Chibuikem Diala, is the CEO of Sustainable Eco6tem, and the Executive Director, International Hospitality, Tourism & Eco-Sustainability Forum (IHTEF). He is a Hospitality Consultant with new thinking mindset for the hospitality industry. Here he examines the basic challenges of post Covid-19 transition and how the sector can mitigate negative effects on hotels in the new dispensation. Read on….
At the twilight of 2019, no one, predicted the global lockdown that has greatly affected the hotel and tourism industry. UNWTO reported that international tourists’ arrival grew by 4 percent in 2019 to reach 1.5 billion and forecasts another 3 precent to 4 percent in 2020. With 2.4 million arrivals into Nigeria and many travellers moving within cities, countries and across continents, no one imagined the almost 360 degrees turn of events.
All of a sudden, no one seems to care about REVPAR, CPOR, ARR or TREVPAR. No one is complaining about the quality of service, neither is the menu for the day a thing to worry about. The banter that happens daily at the back of the house has become memories. The highlife, soul music, karaoke and bespoke performances that inspire infectious laughter have gradually disappeared. Romantic sights between lovebirds no more colour the aisles. Now, the health and safety of the customers and that of employees have become a growing concern like never before. Every other thing appears to have “passed away”. Really, by the time this siege is over, many hotels would have disappeared too, or turned into hostels or hospitals as emergency centres. Many preferred guests won’t be returning back to the comfort of the hotels they used to stay. Regrettably, some may have died of the coronavirus, while others may have made up their minds not to visit for fear of contracting the virus. Of course, a lot more would have rescheduled their movements, meetings and conferences to a safer option of using technology- until such a time that safety is fully assured.
Locally in Nigeria, the sad story of the impact of COVID-19 on patronage, revenue, and employment is better imagined than described. For a sector that was already experiencing serious difficulty, the Covid-19 pandemic followed by the national lock downs and the interstate limitations as well as cessation of local flights seemed to be the final death knell. Almost immediately leading to salary cuts by ‘lenient’ owners; in some extreme cases, most staffs have been sent home without pay and without any assurance of returning back to their desks after the lock down.
However, COVID-19 presents an upside that may turn out to be a blessing for the sector in Nigeria and indeed in Africa. One may ask, what was the pre-COVID-19 state of hospitality in Nigeria? What was the health condition of hotels, restaurants, lounges and bars? What was the state of tourism infrastructure in the country before the pandemic? In my opinion, a lifeline assessment of the sector shows that the industry was not as healthy (financially, service, management. etc) as often imagined. In one of my articles earlier in the year, while talking about hygiene and safety, I described hotels as accommodating more rats in the back of the house than guest in the front of the house. Pre-COVID-19, we experienced the proliferation of hotels in majority of the neighborhoods across the country and without any form of co-ordinated standards or regulations. The NTDC, Ministry of Information and Culture, Ministries of Tourism; Tourism Boards in the states and relevant agencies of government failed woefully in this regard. Expectedly, low service standards, unprofessional management, no staff training; poor maintenance, abuse of employees, unhealthy competition, loss of revenue, absence of authentic leadership, etc became the order of the day.
But despite the increasing number of hotels and employment, the quality of life of most employees didn’t change given that stipends were being handed out as salaries. Simply speaking, the jobs offered had no future and no pension plans. One then should be worried that a hotel that could not sustain 1-month salary in a COVID-19 situation will most likely not have the capacity to offer its employees a healthy and reliable future.
On the other hand, pre-COVID-19 saw many hotels that kept high standards, professional management, uncommon brand differentiation, dedication to ethics and values of the business with top notch commitment to employees’ welfare, and maintenance – in turn they saw their revenues grow and in most cases outgrew their thresholds. In truth, the pre-COVID-19 hotels witnessed some reasonable level of boom, especially as travel became more of lifestyle in Africa. Pre-COVID-19 also witnessed a hotel regime that was undifferentiated. You simply couldn’t differentiate between the hotel next door- not in quality of service and spirit of excellence, maybe the difference is in the name of the hotel, the aesthetics of the reception, and the quality of beds. Most of the hotels lack defined vision, purpose, and goal. Neither the general managers, nor the staff have a clear understanding of what the business is all about, so does most of the owners. They don’t know and they don’t care. All that matters are patronage and revenue.
Pre-Covid 19 witnessed many hotels that were very unhygienic with terrible hygiene protocols, shabby housekeeping and absence of detailed cleaning of rooms and high touch areas. Countless times, I have checked into a room with beddings stained with semen. On one occasion, after, requesting for a replacement of the sheets, I still found similar stains on the replaced bedding; I simply gave up. In trying to save ‘revenue’ hotel rooms and environments are cleaned without chemicals, toilets not properly washed – dirt staring at you; surfaces are not sanitized and staff improperly trained and groomed.
However, these challenges present huge opportunities in the post-COVID-19 dispensation. The ‘Upside’ of COVID-19 on hotels is the emergence of a new generation of guests who care a lot about their health, safety and the hygiene focused outlook of the hotels they want to stay in. COVID-19 has raised the bar on hygiene across the globe and only hotels with the right kind of leadership, passion and grit will survive. Ego investors, unscrupulous managers, toxic staff will no more have a place in the emerging ‘Post-COVID-19’ hotel protocol. Because the jobs will be fewer, only the detailed will find a place in a decent hotel.
Secondly, another upside of COVID-19 is standardization and regulation by relevant agencies. It will no more be business as usual as governments will begin to tighten their noose by developing guidelines and ensuring enforcements of same. Only an irresponsible government will sit down and do nothing to ensure that its people, community, visitors are safe in a ‘viralized’ society. Thirdly, training and workforce development will become a major attribute of post-COVID-19 hotels.