The tourism industry is hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic given the fact that it is a people driven industry in which contact is inherently inevitable. The tourism industry is deeply suffering and will continue to grapple with the negative unprecedented impacts of the novel Coronavirus. It is without doubt and certain that the tourism industry is experiencing a meltdown as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The tourism industry is made up of several sectors such as accommodation, transportation, food and beverages, entertainment, arts and sports, events and conferences, attractions, adventure and recreation. Every sector of the tourism industry is reeling under the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. This instalment focuses on tourism recovery strategies for the accommodation sector. The accommodation sector consists of the following; hotels, lodges, campsites, hostels, guesthouses, houseboats, homestay units, to mention these major ones.
The accommodation sector is the most visible and dominating sector of the tourism industry such that when one hears about tourism, what comes in one’s mind are hotels and lodges. The accommodation sector is the most ubiquitous sector of the tourism industry. Given its dominance, the accommodation sector has been the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and is reeling under the unprecedented effects of the Corona Virus, as hotels and lodges were closed and as I write most of them are still closed. Those few that have reopened for business are recording very little business as evidenced by reduced occupancies as well as reduced revenue per available (REVPAR).The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) estimates paint a bleak future for the tourism industry. The WTTC estimates that over 50 million jobs could be lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Thus, recovery of the accommodation sector among other tourism industry sectors remains a key and first priority. Therefore, there is need to create and come up with recovery strategies as this is important in building a foundation to lessen the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the accommodation sector.
Below are some of the possible recovery strategies for the accommodation sector during and after the COVID-19 pandemic;
· The most important thing to do by the accommodation sector is to admit and accept that COVID-19 has disrupted the business operating environment, such that some old ways of doing business are no longer possible and no longer useful.
· Related to the point above is to accept and embrace the new operating environment thrust upon the industry by the COVID-19 pandemic. New ways of doing things need to be created and adopted for the sector to survive, recover and be able to experience a strong comeback. Simply put, the accommodation sector needs to accept change. The new operating environment thrust upon the industry by the COVID-19 pandemic, has also great opportunities for the sector. This has to be accepted and embraced given that the Coronavirus, may be with us for an indefinite period.
· Related to the point above is the fact that the accommodation sector needs to learn to operate amidst the presence of the virus. The accommodation sector needs to learn to live with the virus. Just as the industry has managed to operate and live with other pandemics such as HIV/AIDS.
· There is need to put first the health and safety of employees and staff by implementing all the preventive measures such as mandatory screening and testing, provision of PPEs, enforcing social distancing rules in all operations as well as positively showing care for the infected to build a strong foundation for strong deep social capital characterized by strong mutually beneficial relationships for the good of the sector.
· Given that revenue sources have been eroded and disrupted by COVID-19 pandemic, it is important for the accommodation sector to thriftily manage the available cash resources by reducing operating costs by all means possible; for those with capital projects such as building additional facilities, it is important to suspend the projects for now and focus on survival. The best under the current environment is to focus on survival.
· Hotels and lodges can be turned into semi hospital facilities by setting aside rooms for COVID-19 patients. These facilities can be used as self-isolation centres where isolation, treatment and recovery can be administered with consultation with the health authorities.
· The accommodation sector can also turn their hotels and lodges into quarantine centres for returnees from other countries in consultation and collaboration with government health authorities for a fee. They may be able to achieve 100% occupancy given the influx of returnees who need to be quarantined as a preventive measure against the spread of the Coronavirus.
· The accommodation sector marketing activities and efforts during this COVID-19 pandemic is a make or break for the sector. The sector should take advantage of the internet marketing platforms such as websites, Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp to remain connected to their markets thus building and strengthening profitable long term relationships. Remain visible online and tap into all the opportunities provided by technology to effectively communicate with your market
· The accommodation sector needs to strengthen their relationships with their inputs suppliers of all the critical raw materials used in the service delivery chain to ensure that all necessary inputs and raw materials are available whenever they are required to ensure a seamless service to valued clients.
· The accommodation sector should devise customer retention strategies such as offering discounts, offer flexible payment terms, among other tactics to ensure survival and recovery.
· The accommodation sector needs to plan. Crisis times require crisis management and planning. Failing to plan is planning to fail. Thus recovery can be built on a foundation of good planning. Every day, every week, every month there is need to engage in business planning such that a business operations dashboard can be developed, implemented, monitored, evaluated on a continuous basis for the good of the enterprise.
· Given, that COVID-19 pandemic mitigatory measures discourage group travel, it means that workshops, seminars, conferences and most forms of group travel business will take long to recover. This means the accommodation sector should also target free independent individual travelers and family travel market to eke a decent level of occupancy and business revenue.
· The accommodation sector needs to work hand in glove with the COVID-19 rapid response taskforce team such that when either guests or staff develop signs and symptoms of the Coronavirus, whilst staying at a facility, emergency help can be obtained as and when is required including all the necessary facility sanitization that may be required to keep the hotels and lodges safe.
· When hosting a group conference, the accommodation facilities should enforce social distancing rules, putting of face masks and provision of hand washing equipment in the conference rooms for the health and safety of guests.
· Guests should mandatorily stay in single rooms and their rooms should be attended to by staff with full personal protective equipment such as overalls, face masks, gloves and the necessary gumboots during cleaning and bed making.
· In terms of food provision within hotel and lodge restaurants, it is more preferable to use self-catering. Moreover, food service systems can be improved to incorporate social distancing rules, tables within restaurants can be rearranged to meet social distancing rules and requirements, including all safety measures that can be implemented to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
· Given that international travel will remain closed for some time, it is prudent for the accommodation sector to target and unlock the value of the domestic market through various such as affordable pricing, flexible payment options, creating appealing health oriented domestic travel packages among other strategies.
· The accommodation sector should put its people first; that is, it should strive to keep all critical staff by all possible means necessary, given the fact that competitiveness is dependent upon the workforce. Therefore, the accommodation sector can keep its workforce by implementing some of the following; introduce flexible working patterns, send staff on leave instead of terminating their contracts, introduce two weeks in two weeks out work program to reduce work hours in line with depressed business, retrain staff to equip them with multi skills such that they can be able to work in more than one department.
· Tourism accommodation operators should make efforts to utilize and take advantage of the available Tourism Revolving Fund of ZWL $500 million that was availed by the Government to finance their recovery.
· The accommodation sector must use open, truthful and transparent communication as the lifeblood to successful tourism recovery. Effective communication is key
· Hotel and lodges staff must be trained and be equipped with requisite customer care skills that are compliant with COVID-19 pandemic preventive provisions to ensure that quality service is given to guests in a way that promotes the health and safety of guests.
· The accommodation sector can even explore some innovative ways such as allowing and encouraging to bring their own linen (blankets and sheets) such that guests can have the assurance that their health is safe as they will have an opportunity to use their own trusted linen during the entire stay.
· The accommodation sector can seize the opportunity presented by the COVID-19 pandemic to build a good public image by engaging in corporate social responsibility programs through making donations of PPEs to the community.
· The accommodation sector needs to remodel and reengineer its standard operating procedures on its housekeeping sections to ensure complete prevention of the spread of the Coronavirus to guests and staff as well as the community.
· As they say great setbacks give birth to great comebacks; this COVID-19 pandemic presents an opportunity for the tourism industry’s accommodation sector a unique opportunity to be innovative and come up with new better business models that can usher the industry into a period of sustained growth and development.
In conclusion, the accommodation sector needs to accept and embrace the new business environment thrust upon it by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is important to accept the new normal and implement some of the strategies outlined in this installment to ensure survival and recovery from the deadly unprecedented impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Phanos Matura is a Tourism Lecturer at Great Zimbabwe University’s School of Hospitality, Tourism and Culture in Masvingo. He is the chairman of Masvingo Great Zimbabwe Publicity Association. He is a Tourism Consultant based in Masvingo City. He can be contacted on 0716350675 or [email protected]