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5 key takeaways from our conversation with Hyatt's Chief Commercial Officer

Oct. 14, 2020
9 min read
Miraval Berkshires Hyatt Zach Griff - 54
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The hotel industry has faced significant challenges in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Occupancy rates plummeted in the early weeks of the outbreak, and many chains extended elite status and other perks to reflect the sudden drop in travel. The impacts will likely continue for months or years to come, as COVID-19 will likely reshape the future of travel in many ways.

So how are the major hotel chains approaching this new reality?

Well, on this week's Future of Travel webinar, TPG's founder and CEO, Brian Kelly, sat down with Mark Vondrasek, Hyatt's Chief Commercial Officer to discuss this very topic. They covered a lot of ground during the session — including cleanliness, property development and safety.

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Read on for more information, and check the end of this post for a full recording of the webinar.

Implementing enhanced cleaning protocols

On a pre-session poll, 48% of the attendees indicated that they have stayed at least one night in a hotel since the outbreak of the pandemic. However, that means over half of the audience has spent several months away. And obviously, cleaning and disinfection protocols were top of mind.

Hyatt is taking this very seriously with its Global Care and Cleanliness Commitment. Mark provided additional details on what led to this initiative, highlighting how the company partnered with various experts (like Cleveland Clinic) to create a holistic vision of well-being. Sure, that involves cleanliness and safety on property — which Mark described as "table stakes" — but also focuses on general wellness.

So how does this translate into your experience at an actual hotel?

"We asked each property to name a dedicated hygiene and well-being leader," said Mark. This individual "would be responsible for the entire guest experience as it relates to global care," adding that this would pay off much more than centralized action on Hyatt's part. This was open to anyone with a passion and interest in the position, including management employees down to front-desk staff.

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"It's been a nice way to connect the ownership and responsibility of what we're building and delivering to someone who can make sure it happens consistently all the time."

RELATED: What your hotel stay will look like in a world after coronavirus

Leaning into technology

In addition to enhanced cleaning, Hyatt is leaning heavily on digital innovation to transform the stay for guests. "We've sort of approached this from an opportunity to reimagine the experience, not just through less contact," Mark said. While that's obviously important, he highlighted how he's challenged the team to "build initiatives that truly make the stay better long-term ... and not just safer."

What exactly does this look like? It involves things like mobile food ordering (both on and off property) as well as shifting the program's new partnership with Headspace. While that was originally designed to allow a meditative escape for folks in a large-scale meeting, it's now been embedded within the World of Hyatt app to address other anxieties that have emerged with COVID-19 — like "parenting [and] fears around travel in general," according to Mark.

And being innovative doesn't just apply to technology but also involves pivoting to new initiatives entirely ...

Working remotely from a hotel

A resort like this could become your next (remote) office with Hyatt. (Photo courtesy of the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe)

Mark also spent time discussing the new Work from Hyatt packages, offering members a chance to work remotely from more than 60 resorts across the U.S., Canada and Mexico. He highlighted how this really reflected the chain's agility in responding to the coronavirus pandemic, as it went from concept to execution in just three weeks. It also allows Hyatt to meet members where they were: in need of a getaway but also required to work.

In fact, "change of scenery" was the top response to a poll question on the webinar when attendees were asked the top factors that would influence their next hotel stay. And it's clear that this program has resonated with travelers, as Mark indicated that the program has generated four times as many reservations as Hyatt initially projected.

Here's how he explained the approach:

"We know you're working from home. Why don't we just switch that venue and let you work from one of our hotels? And there was a responsibility to not just say that but to deliver an experience on property that thought more about the space where you worked — whether that was an additional room or area to work, high-speed internet connectivity, food & beverage, dry cleaning ... [even] daily walks for your dog."

The big difference? You're doing this from a different place, and when you close down for the day, you step outside and have that feeling of travel that so many of us love.

We'll have much more on these Work From Hyatt packages in the weeks to come here at TPG.

Returning business travelers

One of the biggest trends related to the coronavirus pandemic has been the virtual halt of business travel — both for regular meetings and large-scale conferences. While it's anyone's guess as to when (or even if) this segment of the industry will return to pre-pandemic levels, here too Hyatt is focusing on innovation.

"One of the things we're experimenting with right now is this concept of 'hybrid' meetings," said Mark. This model has "some people gathering [in-person] the way that they always have and others participating in a remote fashion." At a recent event at the Hyatt Regency near Chicago-O'Hare (ORD), the property mailed every food and beverage item — from breakfast to snacks to the late-afternoon meal — to the hybrid attendees at their homes.

The feedback was amazing, according to Mark.

"This segment will come back," he stressed, "But it may come back a bit differently. And what's important is to just listen to your customers and try and stay out in front of what that looks like."

Engaging loyal members

Of course, we couldn't pass up the opportunity to discuss the World of Hyatt loyalty program with Mark, as it's a favorite of many editorial team members here at The Points Guy. Earlier this month, we saw Hyatt further delay its implementation of peak and off-peak pricing, and it became the first major program to further extend loyalty program benefits. It even rolled out the ability to use points to book suites online during this downturn in travel.

According to Mark, however, it's also about the overall approach — not just the specific perks. "You'll see those themes of control and flexibility and care really find their way into what we're doing with loyalty," he said, pointing out that at the height of the pandemic, Hyatt proactively reached out to many high-value members just to check in. This dialogue has continued and will continue to inform what the World of Hyatt launches in the future.

And while Hyatt's current slate of promotions provides plenty of value to members — especially on award stays — I couldn't help but ask about the future and whether we'd see a return of something like Faster Free Nights (potentially the most lucrative hotel promotion of the 21st century). Long-time Hyatt members will be pleased to know that Mark even wrote down "Faster Free Nights" as we were talking and promised to investigate it further, since he's only been with Hyatt since 2018.

Whether that returns or not, Mark was crystal clear about the value of loyal members. "I want people to know that they're valued to us. They're incredibly valuable. They are our absolute best guest and customer, and we will continue to look for ways to create offers that resonate with them to give them greater flexibility."

If more offers like the current one come up in the future, I (for one) will gladly come along for the ride.

READ MORE: Will travelers remain loyal to loyalty programs when ‘normal’ returns?

Full recording of the session

Brian and marked covered a lot more ground during the session — including some of Mark's favorite Chicago-area dining spots. Want to check out more? View the full recording right here:

“The Future of Travel with Brian Kelly” is a series of live events looking ahead at what’s in store for the travel industry as it begins to recover from the coronavirus pandemic. Join Brian as he interviews top experts and company executives on a range of topics, including traveler health, cleanliness measures, loyalty programs and what it all means for the traveling public.

For recordings of past sessions, please visit the following links:

Featured image by Miraval Berkshires (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)