Hotels continue to adapt, focus on health and safety

Over a year into the pandemic and amid changing quarantine and alert levels, the Philippine hospitality sector continues to face headwinds.

“Our current view is that the hospitality market may continue to lag behind other asset classes in the short to medium-term,” Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) Philippines head of research and consultancy Janlo de los Reyes said.

Recovery

“The rate of recovery of the sector is largely tied to the vaccine rollout and its impact on global and local tourism, opening of borders, and policy responses by governments. We anticipate recovery to be led by the domestic market, affluent international tourists, and business travelers, with the rest of the leisure and the MICE market to follow after,” he added.

While it still remains uncertain when exactly the sector will recover, hotels across the country continue to strive to adapt to the ever-changing times through innovations and the prioritization of health and safety of both its clients and workers.

“If I would have to summarize very briefly the things that we did innovatively and creatively, I’d say it’s our SafeStay campaign, our Vaxxed and Ready program, and our efforts to go digital and really put some efforts on training our people and some eyes on new market segments that we’ve never touched before,” Megaworld Hotels group general manager Cleofe Albiso said during the Hotel Outlook webinar organized by Santos Knight Frank.

Among the innovations implemented by Megaworld Hotels are an e-concierge program that allows guests to do web check-in and check-out, online ordering of food and beverage, and cashless payments.

These initiatives also give some reassurance to guests on the efforts of the group to continuously create platforms where there is limited person-to-person contact.

“The market segments we are talking about are, of course, the segments that we never used to tap. We admit that we’re actually hosting some of the essential businesses and supporting the national government and the Department of Tourism (DOT) in the quarantine of returning overseas Filipinos (ROFs). We also create business opportunities for hotbox deliveries and food deliveries that we never did before — so many opportunities are being given to our food and beverage departments to be creative in what we can bring to the homes and offices of all our guests,” Albiso said.

Creating confidence

Operations have been erratic with the changing quarantine restrictions in the country as these classifications dictate which part of a hotel will be allowed to operate.

“It’s like a switch being turned on and off depending on the classification that is given to us by the government,” Albiso said, adding that they try to survive by preparing various programs and implementing them when the appropriate quarantine classification is imposed.

“We all have to be creative in making sure that we all survive and operations can be kept afloat despite the pandemic,” Albiso said.

Bruce Winton, Marriott International Multi-Property vice president for the Philippines, said consistency is vital in creating confidence among consumers, in line with efforts to spur the recovery of the hotel sector.

“So the operators and owners are preparing their facilities, preparing their marketing and messaging and all that stuff. It’s all there and we have a great deal of support from DOT to help us prepare for that,” Winton said.

Health and safety

In line with creating confidence among hotel guests or travelers, Albiso said that their group is implementing initiatives that give reassurance to guests on health and safety measures such as the SafeStay and the Vaxxed and Ready programs.

“[Under] The SafeStay program, we’ve been following what the government mandates us to do — keeping an eye on what is allowable by the IATF and about the safety seal and the World Travel and Tourism Council. We’ve all put an effort into that so there’s some reassurance of the cleanliness and sanitation when people stay in our hotels,” Albiso said.

The focus of hotels on health and safety initiatives is in line with the efforts of the DOT to ensure the safe reopening and recovery of the tourism industry.

“On the side of the DOT, of course we’ve also been coordinating very closely with our hotel partners in the preparation of the updated health and safety protocols for our accommodation establishments, so this is one way for us to ensure that we are able to open up and operate in a safe manner,” said Tourism assistant secretary Verna Buensuceso during the webinar.

Buensuceso mentioned the awarding of the WTTC safe travel stamps to hotels that are compliant with global safety standards.

“This is a way for our hotels to be able to come up with the protocols that are aligned with international standards and if you are awarded these safe travel stamps by a global partner like WTTC then it sort of encourages and promotes more visitor confidence because you know that the way that we conduct our business here in Philippines is aligned with global standards,”she added.

Recovery won’t be immediate

As the end of the pandemic remains uncertain, it is still unclear when exactly the hotel sector will bounce back.

“A year ago, we were looking at trying to come back quickly. We were looking at a much quicker return to travel. We’re sitting 17 to 18 months into the pandemic, we’re saying it’s going to be a longer process,” said Bill Barnett, managing director of Thailand-based hospitality consultancy C9 Hotelworks.

“Again, we predict cycles. We’re in the beginning of a new cycle now and when we talk to hotels about the trajectory of recovery, it’s obviously going to take three or four years for broad tourism to come back in these markets,” he added.

Moreover, for Marriot’s Winton, having an optimistic view of the future is what they are currently focused on.

“The future is bright. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and everything that we’ve done will help us as we emerge from this to come back better and stronger, and I think that’s really the key,” he added.

As the National Capital Region (NCR) remains under Alert Level four as of September 30, only accommodation establishments operating as isolation facilities, quarantine hotels are allowed to operate as well as regular hotels that accept long staying guests, returning residents and authorized persons outside residence who require accommodation pursuant to their function.

While multiple-use hotels are allowed to operate, they are not allowed to accept guests for staycation purposes.

Based on the latest guidelines from the DOT, accommodation facilities that have obtained the Certificate of Authority to Operate as Staycation (CAOS) will remain prohibited under Alert Level 4.

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