LIFE&STYLE

[Herald Interview] Hotels adjust to new requirements in COVID-19

By Lim Jang-won
  • Published : Sept 5, 2020 - 16:00
  • Updated : Sept 5, 2020 - 16:36

COVID-19 has changed many aspects of our daily lives, and one of the industries most heavily affected is the hospitality industry. With government policies changing weekly as the number of coronavirus cases fluctuates, hotels are keeping a close eye on the situation.
Kang Ah-hyun, commercial director of Millennium Hilton Seoul (Millennium Hilton Seoul)

In the midst of this crisis, Kang Ah-hyun, commercial director of Millennium Hilton Seoul, is attempting to find an opportunity in tough times.

As the hotel’s commercial director, Kang is responsible for the hotel’s revenue. This includes revenue from everything from its fitness center, swimming pool and restaurants to the minibars in its rooms.

From years of working in the hotel industry both in South Korea and abroad, Kang has gained experience dealing with diverse people and cultures, adjusting every step of the way. This time, it’s COVID-19 that she has to adjust to along with the unique way that Koreans use hotels.

“When I started working in Korea, the idea of a staycation was nonexistent. Even in the early 2000s, people thought, ‘Why go to a hotel when I can just sleep at my house?’ Now, spending patterns have changed and young people and families living in Seoul are willing to enjoy hotels in Seoul,” Kang told The Korea Herald on Aug. 25 at the Millennium Hilton Seoul lounge.

Korean guests have more flexible travel schedules compared with people of other nationalities, according to Kang. They often reserve at the last minute and make many changes to their reservations.

With international travel virtually impossible, more and more young people are heading to hotels in Seoul for vacations, but that trend isn’t new. It has been going on for a number of years, and started well before the pandemic.

“Before, hotel restaurants were places that not everyone could go to because of the price. Now the price has become more accessible to the average person because of the many promotions and special offers,” said Kang. “If middle-aged people were the majority of guests in the past, people in their 20s and 30s, up to early 40s, are the majority of our customers today.”

The idea of travel has changed in recent years as well. Going to a far-off country is not the only way to travel, and people are discovering that they can have a travel experience in their own city by staying at a hotel and enjoying its food and facilities.

“When I was working in Japan, I felt Japanese people travel domestically a lot. I think Korea is catching up to Japan in that aspect,” said Kang.

With COVID-19, Millennium Hilton Seoul is coming up with different plans to attract Korean guests as the number of foreign guests has plummeted. Before COVID-19 hit, over 75 percent of its customers were foreigners.

One of the programs Hilton implemented in response to the virus was the CleanStay program.

Checking the temperature of each guest entering the hotel is only the start of Hilton’s sanitization program.

Having identified 10 key points in the guest room where there is the most contact, Hilton sanitizes the points and labels them so that guests feel reassured. For example, Hilton puts a slip over the remote after sanitizing it.
The Hilton CleanStay Room Seal ensures that no one enters the hotel’s rooms once they have been sanitized. (Millennium Hilton Seoul)

Once the room has been sanitized, a sticker is placed where the door meets the wall to make sure no one enters before the next scheduled guests.

Also, Hilton made check-in time flexible so that people do not crowd the hotel lounge during check-in hours.

Another element of CleanStay is the EventReady program.

Hilton hotel makes a checklist for events at the hotel to make sure sanitization standards are met, and goes over the checklist with the guests hosting an event upon arrival. They also provide online streaming tools so that people can join remotely.

With those measures in place, the hotel continues to host weddings despite the spread of COVID-19.

With so many rooms available at the hotel, Hilton puts the guests in different rooms in line with the government requirement mandating no more than 50 people per wedding hall. Also, Hilton has an outdoor wedding hall that can host up to 100 people under the regulations and even has three two-story suites that can be used to hold private birthday parties or proposal events.

With no high-profile foreigners traveling these days, the two-story suites that were typically used by visiting heads of state are now available at a lower price. As a result the number of reservations for the suites in the last two months nearly equals the number in the last decade, according to Kang.

Kang has been constantly trying new ideas to make the hotel more appealing to guests since the COVID-19 situation began.

One of its most successful promotions targets pet owners.

“Hilton did not allow pets before COVID-19, but we made the change,” said Kang. “The pet package is getting more response than we imagined as pet owners bring pets to the hotel to celebrate their pet’s birthday or just relax.”

Hilton created a pet lounge and recommended hiking trails on Namsan. Also, the hotel developed pet food that can be ordered as room service and even serves ice cream for dogs.

Another adjustment Kang made was extending the hours when rooms can be used during the day.

Although Hilton offered daytime use before COVID-19, it was only for four or five hours and was never advertised. However, by extending daytime use hours to 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Hilton is targeting people working away from the office who find it easier to work from the hotel.

Kang also made more adjustments as the number of COVID-19 cases soared in the capital area. The kids’ lounge, for families with young children, had board games available for use in the lounge. Now the games can be rented out and used in the rooms to avoid unnecessary contact.

Kang plans to develop a package for pregnant women in the near future as well.

“Before COVID-19, it was popular for pregnant women to travel to places like Guam when they were five months pregnant,” said Kang. “Now that that is no longer possible, we plan to offer a package in the fall targeting pregnant women who want to relax.”

Kang feels proud when her ideas yield tangible results -- like the pet package, which sold more than 500 rooms.

“We didn’t bring the guest in because of a fancy hotel structure or great view, which we do have, but because we put in the effort,” said Kang.

By Lim Jang-won (ljw@heraldcorp.com)