The hotel industry is closer to the finish line than the starting line of the pandemic, and while leisure demand is still driving the recovery, hoteliers are seeing signs of life in group business and reasons to be optimistic.
Speaking during the “North America Executive Panel” at the online Hotel Data Conference: Global Edition, Liam Brown, group president of the United States and Canada at Marriott International, said his company is heartened to see ongoing improvement.
“Our week-over-week numbers continue to improve,” he said. “It’s led by leisure first. There are signs of life in business-transient, but there’s also signs of life in group.”
Of the groups that canceled in 2020 and 2021, Brown said Marriott has been able to rebook north of 80% of those groups at its larger hotels.
The company is also seeing bookings for smaller groups in the year for the year.
“There’s certainly a big manifestation of interest [in group] that is developing, and we’re very, very encouraged by the numbers,” he said.
Carlos Flores, president and CEO of Sonesta International Hotels Corp., said he has been optimistic about the recovery as his company has a large portfolio of focused-service and extended-stay hotels that have benefited from leisure demand.
The company is also starting to see signs of life among the group segment with customers rebooking their reservations, he said.
“The profile of that group customer isn’t ideally what we want it to be, but it’s there,” he said. “It’s small meetings and groups, it’s social … there’s a fair amount of activity and objective reason for optimism,” he said.
Flores said the industry could recover sooner than expected given the ramp-up in vaccine production and distribution.
“I think we’re going to see a pretty fast recovery that may be pleasantly surprising for the industry,” he added.
Eric Habermann, chief operating officer at Pyramid Hotel Group, said his company is looking ahead and is focused on “winning the recovery,” which means looking at industry data analytics and “using that information to help predict what’s going on and take advantage of that at every one of our properties.”
Inspiring Guest Confidence, Adapting to Changes
To ensure hotels were sanitized and to make guests feel safe throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, hotels had to quickly implement enhanced cleaning standards.
Many hotels also had to adapt to the needs of leisure travelers, Brown said. Leisure travelers expect an experience, certain amenities, and cleanliness and social distancing standards while business travelers are there for work and are usually just looking for a clean hotel.
As demand continues to pick up, hotels need to continue adapting, which could mean hiring more people to meet demand.
To hire more people, companies must have a good company culture in place, Brown said, adding that is something Marriott is fortunate to have.
“We’ve had a lot of pain and suffering over the last 12 months in terms of people and what our people have endured, but … we’re still an industry that has vitality in terms of careers and opportunity, and if we have associate gaps in terms of being able to fill jobs … we just have to work really hard to use every tool at our disposal to hire right, train right and treat right, and I think we will be fine,” he said.