Shifting the Hospitality Service Paradigm in Difficult Times

During the current coronavirus pandemic, some hospitality professionals believe they can make a difference by appealing to a higher level of need.

A few years ago, Marriott had a commercial link with a storyline about an elderly lady who stayed in a Marriott hotel because she just lost her house during a mountain fire and needed time to reflect and think about her future. In the video, this lady described the friendship and support she received from the hotel employees. I used this video several times in my marketing courses because of how it appeals to a higher level of human needs (Maslow).  

How does it work?  Instead of emphasizing product features or benefits, this video attempts to show an example that Marriott contributes to their host communities by taking care of vulnerable locals.  Hence, if a customer wants to support their local community, in addition to his or her own time and financial help, supporting Marriott’s local efforts could be an alternative. In other words, customers wanting to make a difference to make the society a better place can support Marriott.  Marriott becomes the vehicle for customers to support the community and to satisfy their higher level of needs.   

The recent coronavirus pandemic has been compared to a ‘war’ by many world leaders.  Most hotels and restaurants have been closed, and many may not open again after the crisis is over. With these closings come higher unemployment. Some of these hospitality talents may not return to the industry. 

Those who are making a difference

Many hotel and restaurant professionals are taking creative and community-minded steps to find a way of helping during these stressful times. Take ElSalad, a small restaurant chain founded by EHL alumni for example.  Elsalad initiated a ”Hospital Heros Gotta Eat” campaign on March 17thon Facebook and asked their customers to donate money. Elsalad used the donations to make delicious salads and wraps to be delivered to Hospitaux Universitaires Geneva for the medical staff.  The campaign was well received and ElSalad is still running the campaign.   

Similarly, Nero’s Pizza, a pizza truck founded by EHL alumni initiated the “Donate: Hospitaux Universitaires Geneva Pizza Party” campaign and encourages their customers to crowdfund a weekly pizza party at the Hospitaux Universitaires Geneva to show appreciation to the medical staff. 

Bigger players have also contributed their efforts. Four Seasons New York took the lead by offering a free place to stay for medical personnel, and has been joined by other hotels such as Room Mate Grace and Wythe.  In London, Hotel Football and The Stock Exchange are also providing free stays for the medical personnel. While OYO Hotels & Homes with 300-plus properties in the United States are offering free rooms to medical first respondents, AirB&B is offering either free or subsidized housing at more than 100,000 places

Other hotels are working with local officials to convert their hotel rooms into negative pressure rooms or for use in hosting medical personnel, first respondents, or the homeless.  For example, Intercontinental Hotel Group has signed an agreement with the London government and offered rooms to host homeless people at a significantly discounted rate. CNN also reports Best Western, Travelodge and Hilton are in talks with the National Health Service in the UK to gauge the viability of transforming some hotel rooms into wards, while Accor has opened hotels in France for nursing staff and the vulnerable population. The media has reported similar discussions or agreements between hotels and local governments in Philadelphia and California.  

Airlines such as Lufthansa and JetBlue are working with the governments to transport medical staff or essential supplies. 

Who needs your products and service?

The above examples provide a picture of how the hospitality and tourism industry can actively contribute to easing some of the pain associated with the current crisis. It is true that the travel and tourism industry has been hit very hard and many of its current or recently past employees are struggling with paying rents and bringing food to the table for their families. Yet, the industry can actively evaluate new opportunities on how to contribute. To start, please think about who needs your products and services during these crises? Governments and not-for-profit organizations need places to host people suffering from domestic violence, to host the homeless, to set up testing centers, etc. Hospitals need rooms to save medical staff and employees from long commutes and to help prevent these frontline employees from taking home the virus to loved ones. Hospitals also need to provide accommodation for medical staff from other cities and states (e.g. more than 20,000 medical professionals have moved to New York City to help) and to provide employees with parking spaces as some public transportation services have been reduced.  NGOs are feeding school children who no longer get school meals and helping people with limited mobility with daily chores (grocery shopping and laundry, etc.). The coronavirus and the responding quarantines have suddenly created enormous demands for the above services and the existing infrastructure in many cities cannot accommodate these fast-growing demands.  Given the difficult time facing the hospitality industry, I would not expect it to provide free services, however I do hope the industry could think about how addressing new crises-related, service-based demands can lead to new partnerships (governments, non-for-profit organizations, charities, medical institutions, etc.) that could provide current or future revenues while identifying opportunities on how to contribute.  Some of the above-mentioned organizations have the budget to pay for these services.  

Where to start?  

Cloudbeds, Sabre, Marriott and RateGain have set up hospitalityhelps, a platform where governments request rooms and hoteliers provide them. Skift reported Hotels for Helpers in Netherlands and Rooms Against Covid in Portugal to offer either free or discounted rooms for healthcare workers. The American Hotel & Lodging Association launched the Hospitality for Help initiative to connect hotels with local healthcare providers and governments.  

The challenges associated with the coronavirus could fundamentally help to shift the hospitality service paradigm. What was taken for granted could become obsolete. What will become the new common practices may include a greater emphasis on access to public health, greater solidarity, working towards common interests with individuals sacrificing their freedom of movement (quarantine) and privacy (mobile data used to track mobility). Given these values, focusing on profit may be expanded by an increased focus on corporate social responsibilities. Appealing to customers’ higher level of needs could be seen as expected common business practices after the crisis.  

 

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Dr Meng-Mei Maggie Chen
About the author

Meng-Mei Maggie Chen (Ph.D., University of Surrey) is an Assistant Professor of Marketing at Ecole hotelière de Lausanne (EHL), Switzerland.

She has actively engaged in various tourism sectors, ranging from hotels, casinos, travel agencies, and consulting. She has worked in Taiwan, the U.S., Puerto Rico, and Switzerland. She leverages her cross cultural sense and sensitivity in her work and research.

Her research includes hotel channel management, distribution channel marketing, customer decision making process, and consumer behavior. Recently, she completed a Swiss governmental agency research project which focuses on optimizing channel management for SME hotels in Switzerland.