"Top executives from the biggest hotel companies in the world will have to come together to restore consumer confidence and help restore a level of normalcy to the travel industry," Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, said on a panel discussion last week with leaders from across the hotel industry.
“I think the industry has to do things together. We’ve got to have a set of industry standards on cleanliness and health standards, and we’ll learn from each other,” Dow said.
“Think of when you get on a plane, you get the same safety speech on every single flight, whether it’s American Airlines, JetBlue, or Southwest. The pilots all go through the same checklists. I think that’s the best thing we can do as an industry, come together with a set of standards that we put together with health experts.”
‘What we can do together’
Dow, who is a member of the recovery task force, has called for all of the CEOs in the travel industry, including hotels, airlines, trade show businesses, DMOs, and theme parks, to “talk about what we can do together.”
“When you think about a time when associations are needed most and when we need to come together as an industry, it is at times like right now,” agreed John Tolbert, president and managing director at Boca Raton Resort & Club, A Waldorf Astoria Resort.
Dow was invited to the White House on March 17th with other leaders of hotel companies, to discuss the disproportionate damage that the travel industry is going through with the President, and the Vice President. Dow said that since then, the numbers given “were nothing as bad as they are right now.” They originally estimated a $300 to $400 billion loss, which is now at $519 billion. The meeting helped secure $250 billion for the travel industry: $150 billion for hotels, and $100 billion for the rest of the industry.
“I said, Mr. President, it’s important to get money to the workers and keep the lights on, but we’re going to have to come with a huge promotional campaign afterwards” to get travel back to where it was, Dow said. “The importance of the Convention and Visitors Bureaus are so critically important to bring this back.”
What’s the reopening going to look like?
Tolbert said that to reopen, safety components and protocols need to be implemented to restore confidence so that people will be comfortable to come back, “but it’s really a lot of work, and it’s us coming together as a community, as leadership, and sharing best practices and implementing them to instill that confidence.”
As far as reopening, Dow cautioned there has to be a balance. “I think it’s good to have different states doing different things so we can learn from them,” and is “watching Germany and Denmark very carefully to see what they’re doing,” as they begin to slowly open.
Travelers are going to need a signal not only from our community in travel and tourism, but from the government and health officials, too, Dow said. “We’ve done a lot of research that says if it’s just the hotel and lodging industry that say it’s good to travel, maybe 25% will do so. If the government says it, maybe it’s another 20%, but if it’s government, health and the travel industry talking about what they’re doing together, it goes up to 60-70%. So we’ve got to be in this together and restore confidence.”
Jorge Pesquera, president and CEO of Discover The Palm Beaches, said initially, trips will look like concentric circles from your destination, initially staycations in Palm Beach Country and South Florida will be the main thing that the destination can attract, for those “who have cabin fever and yearning to get out of the house, but feel comfortable being in their car.” Then, Pesquera said, it will eventually grow to trips into the state of Florida, followed by the southeast, and northeast.
“Over the short and mid-term, we’re going to have to do everything we can to bring trust and confidence that we are safe and people can travel safely. There are a lot of smart people that are figuring out how to reconfigure ballrooms and casino operations, so we can meet that need for confidence in the product,” Pesquera said.
New safety measures as hotels reopen
In terms of changes to operations, Tolbert said masks will now be a part of the uniform, and we will look at “how are we separating the tables, golf, tennis, spa - we have to have protocols at every single level to bring that back on as we start phasing back into business.”
The resort has engaged health experts, and top leaders in catering and events, to reimagine its meeting business. Tolbert said buffets are going to change, and may even be removed all together for a period of time.
Pesquera said there will be the need for more communication between the meeting planners, destination services, and convention services. “The logistics will become so much more complex. There’s going to be an increased level of planning, organization, and logistics,” he said.
Dow admitted, “We’re dealing with something we don’t understand, and we’ll be a better industry because of this. I recall after 9/11 people said they would never get on an international flight again, and yet international routes soared. I recall the financial crisis, they said the industry is in bad shape, and yet we had the 10 best years ever. I think it’s going to be different for the first six months to a year, but I’m hopeful we’ll get back to a better place.”