Lessons of Resilience: How the Pandemic Changed Hospitality

As the hospitality industry continues to recover from the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, hospitality leaders recognize that there is a massive opportunity to change the industry for the better.

On Oct. 19, Johnson & Wales University’s College of Hospitality Management held its annual Hospitality Summit, gathering power players from across the industry to discuss these opportunities through the lens of “Rediscovering Resilience.”

“The onus is on [the hotel industry] to try new things.”

One panel gathered five industry leaders to discuss the lessons they learned from the pandemic, and what they see for the future. The panelists were:

  • Larry Foster '16, manager, franchise sales & development for the midwest and southeast regions, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, Inc.
  • Rodahl Leong-Lyons, associate vice president, global sales and events for the Americas, Global Hotel Operational Services
  • Robert Mellwig '97, senior vice president, talent & culture (HR) at Auberge Resorts Collection
  • Kevin Osterhaus, president, Graduate Hotels
  • Scott Somerville '93, president and principal, Renascent Hospitality

“It’s a war,” Mellwig said. “If we don’t start getting creative as an industry … it’s going to be hard for us.”

Here’s a look at three ways the COVID-19 pandemic changed the hospitality landscape, and a look at what the future might hold.

Optimizing the Guest Experience

Innovation is the focal point of pandemic recovery, the panelists agreed.

Today’s traveler often has different priorities than their former counterparts, Osterhaus said, and it’s important to adapt accordingly. Hotels should take inspiration from other industries to offer a smoother guest experience, removing friction and making it easier for guests to get what they want or need.

“I don’t know why it’s taking the hotel industry so long,” he said. “The onus is on us to try new things.”

One example: room phones. Guests usually must call the front desk to order room service, request new towels or submit other requests. In a time when texting is ubiquitous, guests should be able to send a message from their smartphone and eliminate the need for calls entirely, Osterhaus suggested.

Related Reading: Surviving the Supply Chain Crisis

Changing Employment Trends

The pandemic caused a massive change in the labor market, from changed priorities to the way people think about work at all.

To retain and incentivize quality workers, employers need to reconsider what benefits they offer and how they do business, Mellwig said.

The rise of the gig economy and the prevalence of side hustles led to many people thinking of work through an on-demand lens. Employers need to be creative and meet these expectations, which could mean offering pay on a more frequent — even same-day — scale, to allowing employees to choose shifts and schedules that work for them. Along the same lines, employers should consider customization, Robert said, such as letting employees build their own benefits packages based on what matters most to them.

Employers should show mutual respect to prospective employees by respecting their time and effort, Leong-Lyons added. Rather than making a candidate wait weeks or even months before hearing back about a hiring decision, hiring managers need to stay in contact, she said, and speed up the process wherever possible.

Types of Travel

Before the pandemic, business travel made up a large portion of the hospitality industry. With the rise of video platforms, telecommuting and virtual conferences, many employers are less inclined to send workers for in-person visits. When corporate travel does happen, it’s often on very short notice, Mellwig said.

As more people shift to remote work, hotels have a unique opportunity to offer high quality experiences to visitors, Osterhaus said. By offering “creative working spaces” within their facilities, Graduate Hotels have started tapping into a new market of co-working spaces, he said.