How Pandemic has changed the tourism landscape

by Jessie Liew

 

Personally, my endeavours in the Hospitality industry have been nothing short of intriguing and exciting. This industry deals with people, work surrounding people. Never a bored moment. I was offered great opportunities to have worked with several senior leaderships of the industry. If there is one thing I have learnt and will continue to cherish, it is this – Hospitality is an attitude, a mindset, and a delivery of commitment. It is a package that puts together a service which is experienced by others. The core of Hospitality is not about making no mistake or having flawless skills. It is about serving with a pure heart, to serve wholeheartedly. Omotenashi, the old-school but infamous Japanese Hospitality, grounded on mutual respect and honest service.

The root of the industry started as “a sanctuary for weary travellers” and “being the gracious host for guests from all walks of life”. The industry flourished since the 13th century BC; has undergone its fair share of ups-and-downs: epidemics, pandemics, war time, recessions, and depression. Yet, it bounces back every time. This speaks how sturdy and yet versatile the industry can be – Built, wrecked, transformed, and move forward. Fast forward to today, the industry is once again transforming. The pandemic is effectively changing the tourism landscape and expectations. It is a reset to what we thought we have known about Hospitality and services. 

Once a great leader shared with me: “Safety, Security and Hygiene – these are our moral obligations to the guests as a hotel operator”. And this, has become the latest “theme” of transformation. We understood these words very well, but the emphasis is so tremendous now, that there is an industry-wide review on SOPs, guidelines, trainings, process re-engineering etc. Now bear in mind, these do not change the Omotenashi values as Hospitality service commitment. No matter how much the industry will transform, the fundamentals are here to stay.

“Safe travels” means a great deal now – travellers are required mandatory masks wearing, social distancing, hand washing by disinfectants. Hospitality means disinfecting rooms and amenities, personnel are required to wear masks and gloves, work shifts with limited number of staff, complex-than-usual guests registration processes etc. All these, from Operations point of view, plays a great part of guest experiences. This is what will bring peace to guests’ minds that they are in good hands while traveling. However, in Business perspective, it means a great deal of extra costs and yet less travel groups revenue with the crowd limitation, also losing MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions) businesses. This challenges the norm, on how a typical hotel to operate and do business. Industry players are still finding effective coping mechanism to overcome.

Given all the restrictions though, travellers are still looking forward to travel. Until international borders open up, domestic travel booms – Cuti Cuti Malaysia and we are proud that Malaysia is one of the most interesting destinations in Asia. Malaysians are passionate and enthusiastic hosts; we have great passion in sharing cultures and interests, with plenty of food sharing on the table. This is part of Malaysian version of Omotenashi. But we must understand that these are just basics.

Hospitality is also about verbal and body language, be compassionate and empathy on guests’ needs and be responsible in operations delivery. Typically, hoteliers will tell you “on-job experience is more important” and “start young at grassroot”. Now, working experience is an improvisation. The foundation for these improvisations come from one, and only one source. And that is education. One must learn from education from young, on what is fundamentally important to work as a team, to learn the hotel business and operations. And then to serve guests wholeheartedly, with the improvisation according to different hotel brand standards, guidelines, SOPs etc.

During any crisis or emergency situation, Hospitality industry is always first to get hit but last to recover. Transformation without swaying fundamental values takes great leadership to command, great team to deliver. There are techniques and skills to unlearn and relearn, but the fundamentals do not change. A complete and up-to-date education is how we contribute to the industry growth process, to say the least. To serve wholeheartedly comes from within, and education is the best you can equip yourself with. If we treat Hospitality as “just another course or job”, then we are speaking different language here.

 

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