A guide for hoteliers: how the sector must adapt if it is to bring corporate customers back into the fold

ByRichard Alvin

August 10, 2020

A late-July heatwave always brings good news for the sector, no more so to those operating on the coast or out in the sun-kissed British countryside.

The government’s decision to rescind the air-bridge with Spain also brought a boost, turning thousands of holidaymakers into staycationers. With domestic summer holidaying in full-swing, consumer confidence in the sector is returning, slowly.

However, as Nic Wenn – Managing Director, Point A Hotels explains here one piece that needs to be slotted into this post-pandemic puzzle is still proving a headache for hoteliers: business travel.

Shall we write it off as a thing of the past? Not just yet. The big-hitters of the tech world may have upped their game, elevating platforms such as Zoom to fixtures of the corporate world, but the Hotel sector still plays a vital role in bringing people together.  There is still no substitute to face to face meetings, it ensures engagement and drives greater participation whilst body language, missing on calls, remains a major part in communication.

As we have adapted to social-distancing, hospitality needs to revamp its offer to suit a post-pandemic type of business traveller

The bottom-line for the industry is that forecasts are fairly unanimous in suggesting that business travel will take a harder hit than leisure holidaying. Whilst this may be intimidating, what this really means is we have to work harder with our corporate clients and deliver an even better experience for our guests. There is a simple challenge ahead of us – how to encourage business travellers back into hotels when digital alternatives to in-person meetings have proved so successful.

Needless to say, the first move to be played is in ensuring that safety standards are upheld to the highest possible degree. Businesses have to make sure that the steps they are taking to protect their guests are not only rigorous in themselves, but clearly signposted too. At Point A, we have social distancing floor markers throughout our sites as well as visual reminders asking guests to be mindful of their distance from others. We’re limiting elevator usage to one guest/household per use, and asking guests to collect any food/drink deliveries at a clearly designated pick-up point. What this does is explicitly reassure potential business travellers that staying with us is as risk-free as possible, encouraging them away from computer screens and back towards the physical office.

Of course, we can’t stop there. Providing corporate guests with all the essential business services represents another crucial element in bringing business travellers back into the fold. Returning to the office is a big step, so if guests are staying with us before that board-meeting, client face-to-face or creative workshop, it’s crucial that we provide them with everything they need beforehand. For bigger corporate groups we can provide dedicated floors where social bubbles can be maintained.  Ensuring onward-travel from the hotel is painless is crucial too, at Point A we’re fortunate to be located near London’s core business hubs, but for others, making sure that taxi links and travel advice is at hand around the clock is another way in which the hassle of business travel can be reduced to a minimum. Making what seem like marginal gains to the corporate offer will play a pivotal role in regenerating corporate success.

Whilst we want workers to start to think about how they can be venturing back out to their workplaces, we also recognise that we have to provide the facilities at our hotels that allow for flexible working. Whilst we’ve seen this trend establish itself to a certain degree in recent years (at Point A, bedrooms are set up with a fold down desk and chair to create a comfortable working environment, in addition to televisions with Chromecast allowing for a dual-monitor set-up), the provision of larger workspaces will become the norm in the coming years. Whilst social areas will remain important, carving out these ‘professional’ spaces will be inevitable, as will the inclusion of the amenities to support them such as super-fast internet connections and access to basic technical  support from hotel staff.

To welcome back business travellers we will  provide a hybrid service that allows them to get to the office, but work flexibly around their in-house contact hours too.

Our biggest challenge remains how do we deliver all this and maintain the warmth of genuine hospitality.  Our goal still remains that every stay can be further enhanced by a warm welcome and a smile – despite all the challenges that we face.

Leisure travellers are returning… but supporting their professional counterparts will hold the key for the companies looking to rebound even stronger than before

Ultimately, it’s not going to be an easy sell for hoteliers. Technological innovations have changed the game, and some no doubt dream of a future where stepping foot in the office is no more than a distant memory.

Yet, to ignore the challenge of reviving business travel would be to undermine one’s own recovery efforts. For hospitality – of which the hotel sub-sector constitutes only a fraction of the many travel, food/beverage and recreation businesses out there – a crucial audience is in need of recapturing. Addressing the needs of the post-pandemic business traveller head-on may well represent the only way of bringing a critical customer-base back in from the brink.