the same thing.”

The safety standards implemented by the hotels are also going to give them a leg up on short-term rentals. “When you make a decision to where you are going to stay, are you going to be more comfortable in a hotel that is branded, where they are pushing sanitation and hospitality and security, or are you going to go to [a home-sharing rental] without knowing who the owner is and what they have done?” said Hardy.

Hardy also said that the new safety standards may create a new way that amenities are handled, including a move away from the bulk dispensers that brands added to cut down on the usage of plastics. “I think that may go back to the individual containers again,” he said. “It may be when you check in you are handed a package—at least for a while.”

Jagruti Panwala, AAHOA chairwoman and president/CEO, Wealth Protection Strategies LLC, said that there may be a change in the way free breakfast is offered, if it is offered at all. “In the U.S., we are so accustomed to offering a hot breakfast to our guests, and with the sanitation that is happening now, you have seen probably all the brands stop doing that,” she said. “I believe that those are things that are going to change for the long term. As the airlines changed their standards after 9/11, I believe the hospitality industry is going to have some major changes to protect our guests and employees, and also to change the landscape of the industry for the long term.”

Another important theme was how the industry will handle the economic issues coming out of the pandemic. One question directed at Jim Merkel, founder/CEO, Rockbridge, asked how long it would take for transaction activity to pick up.

“It’s so early,” he said. “I think this will track similarly to the global financial crisis where it just takes some time to have the market transition and find its footing on where value is, because value is going to be an intrinsic value. There’s not going to be great metrics to look at for some time, and that is just going to reduce the amount of transaction volume.”

Cindy Estis Green, CEO/co-founder, Kalibri Labs, said that the drive markets are already fairing better than primary markets. “We have seen secondary and tertiary markets that are more dependent on the drive traveler already sustaining better results and definitely maintaining business,” she said. “That local corporate versus national corporate is going to be different because you’ve got local corporate accounts, they’re going to start traveling again and the regulations in their community will enable them—whatever those are—to do that sooner and that’ll pick up. So I think that the drive-to markets will definitely rebound earlier.”

Look for complete coverage in the upcoming May 15 issue of Hotel Business.

Join us for another virtual conference, the next event in the NEXT Virtual series, in partnership with Hotel Business and InspireDesign, on April 30. This discussion will focus on how consumer behavior and demands related to personal well-being when traveling will evolve post COVID-19. How should the design and supply industries, as well as owners and project developers, be thinking about this need now? We’ll be following up with everyone who participated today with details on panelists and topics. Mark your calendars.