Hospitality and COVID-19: what does the future hold?

8 min read

With social distancing keeping many people at home, we are seeing major shifts in behavioural trends. Consumers are seeking more in the way of escapism and digital entertainment. With so much changing so fast during this difficult time, what actions can your brand take to serve and grow their customer base, mitigate risk and take care of your people, while building trust back into the industry to attract your client base back?

‘Design’ could be the secret ingredient! Whether we are willing to accept it or not, design affects all corners of society and could be considered the key towards the satisfaction of needs, desires and emotions. All of our surroundings are designed and manufactured, from policies to buildings and open spaces. Besides this underlying framework of design, our process also involves a holistic approach to challenges by way of problem solving, whatever the design may be, be it for products, logos, architecture, interiors, … The disciplines seamlessly tie in together to create good design and effect society positively. A good design solution engages the community and always bears in mind the wellbeing of individuals as the moral of the design intent.

While the answer to that question will be different for every business and culture, here are 8 impactful and meaningful approaches to give your clients a reason to believe that you will get through this crisis and move forward.

Have you asked yourself “Why, what and how?”

If your business did not experience any support from your regular clients during this crisis, you need to be honest with yourself and ask the difficult question, “Why, what and how?”
• How do clients see you?
• How do they feel about the brand?
• Why did you open your business in the first place?

It is also important to see this relationship from a different perspective:
• What are the needs and desires of your clients today?
• How does my business see clients?
• How can my product offer a unique experience based on such needs?

These questions cannot be an afterthought and their answers will need proper attention and focus if effective change is to be attained. Market research is imperative to understand how customers behave, think and what they want and in so doing determining locally based demand.
The results of these questions should help you to put together a strategy and an action plan to aid in reaching the position, the conceptual place, that you would like to accede to in the target consumers’ mind and the benefits that you would like them to think of when thinking of your brand.

Charity, however, begins at home. The experiences from past recessions and crises suggest that covid-19 is likely to transform three features of your staff work lives: job satisfaction, ethical leadership and trust.

Do not underestimate your staff; even those fortunate enough to have a secure job may be more thankful for aspects of work that were once taken for granted. People who love their jobs often pay a “passion tax”; when people see their work as a calling, they are more willing to sacrifice money, time and comfort.

Move toward a more ethical and compassionate leadership by putting people first. Consider shifting toward the Japanese model of protecting jobs or the Scandinavian model of providing a safety-net for those who lose their jobs. This will instil trust and your team will be more tightly knit and be more effective.

Present with empathy and transparency

People feel vulnerable right now. Empathy is critical. Show humility in the face of a force larger than all of us. The nuances of brand voice are more delicate than ever. Brands that use this time to be commercially exploitative will not fare well. In these moments, you do not have all the answers and you need to acknowledge that. If you make pledges, even during uncertain times, you must be able to deliver on what you say.
Massimo Vignelli, a renowned designer, frequently spoke about this issue. He said, “Badly intended marketing or a lonely intended marketing could destroy a company instead of building it up. The importance of design is enormous, but even more important is the awareness of the top management.”

Associate your brand with good

People will remember brands for their acts of good in a time of crisis, particularly if done with true heart and generosity. Feel-good content that alleviates anxiety and promotes positive messaging will go a long way to enhancing your brand. However, you need to show that the contributions are material and not solely for commercial benefit. Consumers recognize authenticity and true purpose.

Again, quoting Vignelli, “If design and marketing is done in order to increase sales, then is the wrong approach.” Good needs to be embroiled in each action and motive. Good needs to be the trigger. Kindness the action.

Good needs to be embroiled in each action and motive. Good needs to be the trigger. Kindness the action.

Address customer concerns

The mix of actual current media platforms used by consumers changes quickly. Anticipate what a consumer needs before they need it. This can be done by talking with your customer experience teams to learn what their interactions have been like. Remember that the most valuable asset that you have right now is the engagement with your clients. Your communication with your audience is the key, and you need their feedback.

In order to achieve this, your communication with your clients should be iterative, and when we solicit feedback from clients, the communication model has an additional component. You create the message, send it to the receiver, and instead of stopping there, the communication continues as the receiver sends a message back.

new communication model

Look also to the existing creative and see what has performed well that overlaps with what your audience is being drawn to now. Freshen up creative with a new timely hook and use media in more agile ways to measure sentiment and consumption trends on a regular basis to better adapt messaging, closely observing the conversation across social-media platforms, community sites, and e-commerce product pages to look for opportunities and identify looming crises more quickly.

Bring people together as they stay safely apart

Brands are all having to think, operate and lead in new ways during these uncertain and unprecedented circumstances, and business owners will all have to learn to deal with this with both confidence and humility. The new challenge that the industry will face is finding a balance of “isolated concentration and productive, meaningful collaboration.”

Know where to cut costs

While the idea of efficiency and sustainability is not new to the hospitality industry, you need a renewed mindset around what it means. The emphasis should be placed on efficient, yet elegant, solutions. Knowing where, and how to cut costs without reducing standards—but maintaining value. Through difficult times, you should still ensure that you are doing everything to keep customer satisfaction high.

Stay Connected to Your Audience

Crisis moments are not a time to go silent to your audience. Hospitality businesses can still maintain a strong relationship with their guests even in the midst of a difficult time. Show the human side of your business, get raw, authentic and real. Ensure you are connecting with your guests on more than just basic needs.

Appealing to your guests’ emotionally and solidify your relationship with them. Make sure you are communicating this effectively through the right channels. Maintaining a positive image to the public will be key in ensuring new and return customers. The focus should not be on booking reservations. The emphasis of the industry should be on ensuring clients have a clean and secure atmosphere. Some ideas of how to connect with clients are:

• Leverage your establishment’s social media to share updates
• Respond quickly to clients’ requests (online or otherwise)
• Communicate new safety/health initiatives
• Create content that will help people. (e.g. video recipes from your chef, home workouts, housekeeping tips, behind-the-scenes videos of your team, etc.)

Social networking is a strong method for creating a community, communicating with the clients and sharing brand messages. People are spending more time browsing through their feeds and posting updates online and on social media. This makes social media a great channel for any brand during unexpected times.

Even beyond these unique “crisis moments,” it is a great time to look at your social media strategy as a whole. Are you building relationships with your clients or just posting the bare minimum content possible? What sort of message and perception does your social media presence communicate? Be honest with yourself and to your clients.

How can you plan for the future?

You are in the acknowledge-and-adapt phase of the Covid-19 pandemic. But you also must plan ahead and have a solid crisis strategy for your business beyond the crisis. Externally, you need to keep the brand and customer experiences as whole as possible. Internally, you could do two things:

• Understand the impact of business interruption and continue to test the unexpected while planning for ongoing staff training for future crises.
• Lean into digital ways of working and connecting with customers, knowing that this will likely have lasting effects.

Unquestionably, there is a forced acceleration of the digital transformation agenda as we recognize how quickly clients and employees have embraced digitally enabled journeys and experiences.

Innovation therefore is key in achieving this both with your staff and with clients. The design of this innovation needs to take into consideration the social needs, values and aspirations of these groups so that it inclusive, culturally appropriate and sensitive. Each time an organisation expands to a new nation or changes due to a social, economic or health shift, it must devise a culturally appropriate strategy for fitting into the new setting.


The road ahead is difficult, and the horizon may be hard to see. However, it will end—eventually. Now is not a time to sit on our hands. The leaders and companies who are purposeful, driven and tenacious through this time will be the ones who emerge leaps-and-bounds ahead of their competitors. Leverage this time. What many consider a dark, hopeless time for the hospitality industry can be turned into a vibrant time of growth for others.

Build trust, stay strong, stay hopeful, be encouraged.

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