In The Face of a Pandemic: 5 Lessons From A Hospitality Leader

The Frasers Hospitality veteran is counting on her years of experience to guide the group through one of the hardest challenges the hospitality industry has ever faced.

COVID-19 may have thrown a curveball at the global travel and hospitality industry in 2020. But Tonya Khong, Senior Vice President and Head of Regional Operations, is drawing on her extensive experience from 22 years with Frasers Hospitality to face the situation head-on.

Here, she shares some of her takeaways as one of the hospitality leaders of the serviced apartment industry.

1. Be nimble

Tonya Khong, Senior Vice President and Head of Regional Operations

I have been with Frasers Hospitality from the beginning, weathering the ups, the downs, the good, the bad, and most importantly, the unexpected. What we thought 2020 would have in store for the travel industry has now significantly changed, and the industry has to change with it.

The best hospitality leaders are using this difficult time to take stock of where they are now. They also need to act on what needs to be done in the immediate short term, and wisely use this downtime to plan for the future.

2. Celebrate the small wins

Frasers Hospitality staff in China in good spirits over a meal

Don’t be consumed with the day-to-day challenges of the business. This unprecedented situation has shown us that no one can predict what will happen next. Step back and recognise when you and the team are doing a really great job – this is helpful in keeping the positivity and energy flowing through the business.

Across our properties, our Frasers Hospitality staff are showing how much they care through small yet meaningful initiatives. We continue to celebrate staff birthdays, births and share thank you notes from guests during these tough times.

For our guests in Singapore, they were given a farewell token when they checked out, especially those who served their mandatory two-week quarantine. Our chefs joined in too, whipping up special meals to encourage both staff and guests.

3. If you don’t know the answer, say so

We have to admit that we are not sure what the rest of 2020 holds in terms of travel. The trends we had expected this year included slow travel (taking your time to get to a destination), microcations (mini-breaks throughout the year) and bleisure (business trips with a couple of leisure days tagged on the beginning or end). But till travel can resume, the plans we had to welcome these travellers will have to take a backseat.

For now, some of the countries our serviced apartments are in – like China, Australia, United Kingdom and Germany – are just starting to move past the worst of the outbreak and re-open. It is our hope the rest of the world will soon follow.

As most continue to stay in, we expect domestic travel to increase and business travel to evolve. However, until the virus is contained, we must be prepared to wait to return to a sense of normalcy again. 

4. Live out your company values

Frasers Hospitality staff remain cheerful despite the challenges COVID-19 has brought to the hospitality industry

We strive to embed these in the culture and everyday lives of our staff. But sometimes, we momentarily forget to align our values with our actions. But it is exactly in challenging situations a hospitality leader should revisit these values.

Case in point: Back in February, we predicted that COVID-19 was going to develop beyond China. Immediately, we updated our global cancellation policy and operating protocols. We recognised that guests would need as much flexibility for their plans as possible given the volatile nature of the pandemic. By respecting the situation at hand and tweaking our policies to reflect it, we could better assure them that #FraserCares.

5. Recognise teamwork 

During challenging times, it can be hard to remember and recognise the amazing staff that you have. Our staff on the ground are facing challenges day in and day out, including our housekeepers, front-of-house staff and security personnel. Yet, they go above and beyond to show they care.

When we first learned of possible infection at our Singapore properties, our housekeeping staff did not hesitate to put themselves at risk. They promptly attended to suspected cases, while taking precautionary measures to protect themselves and their colleagues.

In Thailand, our team at Fraser Suites Sukhumvit Bangkok came together to support the local community by making masks with clean linen for the tuk-tuk drivers. And over in Australia, our chefs went above and beyond their duty to prepare special and nutritious bento meals for our guests and staff.

staff gathering back in 2019

It is especially in these times that encouragement is extremely important to help one another keep going. Sharing stellar reviews and praise from our guests is a great way to boost morale and remind the team of their dedication.

After all, each and every staff is an asset to our business. Recognising and celebrating their incredible work and sacrifice is the least hospitality leaders can do.

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