When we closed some Mandarin Oriental hotels in response to COVID-19, the management team created a task force including myself as Group Director of Rooms and Quality and eleven hotel managers.
The objective was to figure out how we would reopen, what would be different, and what would be the same.
To answer these questions, we needed a framework that would investigate the nature of COVID-19 and its impact on colleagues and guests and what we could do to not only manage the situation but also make a meaningful difference. The framework had to be flexible because every hotel would be at a different stage with different government guidelines, yet we needed to maintain a universal approach in protecting colleagues and guests.
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Our first step in this framework was to understand how guests would react. Based on our research we found three main guest types. Most guests would fall into a category of COVID-conscious. This type is sensitive to COVID and wants the right precautions to be taken, but are confident enough to travel. The second group, which is a very small percentage, is made up of the COVID supersensitive guests. They are very concerned about COVID-19, have underlying health conditions, or fall into a higher risk category. The third group is those with COVID fatigue, who do not want to be reminded of COVID-19 and the necessary precautions and in some cases may not even want to adhere to COVID related measures.
Once we had these profiles we needed to train our colleagues to understand the nuances of each profile and address their needs accordingly. This would enable us to handle each situation so that it would result in a personalized solution.
This led us to map out guest and colleague journeys. Each of our three types of guests have different expectations during their stay, from check-in to the cleaning of the room and housekeeping, room service, food and beverage, wellness, and check-out.
An interesting early discovery for our global taskforce was that guest behaviors also varied geographically. Our European guests preferred to have less lengthy interactions with staff and preferred more contactless options through technology whereas, in Asia, guests still wanted the same level of service as pre-COVID, but with masks, social distancing, and other of the safety measures.
Characterizing the guest journey further, we see that most guests are only traveling domestically or regionally due to travel restrictions. We also see that domestic travel is being heavily impacted by the cultural norms of that country in reaction to COVID. We are also looking externally, taking inspiration from other businesses and industries are doing in reaction to guest or customer expectations. Our goal is to understand the new behaviors guests have learned in their COVID experience and not just meet but exceed their expectations.
Fortunately, this customized approach to guest experience aligns with one of our brand pillars, “You are unique.” At Mandarin Oriental, we aim to tune in to each guests’ unique needs and wants. In regards to the COVID task force, our colleagues are all trained to assume a guest is in the “COVID Cautious” main group, however, they adjust actions accordingly as they get to know the guest either during the pre-arrival process or when they are in-house.
After the Guest Journey we designed standard operating procedures and flowcharts. One of our first initiatives was to create a We Care kit for guests and colleagues. These kits include gloves, masks, and disinfectant wipes. Guests can request a kit or, when necessary, our doorman will kindly offer a We Care kit to guests. General tasks had to be adjusted, too. When opening the door for a guest, a staff member now stands back from the door to allow sufficient space. Or if luggage is taken up to their room, we’ll offer to sanitize it.
Usually, we create text documents around our SOPs, but this time we needed a digital solution and visual cues so colleagues could more easily understand and complete the new tasks. To do this, we created SOP cards with icons and images to illustrate our new equipment and practices. These are shared in our Colleague App so all staff members can access them on their own devices as needed.
When our housekeeping staff enters a room to clean it, they have a COVID checklist on our Colleague App. This checklist gives them a clear rundown of how they now need to clean the room to make sure both they and the guest are safe. And there’s the added benefit of the checklist being in the staff member’s native language.
Many of our colleagues have been on furlough or part- time work so in order to keep them involved, our CEO posts a weekly Ask Me Anything video answering staff questions submitted the previous week.
Our Learning & Development department also created a “Better Together” campaign with different educational tools and courses for self-development. Due to regulations many colleagues cannot even open work emails. With this campaign, we would at least be able to help them develop or learn new skills in leadership, psychology, et cetera.
One of my favorite projects was “a podcast day” that our department, Rooms and Quality, created. Each podcast features a different speaker, for example a psychologist talking about stress, a General Manager from one of our newest hotels in Abu Dhabi showing us around the property, or a training session with our PMS, for example. The podcast was also a great way to help some of our colleagues who were often at locations far away from their families as a way to feel included and more together.
These days, regulations and public sentiment change quickly and often, however we are equipped to be agile. Every week our task force meets and hotels share their own guest journey and best practices. As colleagues return to work, we give them a We Care kit which includes “We Care” embroidered cloth masks to match their uniforms, a mask pouch for easy handling, as well a cross-body bag with disinfectant wipes easily accessible. Nevertheless, all of us in the hospitality industry have a lot of uncertainty ahead of us.
How will things look in the future? It’s hard to say, but we’re prepared. To succeed in this fast changing environment, hoteliers need to first and foremost be agile, be able to react quickly and ensure changes are carried out effectively by their front line employees. It is critical that management can engage and motivate their employees on the long road to recovery.
Anja Luthje is founder at Unique Hospitality Solutions, a business performance consultancy company for hospitality vendors, owners and operators. She has more than 30 years of experience in the global hospitality industry. Prior to creating Unique Hospitality Solutions, Luthje held senior management positions with Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, Peninsula Hotel Group and Inter-Continental Hotels Group. Her main areas of expertise are in quality and service, operational technology, pre-opening and improving business performance.
Meet Anja Luthje at Cyber HITEC this October: Luthje will be presenting on the panel for Cyber HITEC's session, "How Women in Hospitality Technology Shape the Industry" on Thursday, October 29. Learn more on the Cyber HITEC website and register to attend today.