Special Report: Updated March 18

Last week, the World Health Organization announced that COVID-19—the viral disease that has swept the globe and killed more than 8,700 people—is officially a pandemic. And on Saturday, the Trump administration extended the ban on foreign nationals from certain European countries to include those traveling from the United Kingdom and Ireland. The economic impact on the hotel industry is already more severe than the 9/11 and 2008 recessions combined, and industry conferences and meetings around the world have been cancelled or postponed. It was announced earlier today that HITEC 2020 has been rescheduled for October.

So, what are leading hotel associations saying about COVID-19? To find out, we talked with top executives at the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA), Hospitality Financial Technology Professionals (HFTP), Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International (HSMAI) and Hospitality Technology Next Generation (HTNG). Together, these organizations represent a huge cross-section of the industry. Following are their comments regarding COVID-19’s effects on the hospitality industry and what their associations are doing to support their members.
The impact [of COVID-19] to our industry is already more severe than anything we’ve seen before, including September 11th and the great recession of 2008 combined. The White House and Congress can take urgent action to protect countless jobs, provide relief to our dedicated and hardworking employees and ensure that our small business operators and franchise owners—who represent more than half of hotels in the country--can keep their doors open.

We’re in daily contact with public health authorities and are acting on the most up-to-date information on the evolving coronavirus situation. We’re taking very seriously the concerns of the traveling public. While it’s critically important to remain vigilant and take precautions, it’s equally important to make rational and fact-based decisions.

HFTP is fortunate to have a very supportive infrastructure as well as a board that allows a number of contingency plans. Many organizations are hampered by an inability to make quick decisions; or, their staff members aren’t empowered to make decisions. We make decisions based on what is best for our industry because we’re a non-profit organization, and the reason we’re in business is to support the hospitality industry. We’ve always had a crisis management plan in place. We treat our suppliers as partners and vice versa, so we count on each other for help and advice; and, sometimes, renegotiation. Crisis situations eventually end. And when they do, we want our partners and clients to be in business.

After this crisis is over--as in the aftermath of 9/11--there will be changes, and most of them will be positive. The coronavirus might be the best thing that has happened to infectious disease control because it will prepare the world for what's next. If nothing else, its fallout is educating the public regarding hygiene practices that can prevent the spread of disease. COVID-19 is also highlighting how important it is for the hospitality industry to come together during a crisis and to distribute truthful information rather than allowing the global press to define the travel industry.
HSMAI has done a number of things to provide guidance to its key stakeholders—hotel sales, marketing and revenue optimization professionals. We created a resource center on our website with information specific to members. And we also created a three-part webinar series—one for each of our stakeholder groups—on confronting coronavirus. The first webinar, which addressed the legal issues surrounding hotel sales contracts, had more than 500 attendees. The second webinar, which focused on pricing psychology in challenging times, had 773 attendees. And the third webinar, which addressed crisis communications, had more than 400 attendees.

The hospitality industry is at the front lines of an anomaly like this, and we’re bound to feel its effects first. But we’re resilient, and the rebound could happen relatively quickly. After 9/11, the pent-up demand for meetings and business travel created a spike as people got back to the business at hand. Also, a demand drop in one market often creates an opportunity for another. If someone cancels overseas travel plans, perhaps they will go somewhere closer to home.
‘WE WILL RECOVER’ — Michael Blake, CEO, HTNG
HTNG is actively monitoring COVID-19 and taking advice from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO) and national and local government authorities. HITEC Europe has been postponed, and if we make the decision to forgo other events, we will do our best to postpone them rather than cancel.

As a trade association, we’re doing all we can to help our members during this difficult time, and our top priority is keeping everyone safe and healthy. We’re grateful that the majority of our organization operates virtually; so, our workgroups are still meeting and conducting business as usual. Additionally, we’re exploring the possibility of increasing the amount of educational content for our members by delivering more webinars or even virtual events.

Unfortunately, this is not the first epidemic we’ve faced, and it’s not going to be the last. In the short term, there will be significant hits to our industry, but we will recover. For the most part, we believe that eventually everything will go back to ‘business as usual,’ but we may see more virtual meetings arise in the meantime as organizations try to supplement cancelled in-person meetings. We can only hope that this awful virus will  prepare us to more effectively handle any crisis that may occur in the future.