Telum Talks To... Gaynor Reid, Vice President Communications & CSR, Asia Pacific, Accor
With travel restrictions and prohibitions in place due to the ongoing pandemic, the future of the hospitality industry has been thrown into a whirl of uncertainty. This week, we caught up with Gaynor Reid from Accor to get her thoughts on the situation and the challenges she faces as a comms professional in the industry, as well as Accor's plans for recovery moving forward.
With the pandemic going on for so long - the hospitality industry remains one of the most affected industries by COVID-19. From your perspective, how have things been going on recently for Accor and yourself?
The COVID-19 pandemic has been the worst crisis that the tourism industry has ever faced and has certainly decimated our industry. There are predictions that 50 million tourism jobs will be lost globally, with 30 million of those being in Asia, where I am based. This is truly heartbreaking because in this part of the world so many people rely on tourism for a living and there will be a huge increase in poverty as a result of this loss of economic activity. For Accor, we have seen our revenues fall by around 50 per cent for the first half of the year. Personally, the hardest thing for me is not being able to travel, as this is what I live for and is usually a huge part of my role. I am especially missing my family and friends back in Australia, whom I am used to seeing every 6 to 8 weeks and now probably won’t even make it home for Christmas.
Has the way you've been interacting with the media changed? Is there any difference from how you deal with interviews, pitches and the like compared to before the pandemic?
The first major change is that we have had to set up a lot of virtual interviews, which is not great because you miss the physical cues and camaraderie that you build when face to face. We also had to host our first virtual press conference, which again is not anything close to being able to mingle with people in person, not to mention, no champagne and food! One thing that I have told my team to do is to pick up the phone and check in on our media friends as they are obviously suffering immensely too, with so many media outlets cutting staff or publications closing down. It’s important that we are all in this together and sometimes just chatting to our media friends is a good way to show our support. It’s so sad to watch the two industries that have been my life for 30 years both suffering as a result of this pandemic.
What are some of the biggest challenges the hospitality sector has been facing in terms of communications because of COVID-19?
First of all, our marketing budgets have been severely limited as we don’t have the normal revenues coming into our hotels and that means we can’t communicate as often with our customers as we would like. In addition, the situation is changing so quickly that it’s hard to plan any messaging because you don’t know what’s around the corner. For example, we committed some budget and created a really great campaign to go into the New Zealand market when they had the situation under control. It was all about giving 2020 a reboot and marking those celebrations and special events that had been missed during COVID (weddings, birthdays, anniversaries etc) and then there was a sudden shutdown of New Zealand and all those efforts were wasted. A lot of our communication at the moment is based around safety and hygiene and reassuring people that our ALLSAFE protocols mean it’s safe to stay in our hotels as we have vigorous hygiene standards in place. We have also changed our communication strategy on our social channels so that we can provide entertainment and assistance to get our guests and loyalty members through COVID - for example, with yoga or exercise sessions, home cooking lessons with our chefs, craft activities for children, virtual concerts etc - so our guests know we are all in this together and we don’t just communicate when we want to sell them something.
Real-time communications has proven to be crucial for establishments like hotels as government advisories and guidelines change often during this period. How has Accor communicated this information to customers?
This is another area where information is constantly changing, so we prefer to direct our guests to their own government advisories for the latest information. However, we also have to stay abreast of what is happening globally, so we have daily updates from the regions as to what the latest government advice is.
When the pandemic does eventually subside, what are some recovery plans Accor has in place? Do you have any plans or special programs to win back the trust of your guests?
We have recovery plans in place for every region, which obviously we are changing regularly as the situation unfolds. The first travel that will return is domestic leisure travel, then domestic business travel, while international travel will take longer to rebound. Our recovery plans are focused on local markets first; however because we can never be sure where travel bubbles might be launched or which borders will open first. We have to be very flexible and agile. We are also looking closely at what has happened in China as a sign of what to expect in other markets. Our hotels in China are back to over 60 per cent occupancy and are seeing small events and meetings from the corporate market, so there is hope for the rest of the world. Our ALLSAFE hygiene protocols will be key to giving our guests the confidence to travel, but at the same time, we also need to ensure we are offering them amazing experiences, great value and the warm welcome they have always come to expect from us. Members of our ALL - Accor Live Limitless - loyalty program will be an essential part of our first recovery efforts as they are already know and trust our brands. Accor also has a first-of-its-kind partnership with AXA to provide our guests with free access to tele-medical consultations when they stay with us, to add an extra layer of reassurance for them.