Africa Travel Week

ATW Podcast

Hospitality during COVID-19: A show of optimism and adapting to thrive

Sir Winston Churchill, as always, put it best: “Sometimes when fortune scowls most spitefully, she is preparing her most dazzling gifts.”

With restrictions still in place (albeit within level three now), it may not feel this way for everyone in business, but it certainly applies to many within the hospitality sector who are adapting their approaches through incredible energy and force of will, determined to emerge stronger on the other side.

Between my inbox and my social media, I have witnessed marketing teams strengthen relationships with their existing audience with thoughtful content. In industry webinar comment sections, operations staff prepare to roll out new packages and re-open doors – despite depleted bookings and no exact date for travel to return on the ground, or in the skies.

Proactivity and optimism is still evident, even in the face of reduced budgets (by at least 35% – and in some cases, a lot more). Tim Smith, MRICS, Managing Partner, HVS Cape Town, also notes that “One of the very few positives to come out of this pandemic is a universal desire to help each other.”

“It has given us all time to appreciate each other and what we can do to help; it has reignited our humanity. When the doors of hospitality re-open customers will be drawn back to people and places that make them feel special.” 

Creating opportunities within obstacles

“What we’ve learnt during the COVID crisis is that everything that happens is a chance to move forward, especially if we choose to keep an even keel, to see the good in a situation, and most of all, to actively create opportunities instead of waiting for them,” says Sharmila Ragunanan, Marketing Manager, Dream Hotels & Resorts.

“Our properties have always been popular with families who often return year-after-year as a tradition for special occasions and family get-togethers, which is why we recently introduced our of travel-later gift vouchers, which are valid for 36 months from date of issue.”

Aside from their regular guests, Ragunanan explained that her team realised that many travel-loving South African families were missing out on birthday weekends away, anniversary getaways and other important celebrations during lockdown. “We wanted to be able to give them something to look forward to while enabling some revenue flow into the business,” she added.

With establishments legally being allowed to open during level four to provide accommodation for persons providing essential services, Ragunanan added that they had also started hosting government officials travelling for business at two of their KwaZulu-Natal properties: Jozini Lodge & Spa along the Elephant Coast and Little Switzerland Resort in the Northern Drakensberg.

“We revisited what made us different from other holiday properties and we are fortunate that we offer accommodation in nature reserves and off the grid areas, ideal for low-density tourism. When local travel slowly revitalises, we know that we can tap into these unique selling features — an affordable escape away from the crowds.”

A focus on authentic social responsibility

In the case of The Peninsula All-Suite Hotel in Cape Town, management has adapted daily operations to focus on community projects and the economic livelihood of the 159 staff members they have managed to retain.

“You can choose whether your time during the restrictions is “dead time” – time that’s wasted and unproductive – or “alive time,” the kind of time where you come out the other end better for it,” explains Chris Godenir, General Manager of The Peninsula All-Suite Hotel.

“The nationwide lockdown has been a very humbling experience for both myself and the team and instead of looking outwards, waiting for guests to step through our doors again, we started looking inwards and started considering what we wanted to stand for as a brand,” he explained.
“This rare moment in history has humbled us, making us realise that we want to be more than just a hotel. We want our efforts to create something of valuable consequence to our community.”

Along with their ‘Culemborg Mission’ where they use the hotel’s kitchen to prepare weekly meals to deliver at the Culemborg bridge shelter in the city centre, Godenir and his team are continuing their efforts to upskill their staff. Plans for The Peninsula, alongside the eventual reopening, also include launching micro-businesses within the hotel to create further job opportunities.

In the business of business travel

As they say, life comes at you fast, and the last few weeks within the tourism and hospitality sector has been a true example of that. The South African Government’s phased-in, risk-adjusted strategy to re-opening the economy means that domestic travel & tourism is only predicted to come back towards the end of the year. In other words, there is still a way to go.

Peter Dros, Sales & Marketing Director of Fancourt in George, believes that domestic business travel will start coming back before the end of the year: “While online meetings have been fantastic, nothing can replace face-to-face meetings, especially if teams need to regroup, strategise and plan.”

Fancourt’s new Kingfisher Business Lounge offers smaller teams their own private boardroom, lounge and patio. The venue flows seamlessly between all three, giving delegates generous indoor and outdoor space. Add in a dedicated hostess, full connectivity and a beautiful, relaxed setting on South Africa’s Garden Route and Dros believes Kingfisher has all the ingredients for success.

“Over and above the ease and comfort of our new business lounge, teams can discover a world of inspiration on Fancourt’s estate, with nature trails, restaurants and a spa – everything you’ve been missing during lockdown.”

So, what does the future hold for the hotel industry as a whole? The situation is changing rapidly, with new information coming through on an hour-by-hour, day-by-day basis. It is difficult to make broad predictions because recovery timetables will vary from location to location and there is no specific end date for the restrictions.

Until that time comes, bring your brains and join us for our #INTHEKNOW virtual event series, where we keep the wheel turning by tackling obstacles we are currently facing in our businesses,together. Keep an eye on out for the Wednesday mailers to catch the announcement of June 2020 dates.

Chelsey Hale

Having lived in Thailand, South Korea and the U.K, Chelsey returned home to South Africa in 2017 & comfortably took up her role at Big Ambitions as an avid content creator. She enjoys all things related to history & travel, & admits that when she grows up, she wants to be an encyclopedia.