One of the most dramatic outcomes of recent lockdowns and travel bans was the closure of so many hotels. For the first time in recent memory, properties were either forced to close by law or else had no choice because the number of reservations plummeted. Thankfully, we seem to be over the worst of it, and now hospitality’s recovery can begin in earnest. But when should hotels reopen, and what do they need to do differently?
This is the first in a series of Reopening Diaries in which we’ll talk to hoteliers about their plans to open their doors again. No two properties are the same, but we hope you’ll be able to take some ideas from each of our interviews and apply them to your own circumstances.
Our first chat is with Mark Struik, Commercial Director at Postillion Hotels. Postillion Hotels have seven properties in the Netherlands, with a big focus on the meetings and conferences market, welcoming over a million attendees during a typical year.
You actually onboarded with Mews during the lockdown – talk us through how it went.
"The official integration was planned for March, actually in the week that we went into lockdown. Our first reaction was to stop the integration, to stop everything. We closed the hotel and didn’t plan to do anything.
Within a couple of weeks, we started to review what was on the table, including the PMS project. We weren’t sure if we should proceed with the integration with the hotels in lockdown, or if we wait until we’re open again. We said to do it now is a good time because we have no guests in the hotels so we have all the time to correct anything that goes wrong.
On the other hand, if you've got no operational staff in the hotels and you change the system, they have to come back a few weeks later, reopen a hotel and start working with a new system, so there was a gap between the training they had and really working with the system. That was the downside.
...it took us four hours per hotel to go live on Mews. We could easily have done it with open hotels as well, looking back.
In the end, we decided to move forward with the integration in April when we were on lockdown because it gave us a lot of time to do it smoothly. I have to say the preparation, both from Mews' side and our team, was so good that it took us four hours per hotel to go live on Mews. We could easily have done it with open hotels as well, looking back."
How did you decide when to reopen your hotels?
"We decided we were going to open at the same moment that we were allowed to by the government. Actually, hotels in the Netherlands were never forced to close, so we would have been able to stay open, but it was from a safety perspective and obviously for financial reasons. You can’t run a hotel for just four hotel rooms.
Restaurants and bars were forced to close though, and the government said that hospitality in the Netherlands could reopen again on June 1st. So we said okay, we have to open on June 1st as well.
Then I thought we should consider opening for the May 29th because that's Pentecost weekend, which is usually a good weekend in hospitality. We looked at the demand in the market with the numbers we had available at that specific time and thought maybe we could gain some extra revenue by reopening then. So we took a leap of faith and opened the hotels, and business was slow but on the other hand maybe a little bit better in some cases than we expected. I think, in the end, it was a good call to do that."
Are your hotels fully open or are you limiting capacity?
“We're fully open. We were limited to only 30 people per building in the Netherlands, but the exception is hotel guests. However, from 1st July that restriction was lifted. So in Amsterdam, we are allowed to sell all 252 rooms, for instance. We can serve guests dinners and breakfast without a problem, as long as there’s a one and a half meter distance between them.”
What are you doing in terms of enhanced hygiene and safety?
“The hotels have signs about routines and health stations. We have to do a triage when people enter the hotel and ask them five questions about their health to see if we can let them enter. We have antibacterial hand gel, but masks are not needed in the Netherlands. Obviously, we see some guests coming in with masks, which is their own choice. In the Netherlands, masks are only mandatory in hospitals and public transport, so it's no use for us to provide them because it's not mandatory.
For the meetings that we host, we send out what we call boarding passes. Twenty-four hours before they arrive, they receive an email about which entrance they have to use and which meeting room they have to attend, in order to avoid having a lot of people walking through the hotel. We want people to go as directly to their specific area as they can.”
Is it difficult to remain hospitable while introducing all these new measures?
“No, I think we can still do all this and be hospitable. People understand that there is a little bit more distance, and people are a little bit more careful in approaching each other. We strongly believe in our own hospitality concept, so we told each location to provide our standard hospitality as they've done before. Just take the measures into consideration, but be friendly, still welcome every guest coming in through the door.
Having payments upfront [with automated payments] and having most of the information upfront, it limits the long interaction between the front office and also the hand-over of all kinds of stuff. That helps to create trust, not only for the guests, but also for our employees.”
What are you doing in terms of guest messaging and communication?
“We have our new protocol available on our website, and for specific groups we send an email with this protocol. We make sure that people are aware. In our confirmation emails, there is a line that we have the rules on the website.”
Has your guest demographic changed?
- “Usually our priority is the meeting market and the business-to-business market, with the leisure guest in fourth or fifth. Now the first focus is on the leisure guest because we know business is still down. We changed our targeting priority, reorganizing the priority of segmented markets for the coming period.”
Have you been doing anything else to strengthen your position?
“To strengthen our position in the MICE market (Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions), we organized the first conference in the Netherlands after reopening the hospitality industry again. It was held in Amsterdam with only 80 people in four different locations. There we had discussions with the meetings industry about how we can help this specific industry to bounce back.
That whole even went viral about three weeks ago now, and it's still going viral –we recently launched the white paper”
Were people happy to be meeting in person again?
“You know when the cows can go in the grass field in spring for the first time? It was like that. It was definitely like that. It was only a few people because we're limited with the external guest staff to 30 per building, so it was small groups of 20, and we got an online feed as well. But people really loved going out and seeing each other again. That really gave us a good feeling.”