By Kaitlin Dunn, Writer, Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI)
Every single one of the employees of the Hyatt Place Colorado Springs/Garden of the Gods has been brought back on after more than two-thirds were laid off at the beginning of the pandemic. General Manager B. Jay Bliss has played an integral role in leading the hotel toward recovery. Recently, he sat down with HSMAI to share his experience.
What has the process of recovery looked like for you?
It’s been a slow recovery. A really small silver lining of the lockdown was that we had a few extended-stay guests that stayed in-house through the summer and we did have a handful of corporate guests we picked up.
One of the bonuses of the leadership committee running the hotel was that I was working the front desk during days and the director of sales was running the PM shift, and between us we signed up multiple corporate accounts because we were able to identify who was traveling and target them directly. That helped us to keep some positive momentum and optimism going when things were pretty dismal.
We were blessed by the fact that Colorado overall and especially the city of Colorado Springs have a lot of outdoor activities and venues nearby. We have been working hard to promote outdoor activities, which were especially popular in the summer when people didn’t want to be inside. Places like Pikes Peak are not a far drive. We didn’t see the ADR we usually do, but we were still able to capitalize on corporate accounts to beat out comp sets and have some positive GOP in the summertime.
We came out the last few months looking very good and feeling good about where we stood in relation to the industry, but the industry at large is in a cash deficit, which will affect us all through 2021. The winter is always slow for us, so there’s nail biting about just how slow November, December, and January will be. We typically rely on sports tournaments to keep us afloat in the winter, and we’ve already had one of those cancel, so we’re still in a holding pattern for now, but we remain hopeful.
How has your staffing model evolved over the past eight months?
At the end of March, like most hotel properties, we watched all of our groups cancel and cancellations come in every single day from all of our guests. It was a dismal time watching revenues drop and having to furlough so many of our staff, so it was on my shoulders to know what model we should use for staffing. I had to furlough about 21 of our 30 employees and assign the remaining employees, who were mostly part of our leadership team, to rotate front desk and housekeeping shifts to keep it afloat. We have since brought back every single person and they were eager to come back to work, with one or two exceptions that didn’t stay in the long term.
Do you see any permanent changes that have been brought about?
The pandemic upended our business, which was a chance to reexamine how and why we do the things we do. Hyatt has always had a big focus on cross-training, which is even more crucial now. For example, our sales coordinator does not only her job, but she’s still working front desk and today she’s in laundry. It’s incumbent on everyone to wear a lot of hats and interact with everyone more than before, which gives employees a greater understanding of different departments. Our marketing and revenue management teams are above-property, but the pandemic has forced us to work more closely with them.
Have you seen any advancements in technology over the past few months?
One new thing we’ve been rolling out is a new aspect of the online and mobile app allowing us to customize housekeeping service. Guests can choose their preference for how often they want their room cleaned. Some guests don’t want anyone in their room to clean, while others may want more frequent cleaning. At full-service hotels, they can even choose a.m. or p.m. cleaning. This is even more important now, so that guests feel completely comfortable staying with us.
What’s the most important thing for other hotels to keep in mind as they begin to build business back up?
I think that the care we show for each other and for our guests is more important than ever. A lot of the guests traveling now know how much the industry has suffered over the last few months, so if they feel an employee isn’t giving them their full attention and making every effort, then it’s going to be even harder than ever to recover from that. Guests know they are all VIPs right now, and we want to make sure they feel appreciated. Showing care for each other and staff and clients is something Hyatt has always felt strongly about.