COVID-19 is creating the opportunity for the great reset. Everyone is improving hygiene protocols, rearranging the furniture and figuring out how to operate with fewer team members because performance, in most cases, is not going to spike quickly, and the rebound to recent buoyant levels is more likely years away, not months. But is a reset right for every hotel?
After talking last week to Jannes Soerensen, pedigreed luxury general manager of The Beaumont, London, with previous stints at the Bristol in Paris and almost five years at The Connaught in London, I walked away believing that individual hotels and brands, especially in the luxury space, must do their utmost to stay true to their DNA. Expectations remain – perhaps even more so after guests have sheltered in place for so long.
Soerenson scoffed at the idea of putting up plexiglass at the front desk. As opposed to hugs and handshakes, maybe he will consider bowing or putting a hand over the heart as a new way of greeting guests. But I doubt there will be elbow or foot bumps at The Beaumont when it reopens in early July (that was the plan early this week).
While admittedly still finding his way to best deliver the right response to operational questions that the crisis has brought to the fore, Soerensen told me he wants to protect the fundamentals of luxury and the standards Beaumont guests have come to expect. He also wants the travel agent community to be reassured that the hotel experience they have come to expect still rings true.
“We are in the business of bringing people together. People are in the hotel industry for high touch and not high tech,” he said. “We have to very closely consider what changes will be temporary and what will be more permanent.”
With that in mind, selling the hygiene practices will not be the marketing message at the Beaumont because that is already the expectation. “Who wants to go into a restaurant with seating in plastic boxes and waiters in masks and gloves. I am not sure I want that,” Soerensen said. “Luxury is about giving people the option and not dictating what we think is right for us. Let us help them continue with their lives. So we need to continue to listen closely to best understand their needs.”
No doubt the Beaumont will figure out logical protocols. But what Soerensen also will do is remain sensitive to guest behaviors, social interaction cues and how they want to be treated in the new normal. Listen first; don’t presume so much. The opportunity to course correct will still be there. Stay emotionally close, Soerensen said, if not physically close.