For Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, it was paramount that the hospitality company adapt quickly and strategically to the needs of an uncertain market, in order to be among the first companies leading the way when travel returns.
“This is an absolutely unprecedented time, not just for our industry, but for humanity,” Lisa Checchio, EVP and chief marketing officer of Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, told Travel Market Report. “I think that in this environment [travelers] are looking for a sense of support amid the uncertainty, and we are trying to come through with a very clear message; our guests and our franchisees can count on us to help them through this time.”
‘Count on Us’ initiative
Wyndham, which owns brands like Days Inn, Super 8, and La Quinta, recently introduced the ‘Count on Us’ initiative, a new long-term, multi-faceted plan to provide enhanced health and safety measures across its more than 6,000 U.S. hotels.
The initiative, which is slated to begin rolling out in the coming weeks, will include enhanced cleaning and disinfection of guestrooms and public spaces, face masks for hotel team members, hand sanitizer in public areas and guestrooms, and disinfectant wipes for guests.
Wyndham will develop a series of industry best practices and standards focusing on enhanced hotel cleaning practices, social interactions, and workplace protocols.
The company will also be taking steps to ensure guests and hotel team members can visibly see these efforts. Checchio said that while Wyndham always had very high cleaning standards, having these measures out in the open will help to reassure guests that their hotels are safe.
“Our guest will have those visual cues, and know that this is a safe space. That will help to show them that we are thinking about their safety.”
One of the core tenants of the ‘Count on Us’ initiative is getting the right kind of supplies into the hands of the franchisees. “Wyndham is the largest hotel franchise company in the world, so it was very critical for us that in thinking of our recovery effort, we think about the franchisee first. Because we know that if we can take care of our owners and our hotels, they will in turn take care of our guests.”
To that end, Wyndham will be shipping some of these very hard to source supplies, such as face masks, hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes, ensuring their nearly 6,000 open hotels within the U.S. have all the tools they need to meet these new standards.
New health and safety policies
In addition to getting the necessary supplies to each of its hotels, Wyndham is also focusing on its immediate health and safety policies. In the short-term, all of Wyndham’s hotels are adhering to local and state guidelines regarding requiring face masks in public spaces.
“We are tracking this very closely, municipality by municipality, state by state, in terms of what the local requirements are,” Checchio said.
Wyndham has also been very mindful of encouraging social distancing within their hotels, Checchio said, adding signage throughout hotels to encourage social distancing. “We’ve also been very mindful of breakfast areas, pools, and anywhere that would allow for [large congregations], we’ve instituted policies to ensure that they’re safe.”
Checchio said the company has also implemented new mandatory training for all front-line employees to ensure they understand the measures that we’ve put into place.
Building customer confidence
“We have also changed a number of our travel cancellation and change policies, and flexibility on group bookings, as a way to provide customers with a sense of confidence in their bookings,” Checchio said.
Under the policy change, new or existing direct bookings for stays in any Wyndham hotel through May 31, will have their cancellation or change penalties waived at least 24 hours prior to arrival.
Wyndham is also shifting its approach to retail marketing to be more topical to the current environment by leveraging social media channels. “We’re creating a new type of destination for [travelers] where they can come and share travel experiences they’ve had in the past,” as a means of enflaming people’s wanderlust.
And while many companies throughout the travel industry have been forced to lay-off or furlough their workforce, Wyndham kept its global sales team intact to serve as a resource in these turbulent times.
“Our entire global sales team has remained working full-time through the pandemic, and they’ve been doing active outreach to our clients and accounts, and have been on-hand to help our clients navigate this new world,” said Checchio. “There is a lot of uncertainty and a lot of questions, and we want travel agents and travel managers to know that they can also count on us to help them navigate [it all].”
In terms of their future development, Checchio said that some of the hotels were not opening as quickly as they’d hoped, while construction on others were being put on hold, in light of the pandemic. However, the situation also presented the company with an opportunity to reach out to independent hotel companies and bring them into the fold.
“We do see a big opportunity to ignite our conversion engine,” said Checchio. “We see that there are close to 15,000 independent hotels in the U.S. and we have an opportunity to bring those hotels into our portfolio.”
Converting independent hotels to brands has always been an important part of Wyndham's consistent growth, but more than that, Checchio said that welcoming independent hotels into the company’s fold would help those hotels, especially in times of uncertainty like these, from accessing key cost saving initiatives, to providing necessary supplies, and equipment to enable them to run their hotel safely.
“Strong brands like ours can help [hotel] owners. When people think about the importance of feeling safe while traveling, they go with a brand that they know. That brand-recognition can really help these independent hotels.”
While it is difficult to predict how and when the industry will recover, Checchio believes Wyndham is well positioned to be among the first to start welcoming guests when travel returns. This confidence is bolstered by the recent influx of new and returning bookings Wyndham has seen over the last few weeks.
“We’re seeing very early signs of recovery in markets like the U.S. and China. Over the last couple of weeks we’ve seen positive trends where occupancy levels are climbing, and in China over 85% of our hotels are open and welcoming guests,” said Checchio.
“Little-by-little we’re seeing business come back, and we know that our business is resilient. We’re asset-light, we’re a select service business and we have hotels where people want to stay. A majority of our hotels are in drive-to markets, and all indications are showing that the first segment of travel to return will be leisure destinations [within driving distance], so we find ourselves very well-positioned to welcome those guests.
“We know that people will travel again, and we know that it will look different than it did in the past, but we will be there to welcome them.”