Note: In draft, police mentioned that permission to guesthouses to reopen will be given by their respective council and without fee.
By Ruth Franklin
With announcements in the Maldives this week of proposed Guidelines To Commence Safe Tourism in the Maldives and the easement of restrictions once the current lockdown directive ends on the 28th May, many tourism businesses will be looking ahead to taking their first cautious steps towards reopening, the big question for many guest house owners is how?
It goes without saying that the final guidelines for Safe Tourism when published will play a large part of both your timeline and strategic plan. Ensure you are clear on what the final expectations are when they are published and do not be afraid to ask for clarity if you are unsure. It’s important both for your business’s reputation and for the Maldives that the safety of your staff and your guests is exact from the start.
In the meantime however there are aspects of your strategic plan that you can be working on if you have not already started doing so.
1. Review your reviews
Take time to read all reviews on your property from the last six months. Check all review platforms where you are listed and note the areas of improvement that previous guests have highlighted. Post COVID-19 operation provides you the opportunity to start afresh and allows you to put actions or processes into place to ensure every review is 5* .
2. Maintenance and renovations
There has never been a better time to ensure that your property is in the best condition to open its doors to guests. Take time to walk through your property and view it through the eyes of a guest. Start outside at the entrance, walk the perimeter and then walk through every part of your property. Check every area, those that are guest facing and those areas that are not. Enter every room, open every door, cupboard, window. Check every tap, shower, toilet. Review every plug socket, light switch. Are they working and in good condition? Check for areas that may need painting or decoration. These details as owners you may not normally see but are noted by guests.
Once all maintenance and renovation has been completed perform a deep clean even if this was performed as part of your close down operation. Work from top to bottom ensuring no corners are missed. Pull out furniture, clean inside cupboards and drawers. Follow HPA and WHO cleaning guidelines, everything must be sanitized and safe at all times. This cleaning process will form part of the new norm and once Safe Tourism guidelines have been published you will need to establish a clear cleaning program and policy for your property.
4. Operational Space
Take time to consider how you will provide services to your guests whilst maintaining social distancing. It may be necessary to remodel spaces especially in dining areas, which in turn will allow you to understand your capacity/occupancy constraints. Following publication of Safe Tourism guidelines it is likely you will need to consider reception areas; how and where guests will check in/out, how payment is taken for example.
Use your marketing budget wisely. Understand which markets will be able to travel and focus on these. This may mean changing your current advertising and communication targeting. If you are not already connected with MMPRC yet then this maybe the time to do so.
Review your marketing material, are your fact sheets up to date, have you planned your rates for 2020-2021? Have you reviewed your booking terms and conditions as well as your cancellation policy? Remember now is the time to offer flexibility. Consider publishing rates through to the end of 2021 as many travelers may choose to travel later.
Check your website, is it up to date? Is your image gallery inspiring and current? Likewise review all OTA platforms in the same manner.
Have you been in contact with your key local and international agents? Have you shared all relevant information with them in order that they can market and promote your property with confidence?
Hopefully you have continued to keep in touch with your guests through social media and your website. Now will be the time to display the preparations you are making in order to welcome them back, building up to your final plans in regard to health and safety and social distancing. Now is the time for your guests to feel reassured.
Managing your potential guest’s expectation is hugely important at this time. Clearly communicate when you plan to re-open on all channels where your potential guests may find you with a caveat that this may change if the government advice changes.
Consider preparing a ‘we are open for business’ campaign. It is essential to stay close to your guests, maintaining a continuous and positive relationship that instills confidence and assurance.
7. Team Preparation
Take time to communicate and train your team no matter what size your team is. Every member of your team needs to understand your pre opening plan and the part they play in delivering it. Once you have guests in house your team will play a hugely important role. Their actions and behaviors, how they demonstrate the required health and safety and cleanliness guidelines will be the reason that you receive further bookings. If they are not trained effectively on processes and procedures they will not be able to deliver the service level guests are now looking for.
8. We are in this together
This is also a time of opportunity for the guesthouse community and associated businesses on each local island. It’s the time to build strong relationships by working together and not in competition during the recovery process.
Creating a reopening strategic plan will take time and consideration. However it is time well spent as a clear plan will reassure guests, allowing them to enjoy the experience you offer. Your team will be happy knowing that their employer and place of work cares about them, which in turn will lead to a positive customer experience for your guests. Finally, you will be supporting your community and rebuilding your local economy.
About the author: Ruth Franklin is the Co-Founder of local tour company Secret Paradise.
Secret Paradise has provided local island experiences since 2012. They annually audit their partner accommodation properties and are currently finalizing a program to support their guesthouse partners in being ready for business.