Palazzo Versace Dubai's Monther Darwish on how to adapt to a post-COVID world

The hotel's managing director says hoteliers need to give themselves a voice after the pandemic

Monther Darwish
Monther Darwish

I don't believe anything can compare to the challenges we’re witnessing from the current pandemic. From thousands of employees laid off to complete shutdown of businesses, we all have heard the sad stories of COVID-19.
However, as a hospitality business owner, sitting idle and waiting for this to pass is not a solution. Nor is it a solution to push a market whose last thought right now is where to travel next. There are a few things that all hotels need to do to stay relevant for guests and though we tend to run to business counsellors and analysts, let’s think about our consumer ‘behaviour and pull out some pieces of advice:
Embrace digital
Most of the businesses – be them hospitality or not – have a digital footprint and communicate mainly through their social channels. But social media is not the only thing we can do to attract business. Many people will still fear social interaction, even when this pandemic will be over. In a sector like ours, human interaction is a must. As guests in a hotel, the more attention we get, the more we feel special and looked after.
From my consumer perspective, I do enjoy a luxury service in the hotel, but in these times I prefer to be safe. I want a touchless and hygienic experience. This is why all hospitality businesses need to develop their digital offerings. Go for a keyless check-in to reassure the guests that they’ll spend zero time at a reception desk. Develop a mobile ordering system for restaurants using QR codes and terminate the era of printed menus. 
Be innovative
Taking new initiatives when your competitors are quiet means you have zero opponents when it comes to share of voice and market. Take this as a good time to launch a new brand experience. Create excitement and the demand will come. We have recently launched Palazzo Versace Dubai e-gift platform and the market response is nothing but positive. People look forward to things that make them happy and we give them this opportunity – to gift or treat themselves to something they can hardly wait to happen.  
Rethink occupancy
As hoteliers, we had no other goal before but to increase occupancy. We also added more seats in the restaurants to maximise revenue, as well as getting more tables in conference rooms just confirm big groups and their big budgets. We have to accept that that era is far gone. We must adhere to the “two-metre” rule from now on and be more aware of what personal space means. This costs us money but gains us the trust of our guests.
Ramp up the sanitisation measures
Enhancing the cleaning and sanitisation protocol is not an option anymore for hospitality businesses. As much as we believe these go without saying – especially for five-star hotel market -  guests want to be reassured that a hotel is as clean as a hospital. Show these measures to your audience and take them through all the steps of the new safety protocol. 
Build the top of the mind recall
The market consumption might not be at the same level as last year but prepare your business for life after COVID-19. Promote the “no-touch” experiences implemented and continue to have a public image. Announce all the protocols you follow as a business and invest in staff training. Hotels that do these now differentiate themselves quickly and add to their brand recognition.
An Emirati entrepreneur, Monther Darwish, started his career early in 2000s. His portfolio of businesses spans over several sectors and industries, from hospitality to real estate, tourism, general trading and interior design. He has been associated with Palazzo Versace Dubai since 2013 and the managing director of the property since 2017. As vice-chairman of ENSHAA PSC, Darwish is responsible for expanding the company’s portfolio of businesses in the United Arab Emirates.

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