November 10, 2020

GX Spotlight: How a Family-Owned and Operated Hotel Is Handling the Crisis

Written by HFTP Publications
Hostellerie La Cheneaudière & Spa, known for their luxurious service, welcomes guests who come to enjoy their spa and wellness offerings and to simply get away from it all.

This feature was originally published on the GX Spotlight website.

The need to unplug and relax has certainly taken on new meaning since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world, even in this little corner of France.

We spoke with Nicolas Decker, Owner and Manager of La Cheneaudière about his experience learning from and adapting to the pandemic and how they’ve come out ahead while helping Relais Chateaux develop their COVID-19 response guide.

OK, let’s start by you telling us a little about your hotel.

La Cheneaudière is located in the village of Colroy-la-Roche of 500 people in Alsace, 45 minutes from Strasburg. We’re at an altitude of 500 meters and are completely tucked away in nature with 360 degrees of forest. It’s very green and peaceful, cleansing.

My grandfather built La Cheneaudière in 1974. We’ve been a part of Relais Chateaux since 1975– 45 years. Unfortunately, the hotel ran into some problems in 2000-2001. I came into the picture in 2004. My Grandfather wanted to sell the hotel but I couldn’t let someone else come in and take it, so I bought the hotel from him in order to save it. Since then, it has changed quite a lot. We now have 90 people working here, 38 rooms open year-round. We have a restaurant and a spa, for which we are known.

The spa experience is key for us. People come from all over for this experience and I’m proud to say we’ve received many prizes like Best in Europe and Best in the World. So we work a lot on this experience. When you are with us you disconnect and refresh. It’s a natural, calming guest experience.

What has the impact of COVID been on your business?

We had to close for three months per the law in France. The reopening date was on June 12. On social media we announced that we would reopen and the response was completely crazy. Phones were ringing off the hook and we received hundreds of emails. When we reopened we were fully booked with a waiting list. And since we reopened, we have made the best July and August yet. It’s amazing. In August we had 99% occupancy. We lost money during those three months we were closed so we are not out of the woods yet, but we hope we can continue to swing back.

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Tell us about the COVID-19 guide you developed with Relais Chateaux.

During those three months, I worked with Relais Chateaux to write a guide for reopening protocol for COVID-19. I have been really involved in this area. The guide turned out to be 88-pages so it is very detailed. Every hotel in the group received this guide before reopening in their local language and with localized rules.

First, there was the legal part that had to be addressed but also the experiential part. How can you respect the rules and keep the guest experience comfortable? For example, if your lobby is small and you have a lot of guests checking in, you could mark the floor to create space but why not suggest another area where guests can wait to check in more comfortably? Each hotel does it their own way but we wanted to support our members in these difficult times.

How did they receive the book?

They were very happy. They sometimes felt alone in all this so they felt supported to get this guidance. In Relais Chateaux, some are very large hotels and some are very small and either way we were able to offer guidance and information that could help them.

What was a challenge in implementing this strategy?

The biggest challenge – Normally, I don’t have doubts about the performance of the hotel but I have to say that in the 16 years I’ve been here, it’s the first time I’ve feared a reopening. I was sure guests wanted to come back but not sure if they wanted to come back to a different experience. Perhaps they would say three to four months before visiting us when they normally would. When we reopened on June 12 I was crying with joy when the first guest arrived at the front desk because it meant our guests would return.

As the owner you have doubts and you can’t always share them with the staff but sometimes they ask questions that are hard to answer. So there were a lot of emotions for all of us, and it took effort sometimes to keep a positive attitude.

Everyone on our team received one-hundred percent of their salary while we were closed for those three months– for 90 people. So a lot was riding on the reopening but we had to protect our people and keep the family spirit in the house. And I have to say this was key for managing our team.

And a success?

We were directly fully booked. We had a waiting list immediately. It was amazing. I had to ask the reception team to come back early because the phone was ringing non-stop.

How has technology helped you during these COVID times?

We have an app called LoungeUp. We had this app before COVID, but during the three months we worked a lot with the app so that when we decided to reopen, we would be ready. Guests could find all the menus for every offering and service so we could avoid giving out printed menus. We could send guests before their arrival reminders and all the new protocols for COVID. We also use the app for free newspapers and magazines for guests. Another thing we use it for is, if someone has canceled a spa treatment, we can notify other guests that there is an opening and fill it within minutes.

We also use this app for our team with a special login, they can find info about our company, other team members, a blog, and questions and answers. LoungeUp has taken a new role with this Coronavirus and it’s become very key in our work.

Coronavirus has been very difficult for many things but it has helped guests adjust to not expecting paper items.

Ultimately, not so much has changed, really. We wear masks but guests can see we are smiling behind the masks. Maybe we have to speak up a little louder. Guests seem to be happy to spend time here and forget their problems. Our guests are respecting the rules so we don’t have to constantly remind them. They know we are doing this to protect them so they are happy.

How do you think COVID will impact your business in the future?

We are in this little village and our guests are 70-75 percent French, so I don’t think it will impact us as much as other places. We will keep some new ideas and practices that we’ve learned just in case. But city hotels with international clients, I can imagine might have a longer or harder time.

So far, what we’ve been doing seems to be working. I think business will continue to be good. In September we had increases of 20 percent and October looks to be the same. All that I see tells me that we will still be good in the next few months. We cannot be sure, but the information looks positive.

Nicolas Decker is the third generation owner and operator of Hostellerie La Cheneaudière & Spa, welcoming guests to their beautiful corner of eastern France.


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