Transparency, Communication Will Be Key to Recovery

BOCA RATON, FL—In a recent webinar, travel experts discussed tourism and hospitality trends and forecasts in the wake of COVID-19. Moderated by Bruce Himelstein, former CMO, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, Loews Hotels and principal of The BJH Group, the event, held here at Boca Raton Resort & Club, A Waldorf Astoria Resort, featured Roger Dow, president/CEO of the U.S. Travel Association; John Tolbert, president/managing director, Boca Raton Resort & Club, A Waldorf Astoria Resort; and Jorge Pesquera, president/CEO, Discover The Palm Beaches.

Throughout the conversation, there was one recurring theme: Transparency and communication are key to the recovery.

Pesquera noted that destination-marketing organizations have had to pivot in a big way. “We shifted to more of a message of empathy and trust—trusted and transparent information about what’s going on in the marketplace,” he said. “That’s the thing that destination organizations have to do: become the trusted, transparent source of information for the hospitality communities they serve because we are the aggregators and marketers of all of that information. We came right out of the gate doing a seminar with the director of the health department of Palm Beach County to come out with early facts about the virus. We did a webinar showing trends in the market, always delivering a message of hope, a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Dow noted that current research shows that 70% of people say they’re ready to travel as soon as possible, but how quick that recovery comes will depend on a lot of institutions working together. “When it’s right to travel, people are going to need a signal not only from our community in travel and tourism, but from the government and the health folks,” he said. “We’ve done a lot of research that says that if just the hotel and lodging industry says it’s good to travel, maybe 25% will do so. If the government says it, another 20%, but if it’s government, health systems and the travel industry talking about what they’re doing together, it goes up to 60-70%. We’ve got to be in this together and restore confidence that these are the best places to be.”

“Over the short and mid term, we’re going to have to do everything we can to bring trust and confidence that people can travel safely,” Pesquera added. “A lot of smart people are figuring out how to reconfigure ballrooms and casino operations and all sorts of things so we can meet that need for confidence in the product.”

“We’ve engaged doctors, organizational behavior specialists and the top leaders in catering and events,” Tolbert added. “This is an incredibly philanthropic destination, and all of the charities were getting ready to go into the fall with those seasons. How are they looking at those events? Buffets are going to be reimagined.”

When it comes to meetings and events, Pesquera said, “There’s going to be the need for a lot more communication between meeting planners and destination services people and the convention services people. The logistics will become so much more complex. There’s going to be an increased level of planning involved.”

For his part, Tolbert said coming up with a plan for the hotel is paramount. “We’ve got to get the safety components, the protocols, all of the steps of service, and then we lead in the luxury level and the club level to accentuate those and create true points of difference to give the club member, the team member and the customer confidence in the protocols in place,” he said. “Then they can be comfortable to come back to sanctuaries. Those will all come naturally because these are the types of environments people want to be comfortable with: lakes, waters and oceans. It’s us coming together as a community and leadership, sharing best practices.”

Dow highlighted the idea of sharing best practices and doing things together as an industry. “This shouldn’t be one of those things where my hotel is cleaner than your hotel, or my hotel is safer than your hotel,” he said. “I think we’ve got to have a set of industry standards on cleanliness, health standards, and we’ll learn from each other. When you get on a plane, you don’t get a different speech about seatbelts or masks; you get the same speech from every flight, whether it’s American Airlines, JetBlue or Southwest. That’s the best thing we can do as an industry: Come together with a set of standards that we put together with health experts because we should control our own destiny, rather than the destiny controlled by someone else.”