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How to survive a pandemic

Accor owns and manages thousands of properties in more than 100 countries. Gaynor Reid, responsible for communications and corporate social responsibility in Southeast Asia, Japan and South Korea, reveals how the hospitality group has pulled through 2020.

Accor's Movenpick Resort in Phu Quoc is a popular staycation location.

This year has been challenging to say the least, but what have been the most difficult moments?

For us it has been the closure of so many of our hotels during the lockdown period and seeing the impact of the resulting furloughs and stand-downs on our team members. We’re used to serving the community 24/7 and hotels are always open, day and night, so this was very tough.

Back in March, when we realised the impact on our teams, we set aside €70 million called the ALL Heartist Fund, to provide funding to our most vulnerable colleagues, with some money also allocated to our partners who rely on our hotels for their livelihood and for frontline workers who were fighting to protect their communities. We have given grants to over 35,000 of our Heartists (the name we give our colleagues because they combine the art of service from the heart) and we will continue to pay out until 2021.

The sheer size, speed and scope of this crisis, the likes of which we have never seen before, has also been tough. It’s difficult keeping up with the constant changes in border closures, numbers of cases, lockdown requirements, new rules on social distancing and so on.

How did you navigate the ever-changing situation?

We have set up Covid crisis committees across the region so we’re abreast of the latest situation and government advisories in each country in which we operate. We also work closely with the authorities in every region to ensure we’re following the latest rules and regulations.

The pandemic has required us to be faster and more agile in our business operations and our communication because we need to ensure we can adapt as situations change and unfold. For example, we were ready to launch a recovery plan in Bali in September, but it now looks like Bali will remain closed for many more months. We have redesigned the plan for the recently announced green lane between Hong Kong and Singapore.

The upcoming Air Travel Bubble with Hong Kong will hopefully boost Singapore's hospitality industry.

Are you seeing any recovery?

There’s plenty of pent-up demand and we know that when people can travel safely, they are very keen to do so. Surveys have shown that the thing people miss most during Covid after their families, is travel.

China has recovered faster than the rest of the world and in October reached occupancy levels of between 60 and 70% with some of our hotels completely full at weekends.

During the recent Golden Week holidays in China, we actually achieved higher revenue than the same time last year, largely driven by pent-up demand as well as growth in our network.

In Singapore, hotel occupancy is higher than the rest of the region due to strong government demand for quarantine and Stay-Home Notice guests, although the rate is vastly reduced.

Sofitel Singapore Sentosa Resort & Spa has recorded more than 95% room occupancy for staycations and with the December holidays coming up, the hotel is gearing up for more leisure stays during this period. Raffles Hotel Singapore has also been serving more high teas during Covid than when international tourism was allowed.

Afternoon teas have been flying off the stands at Raffles Singapore.

In Thailand and Vietnam, many of our leisure hotels in drive destinations such as Hua Hin, Chiang Mai, Phu Quoc or Danang are full on weekends.

How has Covid changed Accor?

While our traditional hotel business has been decimated in many countries, it has been incredible to see the way our hotels have pivoted to offer what is needed by their communities.

For example, some hotels offered housing for homeless people or domestic abuse survivors who needed somewhere safe to stay during the pandemic; some hotels have created more flexible rooms that can be configured as small offices or private gyms to cater for demand from people who couldn’t go to their workplace or their usual gym; many of our hotels are offering home menu kits or delivery of meals from their restaurants.

It was the first time that Raffles Hotel Singapore offered take-away meals, for example, that people could pick up or have delivered, while Fairmont Singapore created home menu kits with recipes and all the ingredients needed to bring their restaurants to your home.

We have also changed the way we are communicating with our guests, moving away from traditional marketing messages to build a strong communications strategy to help people cope with Covid-19 in the best way possible, with a particular focus on ALL – Accor Live Limitless loyalty programme members. This has included a social media strategy called ALL@home, where we delivered inspirational content, such as cooking classes with our chefs, yoga or exercise sessions with famous sportspeople, musical concerts and children’s activities for our members to enjoy at home. The engagement we saw during this period was very positive.

Where will bounce back first in 2021?

Asia will likely take the lead in travel recovery as some Asian countries have been able to control Covid-19 better than other parts of the world, with China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Vietnam and South Korea leading the way. In the short-term, we expect people to travel within their own region, so intra-regional travel will be more important than ever.

Accor's portfolio includes Raffles, Banyan Tree, Fairmont, Pullman and Movenpick.

China has shown us that there is hope, with 637 million Chinese travellers taking domestic trips during the recent Golden Week period and spending $69.5 billion, according to the Chinese Ministry of Tourism. For now, China is mostly closed to the rest of the world, but their massive domestic market seems to promise a strong rebound.

With the second wave hitting Europe and the US, these continents will have a more difficult and much longer road to recovery.

How are forward bookings looking for 2021?

People are still cautious to book in the short-term as the situation can change so quickly, so while we are seeing some demand for 2021, it’s mostly very last-minute or very far ahead. For example, people are more likely for the end of next year than the start of the year because they believe travel will open up late in 2021.

Corporate event enquiries are also coming in since new guidelines have been released, but these are mostly for the second half of 2021. Weddings are also seeing increased interest with the lifting of limits on attendees.

How important is airport testing to tourism recovery?

Testing will be important because mass tourism will not happen until people feel safe. But that testing could happen at the airport, in hotels or in medical facilities before you leave.

Singapore is a great case in point on opening up safely and Changi Airport is leading the way in terms of ensuring the safety of travellers with contactless entry, automated kiosks, proximity sensors, biometric systems and world-first infrared sensors that mean people can key in details without touching screens. Autonomous cleaning robots have been upgraded to spray disinfectant mist and in lifts infrared technology means buttons do not need to be pressed. Temperature screening, mandatory mask-wearing and auto hand sanitisers make Changi Airport amongst the safest in the world. A dedicated testing lab has been set up in the airport that can handle up to 10,000 passengers per day.

And when will travel finally be back to normal?

It’s difficult to predict as the situation changes rapidly. A recent United Nations World Tourism Organisation study predicts that international tourism will rebound by the third quarter of 2021 but goes on to note that there won’t be a return to pre-pandemic levels before 2023.

Countries where there is a strong domestic market will rebound more quickly than those that rely more on international tourism, especially long-haul tourists.


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