As the world moves through the COVID-19 pandemic, hoteliers are logically turning their attention to the business travel market to help reignite the hospitality industry and tourism in general, particularly in Africa, says MARK HAVERCROFT of Minor Hotels.
For hotels specifically, a sector that plays a highly significant role in our regional economies, business travel may well turn out to be the saving grace. It follows then that players in this market must embrace new and effective strategies that allow them to effectively capitalise on the potential that business travel presents.
In sub-Saharan Africa alone, one in 30 jobs is in the travel and tourism sector, according to a World Bank report. Yet long periods of lockdown, accompanied by new social distancing norms and constant bio-surveillance, has fundamentally changed the landscape. Going forward, it will top priority for hoteliers to ensure guest safety, combined with the usual highest quality service and the best guest experience possible, if they are to see business travellers, and the companies they represent, continue to choose them.
To this end, it’ll also be the job of hotels, especially those that rely on out-of-country guests for their livelihoods, to remarket themselves in respect of what they offer these business clients. This includes a renewed focus online and other touchless services for all types of interactions, as well as the physical transformation of their public spaces.
Local travellers, and most especially local business travellers, can no longer be viewed as “the back-up plan” either. It’s clear that it’ll be some time before even the international business travel market gets back to pre COVID-19 levels. So if they are to have a future, hotels must tailor offerings that speak to the local market in respect of their customs, tastes and the nature of the experiences that will definitely prove attractive.
Take for example the “workation”, that concept that is garnering plenty of attention from local business travellers keen to see their employers allow them to mix business with some pleasure. It’s no surprise that such an opportunity to break out of the by now over-familiar work-from- home environment and instead work from a hotel during the day, would be most appealing.
Along with workrooms featuring suitable socially-distanced workstations, often in rooms previously utilised for conferencing and meetings, another attractive option is equally acceptable socially-distant excursions with colleagues. These can be facilitated by hotel teams to forge closer engagement between workmates who may no longer see one another every day. Both these options serve as a reminder of the office environment pre-pandemic, while boosting critical reintegration with colleagues previously viewed by many as their daytime family.
In the longer term, there will of course be life beyond our immediate borders as entry restrictions are further eased. And Africa certainly has an advantage here, considering how well the continent has weathered the COVID-19 storm – a fact that is likely to see global economies turn their attention back to Africa, and prepare for more local business dealings.
Awareness of how to effectively harness this new market will be key going forward, and hoteliers will have to be up to speed about what countries are reopening for business where, especially their African neighbours. South Africa reopened its international borders on 1 October as the country moved to lockdown Level 1, followed by Zambia, Namibia, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Eswatini, Tanzania, Rwanda, Nigeria, Ghana, Ethiopia and Kenya – albeit with differing regulations around COVID-19 testing prior to arrival, and quarantine requirements.
Africa has indeed begun to reopen. Now it’s critical for the country to demonstrate that it’s ready and able to welcome back travellers, and get back to the business it performs so well.
Mark Havercroft is the Regional Director for Minor Hotels Africa an international hotel group.