As the outbreak of the Coronavirus sweeps across the globe it is uncertain times for many of the world’s biggest industries. None more so than the hospitality industry. As governments worldwide are restricting travel and advising social distancing, going on holiday is the last thing on consumer’s minds. Hotel chains are therefore having to manoeuvre through a very uncertain time.
A time that requires them to be extra vigilant when it comes to the cleaning and sanitization of their properties, dealing with cancellations and in many cases limited or no guests in hotels, and also an uncertain time when it comes to the economic effects that this crisis is going to have. With that in mind, we talk to Stefan Leser, CEO of Langham Hospitality Group on what can be done to navigate this crisis and the outlook for the industry when the battle is over.
As a hotel chain, what is Langham Hospitality Group doing at present to support the fight against COVID-19?
Our key priority at present is to provide support to all of our colleagues, guests and all the communities we are operating in to overcome the COVID-19 crisis. I also want to emphasise that we can never be over-prepared when it comes to managing a crisis, so one of my key responsibilities is to ensure all our teams in the hotels are all equipped and prepared in managing the current and future situation.
I am also really proud of our colleagues who are all coming together to do their part in showing their care for the community. Our China hotels who were hit with the crisis first also led the way in their community efforts, which included preparation of lunch boxes with messages of encouragement and gratitude for the medical workers working hard to fight the virus.
What are the main focuses of the chain in regards to this issue?
Our main focus is the health and safety of our guests and colleagues and to support the communities. We are taking every necessary precautionary process based on the expert advice of the World Health Organization, local governments, public health authorities and medical professionals to ensure we play our part in stopping the transmission of this virus.
We know that once people are ready to travel again, our hotels will be ready to welcome guests and show them the same unforgettable experience they are accustomed to when they stay with us.
The restrictions vary from country to country how are you managing this within the chain’s properties?
The COVID-19 pandemic requires concerted efforts on local, regional and international levels to ensure a clean and safe environment for our guests and colleagues. We will continue to respond and adopt the necessary precautionary processes based on the expert advice of governments, public health authorities and medical professionals. My team at head office have great international experience and together with our teams on the ground, we can manage evolving travel restrictions, government requirements and operational changes swiftly and efficiently.
What advice would you give to guests who are worried or concerned about visiting the hotels?
Understandably, people are worried about travelling until the crisis is over and the health and safety of our customers and colleagues is, and always has been our highest priority. To ease the concerns and provide a sense of security for guests travelling to our hotels, Langham Hospitality Group continues to remain vigilant and we have implemented rigorous measures against the spread of the coronavirus at The Langham and Cordis hotels around the world.
We have reinforced strict precautionary measures including conducting temperature readings for all colleagues, hotel suppliers, and contractors upon arrival at the hotel and frequent disinfection of all areas of the properties. The increased cleaning and sanitizing regimen throughout the entire hotel includes all rooms, public spaces, back of house areas and especially, the front desk, elevators, elevator buttons and room keys.
We are also regularly educating our colleagues and guests to observe good hygiene practices. Additional preventive actions we have taken amongst our colleagues to help avert the spread of COVID-19 include: washing hands thoroughly with soap and water or with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, maintain social distancing, staying home if feeling unwell, and avoiding close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing.
We will continue to respond and adopt the necessary precautionary processes based on the expert advice of the World Health Organization, local governments, public health authorities and medical professionals to ensure we play our part in stopping the transmission of this virus for the safety of our colleagues and guests.
What is Langham doing to assist guests who do want to cancel or postpone their stays?
To assist guests whose travel may be impacted, we are waiving cancellation fees for all individual stays booked directly until May, 31, 2020 (which is subjected to change depending on the situation).
What about upcoming hotels that are in progress – has the outbreak affected the development of these?
Due to the virus, the opening of new hotels will definitely be impacted.
Looking forward, how can the hotel industry bounce back from this crisis?
The hospitality (and travel) industry will positively manage through today’s challenging environment just as we have steered through difficult events in the past. To me, what is more important and remarkable is the immensely resilient spirit, determination and talent demonstrated by the entire hospitality industry. Despite one of the most difficult periods experienced, we have all seen the outpour of care and concern for each other, guests, colleagues and the communities we operate in. I have never been more proud of the industry I am in and I am confident once the crisis is over, people will be eager to travel again.
What will Langham Hospitality Group look to do in the second half of the year to counterbalance the potential loss from Coronavirus?
I think the most important thing to do is to work together to ensure everyone is healthy and to ensure the environment is safe to travel again.
As a business how can you support your staff?
We are doing all we can to support our colleagues to ensure they and their families stay healthy and safe. We are using this time to also conduct training.
With regards to the Far East, how have you seen the crisis pan out there?
From the tumultuous time in January 2020 when this global pandemic grew exponentially in Asia, our 13 hotels in China and Hong Kong have responded swiftly and systematically with each rapidly escalating development. Our hotels in the region were laser-focused on ensuring the safety and health of our guests and colleagues, and this was evident in the many preventive and detection measures put in place to stop the spread of the virus.
In China, our hotels have undergone an extraordinarily difficult period which saw not only the hotels’ occupancies plunge to near- zero levels, operate on skeleton crews as most of the colleagues were unable to travel due to the transport bans, and in some cases, manage the complete closure of several of our properties for a few weeks. We are starting to see some glimmer of relief, and our hotels in that region are now working towards a recovery plan for the rest of the year.
Would you say this is the biggest challenge you have faced in your hotel career?
This is definitely unprecedented and the most challenging time (not just myself) anyone has faced in the hospitality industry.
What would you like to see happen within the industry when the outbreak is over?
We as an industry have been through and learnt a lot from this crisis but I have no doubt the industry will be back in gear to welcome people and show them a good time when they are ready to start travelling again.
What message would you like to give to guests and potential guests of Langham Hospitality Group’s hotels?
I am very encouraged by the immensely resilient spirit, determination and talent demonstrated by our colleagues care and concern for each other, our guests, and the communities in which we operate. With everyone working together, I firmly believe that our hotels and group are in very good hands and we look forward to welcoming all our guests back to our hotels when this is all over and give them the same unforgettable experience we are known for.
What is the motto that you are living by during this period?
Take good care of each other, stay positive and keep moving forward. Together, we will emerge from this turbulent period stronger.