Leadership and ‘localization’ – how hospitality can emerge from the COVID-19 crisis

We present exclusive insights into the potential routes to post-COVID recovery for the hospitality sector – and what good leadership looks like to an industry in crisis – courtesy of expert faculty and hospitality consultant Jonathan Humphries.

In just a few short weeks, the hospitality sector has gone from one of the world’s economic engine rooms to an industry in crisis.

Open up your LinkedIn feed, or any hospitality trade journal, and you’ll find a wealth of opinion on what happens next. Our faculty, many of whom have serious track records in the industry alongside their academic status, have also been willing to share their views and insights.

Among these expert commentators is Jonathan Humphries. For Jonathan, who heads our BBA specialization in Hotel Development and Finance, while also lecturing to Master’s students, the situation is personal: he is Chairman and Owner of the consultancy HoCoSo, which creates new hospitality concepts for clients across the world. The industry’s future health matters; to Jonathan as well as to the team of professionals he employs.

So what does he think about the immediate employment prospects for Glion students once they’ve graduated?

“I don’t think our students are at risk of not finding jobs, but it’ll be about shifting your mindset in terms of what’s possible,” he says.

“My current perspective on the way things are going to play out, having been in touch with plenty of different experts in recent weeks, is that I think we will see developments in two phases; at least in the short- to medium-term.”

The first phase, Jonathan envisages, will be an uptick in domestic travel and tourism, as countries unlock their restrictions.

“Everybody’s been locked up for a period of time. Once ‘freed’, they will want to go and experience, to travel, to meet with friends and family – all within the borders of their country. That means local hotels, resorts and the like will reopen within each country. So the message to graduating students is to look where you are living, where you have a visa to work, where you have your community and networks. Because this is where the opportunities are going to be almost immediately, as properties go from closed to fully occupied. And don’t forget, too, that in the northern hemisphere at least all this is going to coincide with the onset of the summer period, which is also the traditional peak for most segments of hospitality.”

The second wave, for Jonathan, will revolve around the opening up of corporate business travel, which will add an international dimension to the regional story. Initially, he sees the likelihood of neighboring borders leading this wave (Austria-Germany-Switzerland for example), opening up so-called ‘drive markets’ accessible by car.

“At the same time, we could see certain resort destinations open up around the world. But this is going to be dependent on flights; and right now this is a big unknown. How quickly will flights begin operating to these destinations?”

Sustainability spin-offs

Aside from its role as the opening act of hospitality’s recovery, and of course for the employment opportunities it’ll bring, Jonathan also sees bigger picture benefits from the initial drive to ‘go local’.

He adds, “I think what’s going to be really interesting is the focus on local experiences and local destinations – people discovering new places that they didn’t even know existed in their own country. Having experiences within their own country, and reconnecting with things that are local; whether it’s the population, the cuisine, the environment – all these kinds of things.

“There is a positive, sustainable aspect to this. Plus, it kickstarts the economies of those countries. So it has multiple benefits, plus it helps all the local suppliers, the local producers, the local companies, the local employers… so if we’re looking at how to rebuild countries and societies post-COVID, it actually has a very positive effect.”

To the innovators the spoils

One aspect of hospitality that resonates especially strongly with Jonathan is innovation. In the past, he’s helped us to profile some of the most innovative concepts that have lit up the industry in recent years. Plus he’s also been a serial innovator through his hospitality consulting.

So, does this represent an angle of attack for students to make their way into a recovering sector? “You could definitely argue that, for students entering the industry now or in the near future, there are definite opportunities to innovate. Because at this point in time everything in hospitality is going to be questioned,” he notes.

“People will still want to travel; they will still want to do things, still need to meet, still need to spend a night. And they will still want to go on holiday, they’ll still have the desire to experience things. So there’s definitely going to be a need. The question is, what is that future going to look like? Our students could be part of that future, and I think it’s really positive that they might be part of these changes.

“The investment in technology is going to be massive in terms of systems – for example monitoring systems and things like that. For guests coming into the hotels, you need to think about virtual technology: for example, how can hotels gear themselves up to maybe remotely connect with each other around the world, so people can connect together to hold virtual conferences across different hotels around the world? I think those that are prepared to invest in research and development, new experiences, new technology and new services, will be the winners, for sure.”

Leaders tell it like it is

Another driver of success that is also close to Jonathan’s heart is leadership. Having recently moderated a round table session on this topic, he’s well-placed to run the rule over some of the better examples of leadership thrown up by the present crisis.

“We’ve seen some very good examples of authentic leadership – and by this, I mean being spontaneous, saying it as it is, being connected with the reality of what’s going on, as well as empathetic to the situation within your teams.

“It’s about saying that ‘we’re just trying to do the best we possibly can with this situation’. Our industry is in unprecedented times, so nobody can seriously claim everything is under control and they have everything sorted. It’s almost impossible. So just be genuine, true and transparent.

“The other element is, because of the complexity of this crisis, and because there are so many moving parts, it’s all about keeping everything as simple as possible. Don’t have too many elaborate processes, don’t have overly complex systems, don’t over communicate in too many different ways.”

In common with many industry insiders, Jonathan cites the video message to associates by Marriott International President and CEO Arne Sorenson as an exemplar of authentic leadership communications.

“Even though the video was, for sure, PR planned; at the same time there was a genuine tone to his video, which I think people felt was authentic,” Jonathan says. “And they felt that he was not trying to just say a particular line. He was saying it as it is. And the reality is, we are in a really, really difficult situation. It’s unprecedented. This is hard on pretty much everybody. But we’re trying to do the best we can to try and support as many people around the world as possible. So I think it was a pretty good message that he put across.”

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