As COVID-19 continues to pummel the demand for tropical vacations, many resorts have taken to unrolling lower-than-usual prices as a means of generating new business.
Staying competitive with decent rates may be key to survival for many hotels in today’s fragile and fluid marketplace.
But when cost-cutting begins to compromise quality, a line must be drawn, says Rick McCauley, senior director of sales and marketing and M.I.C.E – Canada at The Barcelo Hotel Group.
“We want to keep the quality of our product up,” McCauley told PAX in December in a telephone interview, just before the holidays. “We have decent rates, but we also want to have a product that is not skimping on food, or skimping on anything that would affect a client’s enjoyment.”
At a time when hospitality has come under increased scrutiny, hotels and resorts have too much to lose for cutting corners, McCauley suggested.
Barcelo “won’t be the cheapest in the market,” he said, but “as soon as you let the quality suffer, you’ll lose even more clients.”
“We don’t want it to suffer. It’s all about the quality.”
A gradual reopening
Promising quality experiences for travellers has been one guiding principle for the Spain-based Barcelo Hotel Group as it navigates its way through the COVID-19 storm.
As operator of more than 250 hotels in 22 countries, Barcelo temporarily closed its properties – all but two – in March in response to COVID-19 safety and travel restrictions.
By May, the brand gradually began to reopen its doors, based on demand, and as hospitality began to find its footing in a new, health-conscious world.
Almost all of Barcelo’s resorts have since reopened and most business, these days, can be linked to local tourism and a slow-but-steady rise in U.S. travellers, said McCauley.
However, Canadian business is “down substantially” compared to last year, he said, citing Canada’s 14-day quarantine order for returning travellers as a major deterrent to vacationing.
“We’re staying positive with agents”
Still, Barcelo’s team in Canada has made it their mission to stay connected with the trade, regardless of the situation.
Business development managers Tammy Thompson (in Toronto) and Judy Makara (in Montreal) have been “taking care of the whole country” with regular webinars, contests and incentives through BarceloPro rewards, for example, said McCauley.
“We’re staying positive with agents, and staying in touch, so when it gets busy, they know where we are,” he said.
But even connecting with agents on a regular basis during the pandemic has proven to be a challenge, he said.
Recent closures of brick and mortar agencies combined with more agents going home-based has made it difficult to keep track of everyone’s professional whereabouts.
“The challenge is figuring out where agents are going,” said McCauley.
“Social distancing is the big word”
Barcelo divides its properties into four brands: Royal Hideaway Luxury Hotels & Resorts (luxury accommodations in unique locations), Barcelo Hotels & Resorts (mid to high-range properties in urban and vacation settings), Occidental Hotels & Resorts (also mid to high-range, featuring experiences designed around tranquility), and Allegro (mid-range resorts, geared towards younger guests).
While some properties may be for adults only, “all brands cater to everybody,” said McCauley, be it families, weddings, couples or singles.
If anything, the shutdown last spring gave Barcelo an opportunity to reexamine practices around health and safety and develop protocols that meet the needs of today’s travellers.
Using recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO), and local health advisories, the program reflects a renewed approach to disinfecting rooms and common areas and applies new rules to restaurants, buffets and entertainment activities.
“Social distancing is the big word,” said McCauley.
All guests are also now required to regularly disinfect their hands and undergo temperature checks. Hotels also have floor markers directing people where to stand at check-in and masks are promoted.
(“A lot of hotels have online check-in so you don’t need to go to front desk,” McCauley said).
While some amenities may be closed at some hotels, “I wouldn’t say it’s a different experience,” said McCauley, noting how most à la carte restaurants are open.
McCauley, at the time of our interview, said he had yet to hear about a COVID outbreak happening at a Barcelo hotel. However, if a guest were to test positive, the protocol is to ensure that the person is self-isolating, he said.
“We’re trying to create the experience as it was prior to COVID,” he said. “We want clients to enjoy their experience and not have to worry.”
All eyes on 2021-2022
If there was a silver lining here, it’s that the pandemic has given Barcelo time to focus on upgrades.
Barcelo Grand Faro Los Cabos, Mexico, for example, completed its renovation, revealing a new lobby, beachfront restaurant and premium club.
Barcelo Bavaro Beach in Dominican Republic, too, has gotten a facelift with recently-renovated common areas.
Barcelo also now offers free Wi-Fi at all of its hotels – “which it didn’t have last year,” said McCauley.
For agents, upgrading clients to Barcelo’s Premium Level – a heightened level of service with value-added amenities – is one way to boost sales as business picks up, added McCauley.
It’s an option many Canadians tend to purchase once they arrive in destination, he said.
“It’s a secret up here [in Canada],” he said. “Once clients are in destination, they see the value.”
To that end, McCauley believes next winter, and the following year, will be an “absolute boom” for travel sales.
“People want to travel. They just can’t or don’t want to right now,” he said. “We have to get vaccinated first and see the case numbers go down.”
“Between weddings and groups, I think 2021-2022 is going to be a fantastic year for everybody.”
“We just have to weather the storm.”
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