How COVID-19 can stimulate healthier hospitality leadership

Much has already been written about how travel and tourism will be irrevocably changed by the coronavirus pandemic. Optimists and realists alike are focusing on more environmentally friendly ways of reaching our chosen destinations, more sensitive ways of considering local culture and more sustainable, ethical methods of sharing and distributing the financial benefits of tourism.

But what about the hospitality and in particular the hotel industry itself? If there was ever a time for us to engage in honest, unflinching self-reflection, this is it. As travellers and vacationers are ready and willing to change their habits, so the hotel industry must look to reshape its practices for the future.

Responding to the crisis
Facing possibly the toughest situation it has ever encountered, the hotel industry now needs fresh solutions to these challenges. Management cannot simply fall back on “we’ve always done it this way”. In the post-COVID-19 marketplace, only different approaches and attitudes will succeed.

A new style of leadership
When the hotel sector goes back to work, the most urgent need will be to reassess staffing needs, operational procedures and ensure our guests return sooner than later. Ultimately, recoup lost income, re-establish cashflow and focus on the quickest returns on investment.

Operating structures will have to be pared-down and become more efficient. Leaner, more agile leadership with effective change management skills must create imaginative, practical plans to get businesses back on track.

Managers will have to adapt to the new situation with new-found agility. The days of a Hotel Manager shut away in a back office are over. They will need to be multifaceted: even more present throughout the hotel, taking care of guests and staff, mobilising their teams, coaching / teaching and leading by example. In this new climate of lower hotel occupancies and reduced income, one role per employee has become an unaffordable luxury. Staff will now need to be trained to take on a broader range of disciplines. Managers should emphasise the positive aspects of this: employees will enjoy more varied work and gain a wider range of experience to help them progress their careers.

Creative, cost-efficient business models will be needed for operations, sales, marketing, revenue management and distribution strategies. Trusted employees should be invited to contribute to management decisions; their perspective ‘at the coal face’ will help shape your recovery policy and make them feel more involved and valued.

It’s vital these new initiatives are communicated clearly throughout the business, to ensure they are adopted successfully.

Keeping your teams motivated
There are undoubtedly difficult financial decisions to be made, and it can be tempting to focus wholly on saving cash. But this is short-sighted. Hotel businesses which have laid-off the majority of their employees will find it difficult and expensive to recruit the skilled talent they need as the market recovers.

Conversely, firms who have furloughed as many employees as possible to give them some degree of security can expect greater loyalty and renewed commitment. Identify your core people and work hard to retain them.

Management who also display integrity and a sense of unity, for example by ensuring fair pay cuts during this difficult time, will be more highly regarded by the workforce after the crisis.

This is the ideal moment for top executives to show strength, empathy and vision. Employees will respond best to leaders who inspire through their energy, optimism and sense of purpose, and create a collaborative, environment that encourages and nurtures development.

Whilst it may seem counter-intuitive, now is the perfect time to invest in your most talented employees, for example by encouraging and providing cross-training. In the hotel’s immediate future there will be fewer staff, and employees and managers alike must be ready to use new skills.

Mitigating the impact on employees
For hotel staff, the pandemic has bitten hard, and with countries taking separate routes to easing their lockdown restrictions, it is unclear when and how the worldwide travel and tourism industry recovery will kick in.

This leaves many employees worrying about their income now and their job security mid to long term. The situation is especially tough for those already on low wages, with few savings, yet the anxiety is also felt right up to senior management. Are their positions safe? Would they be able to find a similar role elsewhere?

Great C-level leaders and managers are those who stay connected and communicate regularly with their employees, sharing objectives and building that vital sense of hope for the future.

Part of the recovery process must involve making the workplace more attractive and productive. Ensure the work environment is balanced, with genuinely equal opportunities and fair rewards for everyone. Revisit how you evaluate performance; is it an objective and positive system? Failing to address these aspects could lead to your talented employees looking elsewhere. 

Image and perception
Hotel leadership responses to the crisis have varied. Many have taken positive action. In the absence of paying customers, some hotels have opened their rooms to help isolate patients who are not critically ill, easing the burden on hospitals. Or temporarily taken in homeless people, who would otherwise be especially vulnerable to the virus. Others have kept kitchens running, to help feed emergency workers who haven’t had time to source meals for themselves.

These positive actions, displaying a spirit of generosity will mean these businesses are better perceived by potential guests. Those who have been distant and unsupportive during the pandemic will find that empathy and integrity are important, and guests and employees have long memories.

Goodbye old order, hello new era
There is a broad consensus that the travel and tourism industry cannot return to how it was before COVID-19. The lockdown has given guests, hotel business owners, directors, managers and employees time to assess how we all live, work, travel and relax.

Personal well-being, work/life balance, the vulnerability of the planet and a stronger determination to protect it, will change how hospitality is perceived and must perform in the future.

Some hotel businesses, however, seem to have learned little from the experiences of 9/11 and the 2008 financial crisis. Those who cling to the old, pre-COVID-19 model are unlikely to prosper. Companies and leaders with the sensitivity and emotional intelligence to address guest and employee concerns, with policies that demonstrate fairness and diversity, will fare best of all.

The pandemic cannot be ignored or wished away. For hotel employees at all levels, it should be seen as an incentive to develop fresh skills and become more valued and marketable, as multi-functional, hands-on and strategically savvy individuals. For hotel owners and management, this is the start of a new era: the opportunity to learn from experience and use the freshly gained insight to develop more dynamic, creative, sustainable leadership that is fit for a brave new world.


REITs see long-term opportunities, but market stalled

REIT executives see the chance to make deals in the future as the hotel industry continues to cope with the COVID-19 downturn, but many said deals are put on hold for the time being.

REPORT FROM THE U.S.—While many are eager to see the deals market open up, with the expectation that distressed assets could be available, executives with real estate investment trusts said they are still examining the market before ultimately making moves.

Here’s what executives had to say about potential deal making during first-quarter earnings calls:

Neil Shah, president and COO, Hersha Hospitality Trust
“Generally, I think smaller assets are easier to sell, and assets and investment opportunities that don’t require … traditional capital markets are more likely to get done today. Frankly, I think the four (deals) we have under contract were probably the most likely to get done in an environment, generally. But since we have hard deposits on these four, that is where most of our effort and focuses (are) … expecting those to close. We continue to always consider inbound inquiries for other hotels in the portfolio, and we’ve had conversations with a lot of investors. But you’ve seen the math. A buyer today for … a traditional institutional grade hotel asset needs a pretty high return to justify making an investment. There’s no debt market that they can use to support their investments or they’re thinking of it as an unlevered deal without any clarity on when operating losses stop. Most investors consider pretty long drag on operating losses. When the math generally comes out to where you hear buyers or private equity talking about interest in deals, is that kind of 11% to 12% kind of cap rates on 2019 kind of performance? I don’t think there is many sellers at that level.”

Dan Hansen, chairman, president and CEO, Summit Hotel Properties
“I think it’s fair to say that everybody is in some level of distress right now, particularly the smaller owner-operators. I don’t know that there is an immediate opportunity regardless of the level of leverage or operations. Banks have generally been supportive of smaller owner-operators and giving them time to get their feedback under them. As far as opportunities, our priority right now is really on the portfolio. And based on our portfolio, the locations, the chain scale and the operating model, we think there is a lot of value to be created from here simply with that. But to the extent there is an opportunity in the future, we do have as good a relationship with our lenders as anybody in this space.”

Justin Knight, CEO, Apple Hospitality REIT
“Our expectation is that in the early phases of recovery, there will be an increase in the number of opportunities that would be attractive to us. Our first preference, though, is getting back to cash positive. I think it would be reasonable for us to assume that while we are eager to pursue opportunities from a capital allocation standpoint, which would drive shareholder value. Our No. 1 priority at this point is getting back to a position where we’re producing positive cash flow from operations. Until we get to that point, I think it’s fair to say that we would be conservative in pursuing optional uses of cash.”

Thomas Baltimore, Jr., president and CEO, Park Hotels & Resorts
“Park is not interested in (deals) at this time. We are laser-focused on all the initiatives that we’ve outlined, laser-focused on getting through the recession so that we are well-positioned when the recovery begins.”

James Risoleo, president and CEO, Host Hotels & Resorts
“We are in a unique position given the strength of the company and the fact that we came into the year at 1.6x debt to (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) with $1.6 billion of cash on the balance sheet, we are truly in a position to persevere through this downturn, through this pandemic and come out the other side in a position to play offense. Now when does that happen? I think right now it’s very premature at this point in time, I don’t think you’re going to see us or anybody else in a position to acquire hotels until we have greater visibility on the case of how the U.S. economy is going to perform and how it’s going to recover. Everyone is in agreement today that we are in a recession. We just don’t know the depth of the recession, nor do we know the duration of the recession. There are numerous conversations occurring between hotel owners and lenders today with respect to waivers, interest forbearance, it’s a question of how that’s all going to play out and where the opportunities are going to be. It’s a little too soon to know. But when we have visibility and when we start seeing opportunities come to market, we will be in a position to take advantage of those opportunities. We’re talking to our bank group about giving us some optionality to acquire hotels as we move forward.

“Obviously, the hotels are going to have to be a strategic fit for us. They’re going to have to be priced appropriately, they’re going to have to allow us to believe that we’re going to be able to create shareholder value or we’re going to continue to be disciplined in our approach to capital allocation. We think it served us very well toward the end of this cycle and given us an opportunity to play offense.”

Sean Mahoney, EVP and CFO, RLJ Lodging Trust
“As we think about deploying on acquisitions, which we still need to get through COVID-19 before really focusing on acquisitions in any meaningful way, but certainly, the new normal will factor into our thoughts around geographic reallocation within our portfolio. But our footprint today, we have a portfolio for a reason, which is we like to have a diverse geographic dispersion and we’re comfortable with our footprint today.”

Keith Cline, president and CEO, CorePoint Lodging
“These deals that closed were deals that we had struck pre-COVID-19. Generally, the vast, vast majority of the people that are buying these hotels are existing hotel owners that may either own a La Quinta flag or potentially even other flags. I will tell you from the onset, these deals were closed for the purpose of continuing to operate a hotel. Now, that may change over time, but the deals that we’ve struck, the vast majority of those are for continuing hotel operations.”

Jon Bortz, chairman, president and CEO of Pebblebrook Hotel Trust
“We also expect there to be significant opportunities over the next few years to acquire properties in distress, due to a likely prevalence of cash strapped and over-levered owners and many properties that go back to lenders.

“Our team has been through two prior crisis-driven opportunistic periods, including the creation of Pebblebrook in late 2009 following the tail end of the Great Recession. Following that crisis, we were able to fairly quickly and aggressively assemble a very unique portfolio of high-quality hotels and resorts at very attractive prices that also had substantial upside opportunities. Given our ability to operate our properties more efficiently than the vast majority of buyers … our unique strength and redevelopments and transformations, we believe we’ll have a significant advantage as opportunities arise over the next few years.”


Spain to reopen to international tourists in July

Spain’s prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, has announced the country will reopen to international tourists from July, pledging to guarantee the safety of visitors and the workforce.

The leading destination receives over 80 million tourists per year.

Starting in July, Sánchez said that international tourism can resume once more, adding tourists can start planning their holidays.

Sánchez confirmed that as part of the planning for Spain’s phased reopening plan – known as the ‘Plan de Desescalada’ – the government was working with the tourism sector to prepare measures for the reopening.

The moves will be coordinated by ministry of industry, business and tourism in collaboration with Spain’s autonomous communities.

Going forward, the prime minister announced that Spanish tourism will have two new hallmarks – health and safety and environmental sustainability.

GreecePoland and the Algarve have announced similar moves in recent days.

At the same time, the European Aviation Safety Agency has been considering how to get passengers safely back in the air.


Wyndham Continues to Grow New-Construction Pipeline

Wyndham Hotels & Resorts announced today that the company is continuing to forge ahead with new-construction growth, opening 11 newly built hotels across the United States in the first quarter and breaking ground on a number of hotels in its new-construction pipeline. In the same period, the company executed agreements for more than 25 future new-build hotels in the United States, further expanding its pipeline and planting roots for travel recovery in the long term.

New Openings in Q1

The company’s 11 new-construction openings in the United States represent nearly 1,000 rooms. The recent openings—including properties across its La Quinta by Wyndham, Wingate by Wyndham, Days Inn by Wyndham, and Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham brands—are in destinations primed for domestic, drive-to leisure travel such as Miramar Beach, Fla.; Houston, Texas; Spokane, Wash.; and Wisconsin Dells, Wis.


Developers are also starting construction on hotels in the pipeline, reinforcing optimism for the industry’s recovery. Developers for Wyndham-branded hotels broke ground on approximately 10 new hotels in the United States year-to-date, including a Microtel hotel in Hot Springs, Ark.; a La Quinta hotel in San Antonio, Texas; an extended-stay Hawthorn Suites hotel in Oklahoma City, Okla.; and a Trademark Collection by Wyndham hotel in Leavenworth, Kan.

“Despite a rapidly changing landscape for hotel developers around the world, a number of our owners are pressing forward with new-construction projects in the economy and midscale segments, reinforcing our overall confidence in the long-term viability of our industry,” said Krishna Paliwal, head of architecture, design, and construction for Wyndham. “New-construction growth, however gradual, represents our optimism for the future of travel.”


Though construction has generally slowed across the industry, Wyndham continued to add new conversion projects in the first quarter—the company’s conversion pipeline increased 8 percent globally year-over-year.

Looking Ahead to Recovery

As the pandemic begins to abate in the United States, Wyndham maintains that its existing franchisees are well-positioned for recovery: The company operates a nearly 90 percent drive-to business in the United States with a concentration in the select-service chain scale segments—which have outperformed higher-end full-service hotels during the pandemic—and more than 95 percent of its domestic guests originate within the United States, making them less reliant on air travel.

Wyndham also recently announced “Count on Us,” a new initiative to build confidence among guests and to support franchisees as it prepares to welcome travelers back to its U.S. hotels.


11 EU states agree on rules for tourism reopening

Eleven European Union states, including Greece, on Monday agreed on a set of rules regarding the gradual easing of movement restrictions introduced to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The agreement was announced following a video conference between the foreign ministers of Greece, Cyprus, Germany, Spain, Italy, Austria, Croatia, Portugal, Malta, Slovenia and Bulgaria. It is based on the guidelines issued last week by the European Commission, and it is designed to coordinate the reopening of borders for tourists.

In a joint statement, the ministers said they had agreed on four guiding principles, namely that an approach of phased steps, coordinated and agreed among EU states is the best way to achieve a gradual normalization of cross-border traveling; exploring ways of allowing travel while avoiding an unsustainable rise in infections is key priority; ensuring that citizens who travel freely within Europe can also safely return home (they stressed the need for a harmonization of health-related standards and procedures); and, finally, that the restoration of the freedom of cross-border movements can be achieved progressively, provided current positive trends continue leading to comparable epidemiological situations in countries of origin and of destination.

“We call on tourism businesses and related private actors to use the coming weeks to take appropriate precautionary measures to protect travelers once freedom of movement and traveling is restored. We believe this is a crucial element to rebuild public trust in the safety of traveling,” the statement said.

“Even though currently the situation concerning the corona pandemic continues to differ from country to country, it is our common goal to coordinate our approach among European partners as closely as possible with a view to restoring freedom of movement and safe travelling in the near future,” it said.


Deserted Venice contemplates a future without tourist hordes after Covid-19

A few days before Italy is set to lift restrictions across much of the country after being locked down since March 10, the streets of Venice are starting to spring back to life. 

There are no tourists here just yet. Instead the noise is from vacuum cleaners and sanitation crews inside stores that are getting ready for the grand reopening on May 18.

But even as shop owners prepare for whatever post-lockdown Venice looks like, everyone here in this deserted tourist town is asking the same question: who are they reopening for?

Every year, as many as 30 million tourists from all over the world descend on Venice, pumping up to $2.5 billion into the local economy, according to the Italian Tourism Ministry.

But few are Italians, who have never been as enamored with the lagoon city as the rest of the world, according to Matteo Secchi, head of the tourist group Venessia, who says Venice has always attracted far more international tourists than national ones.

“When the city reopens next week, it will still be much like it looks today,” he told CNN in an eerily empty Venice this week. “Tourists won’t really start coming back until the borders are reopened and international travel is allowed.”

Not everyone wants things to go back to business as usual.

Jane da Mosto, who heads non-profit group ‘We Are Here Venice’, has been fighting to get policy makers to understand the advantages of sustainable tourism for the city by launching campaigns to keep massive cruise ships out of the historical harbor and studying the options for preventing flooding like the city endured last fall.

She sees the pandemic as a turning point for the city, and envisions a new Venice emerging in the post-pandemic world.

“The new Venice I dream of after this is like it is now, just with more residents,” she told CNN in an interview in Venice. “The problem for Venice isn’t the lack of tourists, it’s the lack of permanent residents. And with more residents, the city will reflect more the Venetian culture and the wonderful lifestyle that this extraordinary city offers and future visitors to the city will be able to enjoy Venice more.”

A funeral for Venice

In many ways, Venice has lately become a victim of its own popularity in a worsening struggle between overtourism, fed by the popularity and affordability of cruise ships and low-cost air travel, and the steady decline of local residents who have been fleeing the tourist invasion in record numbers.

The population of Venice has dropped from 175,000 after World War II to just over 52,000 today.

Secchi’s group even helped stage a funeral for Venice in 2009 when the population dropped below 60,000. Things have only gotten worse since then.

“The virus shows just how tourism has massacred the population,” Secchi, who is also in the hospitality industry, says. “When the city locked down and it was just Venetians here, you could see how few we really are.”

Last summer, that inner struggle with mass tourism came to a head when the government, worried about the ecological effects of mass tourism on the city’s canals, threatened to ban cruise ships from entering the historical port by way of St. Mark’s Square, which is a highlight on any Venetian port call. 

It was a tough choice for Venetians since the massive cruise ship terminal employs thousands. The plan was eventually scrapped when the government fell in August, but the city was left with a tough choice: keep going the way they were and risk destroying the city entirely.

Then, on February 25, Covid-19 did what Venetians have not been able to do: make everything stop.

As the spread of the virus turned the surrounding Veneto region into a hotspot, the annual Carnival celebration was canceled for the first time ever.

“The shock of canceling Carnival really woke everyone up,” Secchi says. “It was like having the rug pulled out.”

A turning point

Many in Venice now see the pandemic as a chance to do just what city governments have failed to carry out in the past: rethink mass tourism and try to create a new type of sustainable tourism for the fragile city.

Melissa Conn, the director of the Venice office of Save Venice, an American cultural heritage group that works to preserve the city’s vast cultural heritage through conservation grants, sees the pandemic as a turning point. “We are using this time in a positive way,” she told CNN in Venice.

They are moving forward on between 30 and 40 urgent projects to help after Venice suffered historic floods last year.

The group normally has to work around tourists, but in their absence, they have been able to work less hindered.

“What will follow will be slow tourism, not mass tourism anymore,” Conn says. “We are confident that we can rebuild, reestablish and rethink Venice, concentrating on helping the city withstand the elements and tourism.”

Conn knows that pulling the plug on the sort of mass tourism that Venice has experienced in recent years will cause some businesses to close.

“We’re going to see empty shops,” she says. “We are going to need to rethink Venice, to bring it to a higher level.”

But she’s not talking only about designer shops and luxury goods. “We don’t want it to become a Monte Carlo,” she says. “We need to focus on the Made in Venice brand, to promote local artisans and bring that Venice back and offer a better quality of life to the people who live here and who visit.”

She also sees an opportunity in the vacuum created by the absence of mass tourism due to travel bans instituted by the pandemic to lure academic programs back to the city.

She envisions the tourist apartments housing students and bringing new energy to the city. “We feel more than ever that this is the moment,” Conn says. “Saving Venice is a very particular mission, but we are on a roll right now.”

Black Death

What happens next in Venice is crucial for its future.

After all, this city has risen from pandemics before. The very word quarantine was born out of the city’s response to the Black Death more than 700 years ago when the city was a powerful trading hub that brought merchants from around the world.

When the plague hit, they decided the only way to protect the city was to isolate incoming ships for 40 days, or quaranta giorni, which became known as the quarantina, what we now call quarantine.

What happens next in Venice is in the hands of the Venetians, perhaps for the first time in centuries.

Mattia Berto, who runs a theater company in Venice, believes the city can find the right balance.

“Venice in many ways has been a perfect lover, willing to give everyone what you want without asking for any commitment for the future,” he told CNN.

“But it’s time to rethink what Venice can be. It’s time to finally solve this conflict between the two Venices, the one for tourists and the one for Venetians. It’s time to finally commit to our future.”


Is it safe to rent an Airbnb, Vbro or vacation home right now?

With Memorial Day weekend fast approaching and summer nipping at its heels, renting a vacation home may seem like the perfect way to get a change of scenery while maintaining social distancing protocols. Alison Kwong, a spokesperson for booking site Vrbo confirms that, beginning in mid-April, they started to see more U.S. demand on its platform, especially for longer trips toward the end of summer.

Are vacation rentals safe?

While rental booking sites like Airbnb and Vrbo have set out to establish cleanliness guidelines, Dr. Andrew Janowski, instructor of pediatric infectious diseases at Washington University School of Medicine/St Louis Children’s Hospital, says the biggest and most under-appreciated weapon renters have against coronavirus is time.

“From the study that evaluated how long the virus persists on surfaces, we know the virus can be stable on some surfaces for up to three days,” Janowski explains. “The longer the home has been unoccupied, the better. I would be concerned there could be infectious virus if someone was in the home in the past day or two, but after about three days, I think the risk is exceedingly small.”

Dr. Thomas A. Russo, chief of the division of infectious diseases at the University at Buffalo Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, agrees. “The major mode of transmission of this virus is respiratory. If those respiratory infectious particles land on a high-touch area, and you then touch your eyes, your nose, or your mouth, etc., there’s a finite risk you could get infected. However, this virus has a half-life (meaning there is less and less of it over time). So, if you rent a house and, assuming the high-touch areas have been cleaned, the risk of getting the virus from the physical objects in the house is very low,” he says.

How can you make sure your rental is cleaned properly?

Online booker Vrbo recommends landlords allow 24 hours, while Airbnb recommends a CDC compliant cleaning protocol and asks landlords to agree to a minimum 24-hour buffer after a guest checks out. Hosts that can’t commit to the cleaning protocol can opt-in to a 72-hour booking buffer between stays.

Janowski recommends having an open conversation with the owner about when the last person was in the home, and perhaps, get that reassurance in writing. “The more recently someone has entered the home, the higher the risk.” Janowski explains. “This would be the one area I would push really hard if I was considering renting a home from someone.”

If the home was recently occupied by cleaners or a previous tenant, Janowski says it might make sense to delay your stay for a couple of days, even though the risk of staying in a rented home that had been entered by others recently was fairly small — and even smaller if it was recently cleaned. “The problem is that I wouldn’t know where those people had been in the home and what areas where cleaned.”

What should you clean when you get there?

Russo says it’s important to weigh your personal risk as well as the general risk of exposure. “If you’re in a high-risk group you might be more inclined to be extra cautious,” Russo says.

Shared areas

Some cleaning products work better than others at killing the viral particles of coronavirus — just make sure you use them safely. The CDC recommends cleaning and disinfecting “high-touch surfaces,” like tables, hard-backed chairs, doorknobs, light switches, phones, tablets, touch screens, remote controls, keyboards, handles, desks, toilets and sinks.

Cups and plates

Wash any plates, cups, or silverware (other than pre-wrapped plastic) with dish soap and hot water, and dry thoroughly before using.


Janowski says clean sheets are of very low risk to renters. “The lone risk to the renter would be whether the person making the bed coughed or sneezed on the sheets. One way to get around this is to talk to the owner and ask if you could get clean sheets from them and then you could make your own bed.”

Common areas

If you’re renting an apartment or condo in a complex, Janowski also recommends asking landlords about common areas in the building or neighborhood to get a handle on what’s open or closed, and how social distancing is practiced. “Everyone should still wash their hands after coming into contact with objects in common areas,” he says.


Janowski says pools are generally safe as the water would dilute out any viral particles that are shed into them. “The chlorine in the pool will also help to breakdown the virus so no additional cleaning is needed. My biggest concern isn’t the water, it’s the people around the water. People still need to practice good social distancing once you are out of the water in any shared pool areas,” he says.

Last but not least, don’t forget to wipe down the keys, says Janowski.

Should you quarantine when you get there?

Whether or not you should quarantine depends on if you’ve been exposed to someone with possible symptoms, or who tests positive. If you have, the CDC says you should quarantine at home. Assuming you’ve already been sheltering in place with your travel companions and everyone is in good health, social distancing on your journey — with a mask and using hand sanitizer — is vital.

What activities are safe when you get there?

Quiet, unpopulated hiking trails are one thing, crowded beaches are another.

“The greatest risk is what you decide to do on that vacation, and how many people you come in contact with and what part of the world you’re in,” Russo explains. “We can’t make risk go to zero, so you have to pick and choose your risk battles, what you deem is most important. Bring your mask, wear your sunglasses and practice good hand hygiene.”


WTTC calls on G20 tourism ministers to take initiative in Covid-19 recovery

The World Travel & Tourism Council has called upon G20 tourism ministers to lead a united and coordinated recovery for the sector out of the Covid-19 crisis.

The body, which represents the global tourism private sector, argues only the G20 has the power to influence and drive forward a coordinated recovery effort needed to preserve the sector.

According to WTTC analysis, the Covid-19 outbreak is threatening the jobs of 75 million people around world and one million jobs daily, significantly impacting major source markets.

The extraordinary tourism ministers meeting due to take place on Friday is set to discuss how to combat the crisis crippling the entire sector.

Ahead of the meeting, WTTC praised the G20 for freezing the debt of the poorest countries as a major step towards enabling them to bolster their health systems, to save lives and combat Covid-19.

Gloria Guevara, WTTC chief executive, said: “The proven record of the G20, which powered the recovery following the financial crisis in 2008, and the recent decisive action to freeze debt proves this forum is the best platform with the speed and agility needed, to drive forward the urgent actions required to set the pace and save the global tourism sector and enable it to survive and thrive.

“WTTC proposes tourism ministers participating in the meeting, fully jointly commit with the private sector to four key principles to achieve a faster recovery.

“This would involve including the private sector in the coordinated response, ensuring all measures put the traveller at the heart of their actions.

“This would include a seamless traveller journey with enhanced health security standards enabled through technology, developing joint public-private and G20-wide health protocols as well as ongoing support packages for the tourism sector beyond lifting of lockdown and into the recovery.

“As the premier forum of international cooperation, the G20 is the best proven vehicle to help achieve global economic stability and sustainable growth, which has successfully partnered with the private sector to achieve such objectives.

“Millions of people around the world depend on their actions.”

The four WTTC principles to ensure swift recovery for the tourism sector and the global economy following the end of the Covid-19 outbreak are:

  • A joint public-private coordinated approach across the G20 to re-establish effective operations, remove travel barriers and reopen borders. This would ensure the efficient resumption of flights, movement of people and widescale travel essential to re-build confidence in tourism.
  • Enhance the seamless traveller journey experience, combining the latest technology and protocols to increase health standards. Consider the “new normal” for the sector with components of health, security, hygiene and sustainability with a traveller centric approach.
  • Work with the private sector and health experts to define global standards for the new normal, grounded in science which can be easily adopted by businesses of every size across all travel industries and can be implemented across the world.
  • Continue providing support to the tourism sector during the recovery phase, throughout the entire travel eco-system. Financial aid for workers and businesses to promote a swift recovery. It is vital the domino effect is fully realised so that businesses large and small can all recover and prosper.


Experts Say It Could Be 18 to 24 Months Before Travel Picks Back Up

As we near month two since the coronavirus outbreak was officially declared a pandemic, workers in the travel industry would like nothing more than for the world to return to normal.

They may have to wait a while, however. CNBC has reached out to experts in the public health and tourism industries for an estimate on when travel will resume for its series “The Next Normal.” In its segment, CNBC outlines the challenges the travel industry will face even after the pandemic diminishes.

Experts agree that it may take around 18 to 24 months before airlines see a substantial increase in demand. While there are a recorded number of people willing to travel once the pandemic recedes, there will still be many people who will remain cautious. Airlines and airports are already trying to reassure travelers by implementing new kinds of security checks to screen travelers who are sick.

Delta has been exploring ways to get people traveling again while reducing exposure, such as issuing “immunity passports.” Airports have been checking the temperatures of all passengers, and many airlines are now requiring crew members and passengers to wear protective masks.

Ultimately, however, these solutions are not completely foolproof, and many will still refuse to travel until a proven treatment or vaccine can be found or senior health officials and scientists, not just airlines and travel experts, confirm that air travel no longer poses a risk.

“Many people are not going to feel safe going back to crowded airplanes … until they see that the number of new deaths from the virus has gone down to almost none in their region, or until there is a vaccine or much better ways of tracing and isolating who has it,” said Robert Reich, the former U.S. Labor secretary and a professor at the University of California at Berkeley.

Additionally, the pandemic has caused mass furloughs around the world; many people may not want to travel after the industry resumes simply because they cannot afford to travel or do not want to spend so much money right away. Businesses in the travel industry will likely market themselves to locals for a while to appeal to the desire of a “staycation.”

The furloughs and layoffs throughout the industry also mean that small, local tourism businesses will be struggling well after the pandemic is over, unlike larger, high-end chains. And even these businesses will most likely have to continue enforcing social distancing after they open their doors. The fewer options combined with enforced safety precautions may not appeal to most travelers.


Wyndham’s Coronavirus Survival Strategy Is Signing Struggling Indie Hotels to Its Brand

Wyndham is banking future growth will come from independent hotels converting to flagged properties, but continued uncertainty in travel will dictate the opportunity timeline.
— Cameron Sperance

Wyndham is taking a page from its Great Recession recovery playbook to guide future growth.

The hotel industry is in coronavirus survival mode, grappling with cratered occupancy rates and revenue per room. But executives at Wyndham Hotels & Resorts also see room for opportunity from the downturn. Wyndham leadership expects independent hotel operators to rush to branded opportunities to capitalize on bigger reservation systems, loyalty programs, and marketing budgets.

The global hotel company grew its room count by 3 percent during the last recession from independent operators converting to a Wyndham-flagged brand, according to a Tuesday investor presentation.

“We have a long-proven track record of growing net rooms through lodging cycle downturns by igniting our conversion engine, which is fueled through the strength and flexibility of our value proposition,” Wyndham Chief Financial Officer Michelle Allen said on Wyndham’s first quarter earnings call.

Wyndham, which owns brands like Days Inn and La Quinta, expects conversion rates to remain slow in the near-term but accelerate as soon as travel begins to return. The hospitality company has initially earmarked $30 million for development opportunities but that figure could increase, Allen added.

There are more than 15,000 independent economy and mid-scale hotels in the U.S., Wyndham CEO Geoff Ballotti said. The company’s franchise and sales teams have been restructured to increase Wyndham’s conversion coverage by approximately three times current rates. Wyndham’s new construction salespeople have also been redeployed to convert independent economy and mid-scale hotels to Wyndham flags.

Wyndham’s strategy comes as analysts predict travelers will return with a heightened focus on safety and cleanliness. Branded hotels that offer a better sense of familiarity or increased display of cleaning standards will likely be in a better position than independent properties. If the anticipated travel trend pans out, independent hoteliers will likely migrate toward flag affiliation.

“Converting independent hotels to our brand has always been a consistent part of Wyndham’s growth through up and down cycles,” Ballotti said.


There are still choppy waters to overcome before Wyndham can fully chase opportunities.

First quarter revenue was down 12 percent to $410 million. Wyndham’s adjusted net income, at $47 million, for the first quarter was down 8 percent. Revenue per room or RevPAR, the hotel industry’s key performance metric, was down 23 percent.

The second quarter will most likely perform even worse. Preliminary April results show RevPAR at Wyndham’s U.S. properties down 66 percent, Allen said. U.S. occupancy was at its lowest point the week of April 11, averaging 22 percent but showing slight improvements in following weeks. Occupancy in China, where roughly 200 of Wyndham’s 1,200-hotel portfolio remains closed, is running in the 20 percent range, up from single-digit lows.

The company last quarter generated more than $250 million in cash savings, of which Allen expects $100 million will be permanent savings. That stems from about 440 eliminated staff positions and reductions in facilities and other discretionary expenses like spending on vendors.

About 5,900, or 94 percent, of Wyndham’s U.S. hotels remain open. The majority of the hotels need an occupancy rate around 30 percent for owners to continue to make debt service obligations, Ballotti said. But government assistance like a Paycheck Protection Program loan lowers that breakeven number considerably.

More than 95 percent of Wyndham’s franchisees have applied for a PPP or Economic Injury Disaster Loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration, Ballotti added. Nearly 80 percent have been approved for one or both.


Wyndham’s biggest selling point to independent hoteliers during conversion talks will be how most of its portfolio is positioned.

More than 90 percent of Wyndham’s hotels is in the select-service sector, which is less labor intensive and operates at a higher profit margin than full-service hotels. A typical Wyndham-flagged property requires less than a dozen full-time staff members, and staff levels are “highly scalable to demand,” Ballotti said. Nearly 90 percent of the Wyndham portfolio is in drive-to locations, which travel industry analysts and executives expect to be the first sector to recover from the coronavirus crisis.

“Our customer profile in the U.S. is about 70 percent leisure and 90 percent drive-to,” Ballotti said. “While the impact of Covid-19 continues to evolve, as this pandemic abates in the U.S., our franchisees should be the first to benefit.