As the hospitality community begins to take the first steps into the post-Covid-19 world, Breaking Travel News speaks with Dimitris Manikis, managing director for Wyndham Hotels & Resorts in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, about how things might have changed during lockdown.
He tells editor Chris O’Toole why hygiene will be vital in rebuilding trust with travellers, and how support for hoteliers as this crucial juncture will be key to the future success of the sector.
Breaking Travel News: Can you give me an idea of how many of your properties are currently closed/open, and when this might change?
Dimitris Manikis: Over 90 per cent of our hotels in the United States remain open and operating.
As the coronavirus continues to impact the world, we are beginning to see lockdown measures ease in various regions, as well as paths to recovery being mapped out.
BTN: How is Wyndham able to support hotel owners during this period?
DM: The reality is that Covid-19 pandemic has essentially stopped most travel around the world, with an unimaginable impact on the industry.
Our partners are top of mind.
This is an incredibly challenging time for them, and their long-term success is critical to us.
We have taken proactive steps to help them minimise cash flow challenges during this difficult period, including expanded payment relief, reduced system fees and the suspension of certain monthly charges, in addition to flexibility for non-essential brand standards.
At the same time, we have created a robust rebound plan for all hotels in the region, aimed at restoring consumer confidence and driving revenue recovery.
The plan includes operational as well as commercial best practices, tools and cross-functional initiatives to ensure the smoothest transition possible when travel gradually resumes.
Our focus is on domestic travel to start with, it is a phased approach that is designed to be flexible, adapt and evolve over time.
Safety is absolutely crucial.
We have provided thousands of hotels in our network with helpful guidelines and safety information in line with the World Health Organisation.
Through our collaboration with third parties, including Ecolab and other suppliers, we have provided our hotels with access to industry-standard cleaning and disinfecting supplies and have made training available to support our hotels in achieving the highest standards of cleanliness, disinfection and hygiene.
On a general but important note, we are all facing incredibly volatile times that we would have never imagined before.
Today we have to protect our teams, stabilise our business and operations to reflect the new normal, build contingency plans and start playing offense, and not just defence.
A key point for the travel industry as a whole, is that with the new normal, it is absolutely crucial that hotel guests feel safe as well as welcome.
Like never before travellers will be looking for brands that they can trust not only for quality but also for cleanliness and safety.
BTN: After the Great Recession, hotels took nearly six years to return to peak – how long would you estimate the recovery process will take this time?
DM: It is difficult to estimate a timeline as each region is on a different trajectory and we will definitely need to adapt and be ready for a ‘new normal’.
It is also true that the Covid-19 situation is different, as during the Great Recession the dependency on other industries was less critical.
The recovery of the airline industry will play a key part, especially for certain destinations than rely on international arrivals.
The road to recovery will be challenging, and the lifting of travel restrictions will play a key role on the timeline of that rebound.
But the travel industry is notoriously resilient and as lockdown measures begin to ease and recovery phases are put into place, we will begin to see this resilience and travel will inevitably rebound.
For now, our focus is on the safety and well-being of our partners, team members and working to restore our guest’s confidence and excitement in travel.
BTN: What methods are you using to encourage guests to travel – for example, loosening booking restrictions or extending loyalty benefits?
DM: Our mission is to make hotel travel possible for all, and that becomes especially important during times of uncertainty.
That is why we have enhanced our policies to ensure they are as flexible as possible during this period.
We continue to closely monitor the situation and adapt our policies accordingly.
Our latest policy lets guests traveling with new or existing direct bookings for stays in any of our hotels through to the end of June will have their cancellation or change penalties waived if the request is received at least 24 hours (or less if permitted by the hotel’s policy) prior to arrival.
Guests who are prohibited from traveling to their booked hotel under applicable law will have their cancellation or change penalties waived on direct bookings.
For new or existing direct bookings with arrivals after June 30th, all of our properties are required to accommodate non-cancellable rate reservation changes if the request is received at least 48 hours prior to arrival and the same number of room nights or more are booked for a future stay.
Loyalty plays a huge part into this.
We are pausing the expiration of any Wyndham Rewards points until September 30th and have extended current Wyndham Rewards Member Levels (status) for all members globally through the end of 2021.
As part of our Wyndham Rewards loyalty programme, we have recently launched our #EverydayHeroes initiative whereby we are offering all essential workers - from health workers, delivery drivers, supermarket workers, hotel staff, to warehouse workers - on the front lines of COVID-19 instant complimentary gold membership upgrades in our loyalty scheme.
This deserving group of individuals are the true everyday heroes, who have been front line in the face of danger, and we are humbled to honour them with this initiative.
Once travel resumes, our ‘Everyday Heroes’ initiative will allow them to take trips they deserve anywhere they choose.
BTN: Will this lead to a wave of consolidation in the industry?
DM: The travel industry was already experiencing some consolidation before the outbreak, and we could see more in the future as operators look to leverage economies of scale.
Those with access to liquidity and resources will be able to emerge stronger than others.
It will also be interesting to see what the institutional investors and private equity will be doing.
Wyndham Hotels & Resorts is the largest hotel franchising company in the world by the number of properties, with approximately 9,300 hotels across approximately 90 countries on six continents.
Through its network of over 831,000 rooms appealing to the everyday traveller, Wyndham commands a leading presence in the economy and midscale segments of the lodging industry
Find out more on the official website.