50 (145) 2021

Lessons from the Pandemic

Hotel services during a pandemic

By Piotr Cwojdziński, CEO, Exclusive Aparthotel Sp. z o.o.
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The pandemic hit us by surprise and the scale of the situation was unexpected for the entire hospitality industry. The numerous restrictions imposed by governments forced us to adjust to formal requirements to be able to conduct business, making us more flexible in terms of customer acquisition as a result.

Preparing for, and adapting to, the new reality was quite a challenge. We had to combine the security of providing services with the effectiveness of running a business. On one hand, we had to reduce cleaning services and the breakfast offer to limit direct contact between guests and staff; on the other, we made both kinds of service more flexible by preparing special packages for customers. We focused on an individual approach to travellers and meeting their needs by arranging grocery shopping or self-cleaning packages for them. We ensured our guests had the highest level of safety measures by disinfecting the apartments with an ozonator upon each check-out and providing the necessary PPE. However, all these actions undertaken meant additional expenses which we had to incur as a company to provide services under the business and sanitary restrictions. As a result of these restrictions, we had to redefine the way we provide our services. We were forced to limit the sale of short-term stays, which were allowed only for selected groups of professionals. We had to implement major changes to the flexibility of our booking and cancellation policies. We were not sure whether the client would arrive at the hotel, or for example, be stopped at the airport. We took into account that clients may not appear for reasons outside their control. The overall situation made the booking window very tight. Before the pandemic, the client could make reservations even up to a few weeks earlier – now they can do this only a few days in advance.

Before everything began, our sales were based on two segments: long and medium-term stays for business clients and short-term stays for clients acquired mainly through hotel portals such as Booking.com, Expedia or HRS. The pandemic outbreak resulted in quite different consequences for each of these groups, so we had to rethink which strategy for further development to choose and which guest segments to focus on. The next months provided us with the answer to these questions.

During the pandemic, it turned out that the appropriate size of the apartment, which allows for relaxation as well as ensuring appropriate working conditions, is very valuable for our guests. They began spending much more time in the apartment, so we adapted the equipment to their individual needs, providing, among other things, desks, adequate lighting, access to a printer, scanner and even better-quality internet connections. Our recent experience has shown us that despite the restrictions, large companies still needed medium and long-term stays. Admittedly, the scale of these was not as large as before the pandemic, but some of their employees were still traveling due to projects which, despite circumstances, still had to continue. And this is a segment which has become our main customer, while sales of short-term stays fell to almost zero. The pandemic also proved to us how important lasting business relationships are. During this period, we mainly hosted guests with whom we have been cooperating for many years, providing them with business trip accommodation services

The first phase of the pandemic also brought about the need to renegotiate the terms of cooperation with our contractors and suppliers. In this way, we have tested the flexibility of our suppliers and it resulted in ceasing cooperation with some of them, while reinforcing cooperation with others. The pandemic forced us to reduce the apartment base, re-evaluate certain relationships and tested the ability of our employees to adapt to the new standard of customer service. Flexibility and openness to new solutions turned out to be the key. It is true that, as an aparthotel provider, we had some advantages compared to traditional hotels, but it was still necessary to reach the client with this message and it seems that we have succeeded. Until recently, we offered, as an advantage, fully furnished and equipped units, and today we offer multifunctional apartments, which, in addition to a substitute for a real home, provide a comfortable space for work and meet all the other expectations of today's guest.

Our conclusions from the pandemic do not end here. As an aparthotel provider with facilities in several cities in Poland, we have noticed what impact on demand the location had. In tourist cities, such as Kraków, we have suffered greater losses compared to Warsaw and Wrocław, cities more focused on business and investment. This forced us into more drastic decisions about the numbers of apartments we operate in order to minimise losses. Now, we still need at least a few more months to fully return to the number of units we had before the pandemic. The business has not yet fully recovered. Travel is still severely restricted and many companies are still suspending business trips. Our forecasts, however, assume a slow return to normal travel without restrictions, as some projects require direct contact and it is impossible to conduct business solely remotely. Our conversations with people responsible for business travel in companies also clearly indicate that their employees miss travelling, still have a need to relocate and want to combine it with work.

Even though we are not yet achieving pre-pandemic levels, we are noticing an increase in client numbers. We are looking more and more optimistically to the future. We have also returned to talks with developers regarding new investments. Our future offers will be even more focused on the individual needs of business clients to meet their highest expectations. We still feel that we are needed in providing services for business.

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