The Road to Reopening Hotel Doors in Laos
The Road to Reopening Hotel Doors in Laos
Veteran hotelier and We Are Lao Managing Director John Morris Williams presents an easy to follow guide to reopening the Lao hospitality sector, with a focus tour agent’s and traveler’s needs.
The travel trade and social media, both in Asia and globally, abound with hype about re-opening the tourism and hospitality industry in the Covid era. It’s interesting to read articles written by my professional colleagues, who try breaking down all the information floating around. This wealth of interpretations has created a maze, where one can easily get lost.
I remain in touch with my travel trade colleagues around the world. They are hurting as much as Lao tourism, and some may not reopen their travel companies due to Covid. We all hope this doesn’t happen, but it’s “in the cards” unless the situation improves with vaccinations and people following the oft-cited basic rules.
We all hope and pray the day comes, when we can again open the doors to tourists, especially here in Asia and Laos. Tourism is a lifeline and bread winner for many Lao people and the local economy.
In Laos, the government has done a tremendous job in keeping the country safe since last April’s border lockdown. Laos has had less than 50 confirmed cases, all coming from outside the country, and no deaths. The recovery rate has been 100%. This is a major achievement, and the Lao government should be applauded for their efforts.
Back to the topic of waiting for the day when the doors open, which is currently a guess. Rather than dreaming of reopening, it’s time to address more serious topics to bring the tourism and hospitality sector up and running when those tourism doors open.
What Your Foreign Travel Partners Want to Know
A considerable number of Lao properties have closed their doors during Covid due to various reasons such as cash flow and a lack of domestic demand. Whatever the reason, a decision to shutter their businesses brings a big shock.
Laos is now entering its 2nd border lockdown year, and foreign travel partners are wondering what’s going on behind those closed doors:
- What steps have you taken to maintain your closed property?
- How are you maintaining your hotel?
- How often are you cleaning your property?
- Do you turn on your water and electrical systems, and air conditioners at a certain times every week to ensure they are properly operating?
- Do you keep maintenance logbooks for reference?
- Do you regularly clean your bathrooms and shower units to eliminate bacteria sleeping in the walls?
- What are you doing to keep your linen, towels, and bathrobes clean and in good condition?
- Have you prepared a schedule to reopen and revive your establishment?
Your clients will want answers to these questions and those concerning measures you have taken to ensure your establishment is safe and hygienic. Clients may even ask to inspect your property before booking. I don’t mean to scare hotel owners and general managers, but the reality is that your clients will be asking these questions for the benefit of their clients, who will be staying or dining at your establishment.
Many of my friends who own and operate hotels and resorts in Laos have mentioned they are keeping a skeleton team of employees to maintain their properties. They need to communicate the answers to the above questions to their clients to build confidence and maintain business relationships.
Bringing Back Manpower
This is a topic on the minds of hotel and restaurant managers. How many staff should you bring back at first, and who will they be? Staff, who were laid off or furloughed and returned to their farms and villages, are also considering whether or not to go back to work in the service sector. They are thinking about how they were treated during Covid at the hotels, resorts, and restaurants where they worked.
Establishments may undergo a downsizing in staff, whereas in previous years, many hotels and resorts were overstaffed. Properties need to be careful, and bring staff back one step at a time, based on occupancies, forward bookings, and the future tourism development of the country.
Retraining for the Future
A longtime colleague from Germany asked me about the quality of manpower, when Laos opens its doors. I mentioned there is a huge ongoing drive on training courses countrywide. He was somewhat surprised, but I explained we are internally open unlike more strict lock downs seen in cities and regions in other countries. As such, we can develop and retrain future frontline hospitality staff.
As a travel agent, he will be asking his hotel partners if they have been training their staff during Covid. He needs to convince his Laos-bound clients that the country has maintained and improved its service quality.
Currently, several companies in Laos, such as DFICT, are offering reasonably priced courses across the country for housekeeping, food and beverage, and kitchen staff, with an added stress on hygiene. Now is the time for hotels and resorts, who are open or plan to reopen, to embrace and retrain your employees.
Fundamentals in Bringing Back Accommodation
A considerable amount of effort goes into bringing an establishment back to operational standards, once the doors reopen. Travel partners and their customers need to be sure they are entering a safe and reliable operation that has maintained their standards and offer value for money or even better than before.
A safe environment with measures and precautions in place are on the top of your trade partners’ lists. As previously mentioned, agents may want to inspect your property before placing their clients in your rooms. Yes, they’ll want to see plenty of hand sanitizers and masks. They also need to know your front-line staff have been trained in personal hygiene as well as current, and future, Covid-related standards issued by health departments around the world.
They may also want to see your full policies regarding topics, such as cleaning bathrooms and public areas with alcohol spray, to judge your property, and if you’ll be ready to welcome guests.
Looking to the Future: One Step at a Time
No one expects to be able to reopen their doors and return back to 2019’s numbers when the lockdown is lifted. A slow climb will take place in my view, though others may have different opinions. Regardless, everyone needs to take precautions; be aware of your environment; and ensure you protect your manpower, yourself, and your clients.
Recovery will take place one step at a time. Hotels need to plan for the future and work closely with local and overseas travel partners. Touch base with your partners today to keep the harmony you had going from disappearing. There is a need to rekindle relationships from both sides. You need to say “hello” today and send a more informative email next week. Keeping your establishment alive in their minds is of great importance. Be the first seen; not the last. They may have been wondering where you have you been all this time. You need to keep your name out there to ensure you still have friends once Laos opens. Communicate.
COVID Policies and Procedures:
There are numerous hospitality polices out there. Discuss with your travel agents and tour companies what they are expecting. Check with local hospitals and the WHO information website for the latest guidelines. A few hotels in Laos have created their own policies based on 2020 updates, that take travelers Covid-safe from the airport to their hotels and back again. Having a solid policy should keep you in line with expectations, and people will have trust in hotels that are ready and have prepared for the future. For a presentation, contact email@example.com.
My Thai and UK colleagues have asked about safe transportation, as they know about past accidents with buses and travel vans in Laos. Agents will question whether transportation providers – public or private - are insured, and have done safety checks on their vehicles since 2019. Hotel and tour companies need to have answers for safety questions, and be prepared to show back-up information. Public liability is ingrained in travel agents minds.
The same applies for river boats and ferries. I wonder how many are insured or have maintained their vessels during Covid. There are so many more questions to answer and factors to look at before we open and move forwards. Again, find out what your clients require.
Insurance and Public Liability Insurance
Your hotel needs a solid insurance policy. Recently, I have been working as a consultant for a Lao insurance company, APA, and their COO Suthee Vitthayagovit. What I have been finding is a large number of hotels, resorts, entertainment centers, and activities do not have property insurance, and/or public liability coverage. Overseas and local tour companies will request to see your hotel or resort license and proof of your property and public liability coverage.
OTAs and Pricing
The notorious OTAs are already lurking on the sidelines. They witnessed a huge drop in revenue in Laos, and will try to make this up, as would any company in the world. They have a huge marketing purse, and will entice you to join them. Be careful, and make sure what they offer covers your costs and a lot more. Trying to fill rooms is one thing; keeping your cash flow alive is another, and most properties will not have an adequate cash flow for a while once Laos opens.
OTAs may attempt to revise previous contracts that only fit their agenda. Remember this, plenty of properties went with prepayment schemes and now they are looking for their money back due to Covid by crying, “Force majeure.” Meanwhile, establishments still have to pay their staff and stay alive.
Those who remained open, have been working with domestic agents and DMCs. These are the partners, who helped you during the hard times, and with whom you should build a stronger bond looking towards the future. Domestic agents participating in “Lao Thiew Lao” are the ones, who kept tourism going, and are the ones you can trust. The same applies both ways.
Your goal during reopening is to reduce your losses. To do this:
- Work with local travel agents and DMCs, and create a lasting bond.
- Do not expect room rates to immediately return to 2019 levels, as you may find yourself with no partners or contracts.
- Raising rates must be mutually agreed upon from both sides.
- Increase rates over time, and check with your partners on what they are selling, and at what rate to prevent unnecessary losses.
- Seek a win-win for both sides during reopening.
- Build your occupancy step by step.
- Control your manpower and budgets.
If you need additional assistance, pleases feel free to drop me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.