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Luxury Hotels: How Rosewood, Dorchester Collection and St James’s are fighting back from Covid

Business Life 12-08-2020

The global hotel industry has been hit hard by COVID-19. Simon Ewing, Partner and Ruby Dalal, Senior Associate at Charles Russell Speechlys LLP investigate how luxury hotels have adapted to the crisis

Following an international lockdown, the vast majority of hotels were forced to close their doors for over three months. Many used the opportunity to carry out extensive refurbishment, modernisation or a brand overhaul. A huge amount of work went on behind closed doors to ensure they were ready for action when it was time to open to the public again.

The UK government has shown support for businesses via the furlough scheme and by providing a 12-month business rates holiday for the hospitality sector. However, the length of this pandemic and continuing restrictions have deepened the crisis. Hotels need to ensure that the operating cost of re-opening and paying staff is outweighed by consistent occupancy and turnover in guests.

We spoke to three key hoteliers to get an insight into how they are dealing with this crisis and how they see the market moving forward.

Christopher Cowdray, CEO, Dorchester Collection

“Lockdown was an opportunity to forge deeper connections with our customers through increased personalisation and heartfelt handwritten notes and calls. It was certainly a time to prioritise connection over conversion and solidify meaningful connections.

In addition, we communicated with our guests via social media with storytelling around purpose and values, heritage and authenticity that we hope our community found edifying, entertaining and inspiring. Internet usage during this challenging time was up about 60% and social media usage increased almost 50% as people turned to it for updates and connection.

Most importantly, looking after our people at Dorchester Collection has been key and this includes playing a significant role in the local communities where our hotels are based.

We are focussing on high service but low touch. Our measures have been developed in line with local government guidelines and the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organisation. These will be communicated through advanced personalised emails and general guidelines on our website. From the moment our guests arrive, employees will act as guides, so guests can move seamlessly within our hotels.

“Given many of us will make more time for family and friends, we ensure that we cater more creatively at our hotels for these special celebrations including multi-generational gatherings. Technology, sustainability, buying local and business agility will become increasingly important in how we all do business going forward. We have additionally become more innovative with regards to the repurposing of space, room service and in-room exercise programmes.

“As consumers undoubtedly buy into timeless brand values, we will be reinforcing ours more than ever. This is a time for graciousness and kindness. As we’ve kept all our employees – indeed, a third have been with us for over 25 years, it will be the same faces greeting our guests – when you’re ready, we’ll be waiting.”

Anjana Pandya, Managing Director, St James’s Hotel and Club

“The start of lockdown was a moment to initially pause, take stock, and define how we will adapt to the ‘new normal’, ensuring key health & safety initiatives would be crafted into the St. James’s spirit of care and hospitality.

“As an intimate, boutique hotel, we considered how to be creative with social distancing to ensure that measures implemented would prove effective. Initiatives such as a pre-arrival check-in function ensures guests are quickly able to proceed to the comfort of their room or suite. Specific Health & Safety measures were implemented and all staff were not only briefed, but involved in the implementation of these new procedures. We introduced a high-tech facial recognition system which monitors the temperature of guests and staff. PPE such as gloves, sanitisers, masks, screens and visors are in place, and guests are also gifted a pack of St James’ branded pocket sanitiser, gloves and masks to use should they choose to do so whilst in the hotel, or out and about.

“Having initially approached the lockdown period with a reduced team of 14 employees, we had to re-adapt our strategy and ended up with a team of just four – our Director of Sales and Marketing, Operations Manager, the Executive Chef, and myself. Having such a small team providing such personal attention to our guests was reassuring for them, and really represented that even in the face of adversity, the spirit of genuine hospitality forms the backbone of the culture here at St. James’s.

“Since we reopened, the restaurant and bar have been fully booked, and the surge in demand has not stopped. Now that VAT is being eased, there is growing demand in bookings from overseas, especially from Oct/Nov 2020, making London all the more attractive for that first trip post lockdown. And we will be thrilled to welcome these guests for a quintessential British experience, here in the heart of St. James’s.”

Radha Arora, President, Rosewood Hotels & Resorts

“The past few months have been undeniably difficult and unprecedented times in our industry, but we are thrilled to be reopening our properties globally and resuming operations at the high standards of safety and service that our guests have come to expect. More than usual, our guests are looking for opportunities to enjoy relaxing short and long-term staycation experiences close to home. To accommodate this growing demand and respond as a business, our short-term efforts are focused on the leisure consumer, so we have created robust immersive summer programming – from family-friendly to wellness-focused packages and value-adding elements.

“Several of our properties have adapted to the “new normal” by reimagining traditional dining and entertainment experiences with a creative flair. For example, at Rosewood Miramar Beach, dining experiences now include picnic baskets delivered to the location of the guests’ choosing. In tandem with our re-openings, we’ve introduced offerings designed to cater to the evolving needs of guests whose travel patterns have shifted towards more domestic locations. One of these is an evolution of the typical “staycation” – Summer at Rosewood offers residents a seamless mini-escape where each participating property has curated a collection of authentic activities.

“As part of the brand’s continued path to recovery, we’ve introduced a resilient health and safety scheme, ‘Commitment to Care’. We’re continuing to reopen our properties worldwide with this heightened health and safety protocol as well as offerings that cater to the current climate to ensure our guests are safe and comfortable. We also continue to execute our global growth strategy with 19 properties under development.

“As a brand, we are looking ahead to the coming months as our properties continue to reopen globally. We’re confident that Rosewood Hotels & Resorts will continue its strong recovery, offering safe and engaging stays for guests as travel resumes.”

It is reassuring to see that the market is moving forward in a positive way. Early research suggested that internet searches for “staycations” were more popular than ever before and hotels across the world would do well to focus on their respective domestic markets for a speedy recovery. This applied not only whilst international travel remained restricted, but is likely to be the case until consumers feel fully confident to travel abroad for holidays. The financial concerns and pressures that many households have experienced during the pandemic means that holidaying domestically without the travel cost is starting to look like an increasingly popular option.

The slow and hopefully continued easing of lockdown restrictions in the UK and in many other countries signals a move into the next phase of recovery. Hoteliers are deciding on the right time for them to reopen and start implementing their strategies to salvage what is left of the unforgettable start to the new decade and steer into what will hopefully be a more healthy and positive 2021.

For any questions or queries, please contact Simon Ewing [email protected]
or Ruby Dalal [email protected]

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