David Singleton on how to win back hotel guests' hearts and minds

The industry needs to find new ways to make returning guests feel safe and happy to be back

David Singleton
David Singleton

As I write our industry is undergoing the most unwelcome transformation we will ever see in our lives, and no one really knows how long it will be before we’re on the other side. The new normal, the post COVID-19 era, call it what you will is being written right now. The history of our industry has been written and we are writing and creating the future; ‘the future normal’. As our cafés and hotels slowly reopen, we do so with a whole new rule book; many of our colleagues in the industry will have to reskill and diversify and all of us are learning to cope in different ways.

I have made a conscious effort to connect and reconnect with my network in these lockdown weeks, making a huge effort to develop parts of my business and network that I might not have ordinarily done. In one Zoom meeting I connected with one of my former colleagues and mentor, Dr Chris Edger, author and Professor of multi-unit leadership. I wanted to learn more from him of the importance of transformational leadership.

Inspirational leaders can do the most amazing things, even in the depth of a crisis the best leaders are shown to care. Marriott International CEO, Arne Sorenson and Airbnb CEO, Brian Chesky are two standout CEOs who have demonstrated five most important aspects of leadership;

Feelings and Behaviours Make people feel good at times of crisis especially. Demonstrating through actions, how they motivate, develop and ignite; that’s the team, and the customers alike

Emotional connection Be unconditional, be aware, open and honest. A leader today needs to demonstrate calm, whilst working furiously in the background. Authentic leadership is, by definition, real and genuine. Arne Sorenson is an authentic leader demonstrating with the release of a compelling video to Marriott employees, shareholders, and customers. Sorenson lowered the shield. He was candid, vulnerable, humble, emotional and hopeful, his employees used words like ‘heartfelt and inspiring’ and ‘a master class in leadership’. It’s been a sharp contrast to the open letters we’ve read from aggregators who are coming under pressure to exit or transform.

Experiences An impactful leader can draw on experience and wisdom, be inspirational and supportive at the right time.

Memories This loops back to my first point of making people feel good. People remember how their leader made them feel, especially when times are tough like now. Brian Chesky recently wrote a personal letter to his global team. He was compassionate, encouraging, transparent and clear “To those leaving Airbnb, I am truly sorry. Please know this is not your fault. The world will never stop seeking the qualities and talents that you brought to Airbnb .... I want to thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for sharing them with us”. It’s an inspiring letter and a lesson in how to talk to your team in hard times.

Bring the best people with you as we start the cautious re-opening. Lead, inspire and ignite passion to be creative to find new ways to work to make guests returning to hotels and restaurants feel safe and happy to be back. They have grown to love the security and comfort of home, enjoyed cooking and being with their families and saving their money. Win their hearts and minds with the best experiences you can give. Make them feel good, connect with their emotions and create memories through authentic and memorable experiences.

David Singleton has worked in the hospitality and retail industry in the USA, EMEA and South Asia as a brand builder, creator, operator, franchisee, franchisor for some of the world’s best known and respected brands. David moderates, speaks, writes, advises and mentors across the hospitality and service sectors globally.

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