From visits with Santa to yoga classes and even tango performances, local hotels are hoping innovation will bring a boost to the industry. With out-of-state vacations discouraged, typical tourists cancelled trips amid the pandemic. But some hotels are pivoting to attract people within driving distance to enjoy events, amenities and workspace options.
In this episode of Commerce Street, a business podcast from KENS 5, we talk to a hotel industry research group and consultancy firm and one of the many hotels thinking outside the box and finding ways to engage with customers safely.
Chapter one: The "San Antonio" Effect
San Antonio's economy, while diverse, does rely heavily on tourism and associated businesses. At a recent special session of City Council, members got a briefing on the year's tourism outlook and the 2021 "Visit San Antonio Business Plan". In the briefing, Casandra Matej, President and CEO of Visit San Antonio, said it could take until 2024 for the tourism industry to completely recover. But she had reason to be hopeful.
"History has shown that the travel and tourism industry will rebound and in some cases, rebound stronger than ever,” Matej said.
She said San Antonio's unique features and resilient nature could help give the city an advantage in the recovery.
"The city is a generational choice for visitors, especially here in Texas," Matej said. "One of the things I think that is going to help us on the recovery is consider that nearly 70 percent of our visitors come from within our state borders."
She says there are many signs of improvement, including many businesses that have reopened and adapted their business models. She also noted that San Antonio already has conventions slated in 2021.
Chapter two: More than a night's sleep
Local hotels and resorts like the Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort and Spa aren't just waiting for out-of-state visitors to come back. They're offering new options now, from daycations and workspaces to holiday events and exercise classes.
Nicole Gravelle, Marketing Manager for the resort, says their offerings include "Work from Hyatt" and events to draw in both Texas traffic and San Antonio-local residents.
The resort just received an accreditation. What does that mean in terms of cleanliness and safety?
The safety of our guests and colleagues is top priority, of course. We put a lot of extra safety and cleanliness measures in place. Since our reopening, all our employees get their temperature checked when they come in for the day, all of our customers and employees are required to wear a mask, and there’s a disinfecting process across the results.
So we were very happy we were able to receive an accreditation from the Global Biorisk Advisory Council. It’s just another way of showing we’re doing everything we can to make sure they’re safe when they’re here.
What is the Work from Hyatt program and what does it entail?
It was created post-COVID so people cooped up home- working from home, homeschooling, doing everything from home and maybe just need a change of scenery. We offer that Work from Hyatt promotion here, you stay 5 nights or longer, you get a guest room, a space to work from, food and beverage permit, free parking and free resort fees. You also get discounts on golf and spa as well.
Tell us about the day passes if you live in the San Antonio area?
We offer day passes for local residents to enjoy the waterpark and other amenities. You go to Resortpass.com, it’s $35 on a weekday or $50 on a weekend. You can enjoy the waterpark, pools, jacuzzis, bikes, we have a one mile nature trail, sand volleyball courts, and enjoy those amenities for the day. We also have private cabanas.
What are some of the safe, fun activities going on right now?
First, we have our outdoor yoga classes, which are every Wednesday at 6:30 pm and Saturday and Sunday mornings at 10 am. We’ve partnered with Southtown Yoga Loft to offer these classes; it’s part of the "Hyatt Loves Local" program which encourages hotels around the globe to partner with local businesses impacted by COVID19. We offer the outdoor yoga classes three times a week, and registration is required so we can make sure we’re limiting the capacity of people there. So, you can go to the Southtown Yoga Loft website and reserve your spot on there to enjoy yoga.
Also, we started this month doing S’mores with Santa, it’s free for resort guests, every Friday and Saturday 6 to 8, locals can purchase tickets and they go to ResortPass to purchase those. Santa and Mrs. Clause will be here so kids can interact with Santa, and then enjoy smores and hot cocoa as well.
Chapter three: "Business will come back"
To learn more about innovation in the hotel industry as a whole and to find out where we are seeing bright spots and when hotels might see some relief, we spoke with Paul Vaughn, the Senior Vice President of Source Strategies.
What is Source Strategies, and what specifically do you explore?
Source Strategies is a company that studies all of the hotels in Texas. We compile statistics on all of these hotels, we publish industry publications and we do feasibility studies for buying hotels, rebranding hotels or that are facing foreclosure.
Have we seen any improvement over the last few months, and how far off is recovery?
Definitely, the third quarter was better than the second quarter. The second quarter was disastrous for the lodging industry, with revenues down 60 percent. The third quarter was better, but as we move into the winter and beginning of next year, predictions are that there’s gonna be a lot more infections and deaths from the pandemic so we’re expecting hotels aren’t going to have a real strong recovery in the fourth quarter.
Typically with hotels, what customers look for is, is this place safe and clean? And the pandemic points to problems with customers wanting to feel safe. The hotels are doing a fantastic job, if you’ve been to a hotel recently they’re going over and above to make sure people are as safe as possible. But, if a customer doesn’t feel safe they’re not going to resume traveling, so you’re looking at late next year, before we see a significant recovery in the hotel business one the vaccine gets more widely distributed.
What types of changes or innovations are we seeing hotels making or have they made any changes in hopes of pulling in local traffic?
Many of us have had to innovate this year. We’re doing this on Zoom- we know there’s innovation everywhere. The hotel business is the same way. They’re working hard to try to get businesses in. A lot of these hotels, while they may have focused on tourist business or convention business, they’re focusing on their local markets, because people may not want to travel by air but they will travel by car to a closer destination for a staycation or to say, I’ll take my family on vacation at this nice hotel with a pool but I can still work because they have a business center. You see hotels trying to attract people who are working from home, maybe the kids are schooling from home and you want some privacy and the hotels are eager to provide that business.
That may not even be overnight stays, you just book during the day and use it as an office. And then the amenities, you can use room service, the fitness center while you’re there. And then there are hotels that’ve come up with some really innovative ways of attracting customers. The Hotel Valencia has offered Tango parties on the weekend, socially distanced in a nice courtyard. Some hotels I’ve heard about in Austin and College Station offering live music, credits for services- maybe you book a stay and get a dining credit. Hoteliers are having to get creative and innovative to get people in the door.
If hotels have little business, how are they staying open? We have also seen new hotels opening up in Texas, is that just faith in the future?
Building a hotel is a multi-year project- you had hotels in the pipeline before pandemic hit. You may as well finish the project; business will likely come back. There are some hotels in financial straits and you’re seeing some go up for sale at discounted rates.
This is a very serious issue and for a city like San Antonio that is so dependent on tourism, it’s not just hotels. It’s the restaurants, the bars, the transportation sector—all the ancillary services that happen with this business, are impacted. It’s easy to think about it as, these are big companies, they can deal- but it’s a lot of humans who work for these companies and are under stress right now. So the more we can do to patronize these local businesses or work with state or local governments to help these local businesses, the better it is.
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