A time for growth

With challenging times comes unprecedented change in the hospitality industry, where players are scrambling to grasp what remaining market share they can. CEO of hospitality management institution EHL Group, Michel Rochat, talks about the changes the industry has been forced into.

What key technologies have gained momentum across the hospitality industry as a result of the pandemic?
Covid-19 has not created a new movement but greatly accelerated the digitalisation of the industry. For example, contactless and cashless payment systems have already been on the market for some time, but the need to reduce person-to-person contact has accelerated this transformation.

Similarly, online learning and development platforms for companies have been available since pre-Covid, and there was already a trend for companies to shift in-person training sessions to learning management systems and virtual training sessions, but Covid-19 also sped that up.

Other technologies that have seen swifter adoption include tools that enable internal and external collaboration, like Slack, Microsoft Teams and Zoom, as well as those that enable increased operational efficiencies, such as chat-bots.

How much more do you anticipate digital hospitality will grow from this point?
While many larger companies have already been investing in technologies to enable automation and other work efficiencies since pre-Covid, a large proportion of smaller companies still have not.

In Singapore, there are government grants such as the Productivity Solutions Grant that SMEs can tap into to fund their digitisation, which may cause a further acceleration in the adoption of certain technologies.

In addition, data will guide businesses in the hospitality industry, such as small restaurants, to take the guesswork out of their daily routine and base their decisions on data.

With tech solutions coming to the fore, and social distancing becoming the norm, what place does the human touch have in the Covid world?
Once again, this shows how Covid-19 is accelerating certain trends that were already in place. For example, the implementation of technologies such as kiosk check-ins and keyless entry will continue to proliferate especially in the economy and mid-tier segments, where human interaction is not expected and the hotel experience is much more transactional.

In the luxury domain, however, high-touch service will still be expected to create an elevated, immersive experience, combined with intentional and meaningful human touchpoints as well as technology to replace non-essential interactions. Social distancing and other measures that have been taken during the pandemic have only emphasised the need for human beings to connect and build relationships with others.

How do you predict Singapore’s S$320 million (US$236 million) credits might be channelled towards hotels and/or benefit the local hospitality industry?
With many companies in Singapore still having their employees work from home and hotels strongly pushing out staycation packages, we may start seeing a trend of Singaporeans choosing to take their staycations over the weekdays as well, rather than simply long weekends. The tourism credits will also encourage spending on local attractions, especially amongst families with children.

For Singaporeans – especially millennials – who are used to jetting off to Bali or Bangkok over the weekend, this extended period of stay in Singapore has also led to an increased appreciation of the nooks and crannies that may have been passed over before.

Rather than leaning heavily on the credits or the staycation demand to pull through, how should hotels relook their offerings to maintain a competitive product?
The tough economic reality would likely see Singaporeans curtailing their expenditure until clear signs of recovery appear, so hospitality brands truly need to return to the basics of ensuring excellent products, services and customer experiences to retain and grow a following, as well as to establish an efficient operating model.

While it may seem counter-intuitive to do so during a downturn, it is more important than ever to invest in ensuring a compelling brand story and double-down on training.

How can hotel players around the region rally and work together with each other, or with other travel suppliers, to stay afloat?
During this period, we have seen multiple stakeholders coming together to provide mutual support to each other and the industry, with initiatives coming both from public and private sectors.

An example of the former would be the Ministry of Manpower of Singapore hiring hotel employers who had been displaced due to the pandemic.

(On the private sector side,) EHL alumna Melissa Lou co-founded online marketplace Delegate, which helps users source event venues and vendors, and during this period companies are able to list for free.

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