As the incidence of COVID-19 begins to wane in our country and we gradually but surely stagger back to normalcy it is imperative that the economy is re-energised and foreign exchange begins to flow in. In this respect much will be expected from tourism which was the second highest foreign exchange earner in 2019. Within [...]

Business Times

Important insights into the hotel industry


As the incidence of COVID-19 begins to wane in our country and we gradually but surely stagger back to normalcy it is imperative that the economy is re-energised and foreign exchange begins to flow in.

File picture of white-water rafting.

In this respect much will be expected from tourism which was the second highest foreign exchange earner in 2019.

Within the tourism industry, which were one of the worst affected, hoteliers will have a pivotal role to play. In a post-COVID-19 scenario they will need to re-think their marketing strategies.

Tourists will be highly concerned about COVID-19 preventive measures in hotels and hoteliers must take due cognizance of these concerns.

Despite the temptation to fill the hotel to capacity and make up for lost revenue it will, at least in the short term, be necessary not to fill the hotel to optimum capacity. By doing this it will be easier to limit the numbers getting into the swimming pool, spacing out restaurant tables and regularly sanitising public areas.

The use of online technology for services such as checking in, checking out, ordering food to the pool side, or the hotel room, amongst others would be most appropriate and tourists will be appreciative of this facility. In fact the possibilities are indeed vast and it will be left to the hotel management to be innovative in these matters.

Every effort must be taken to observe the health regulations issued by the government authorities and these efforts must be clearly visible to the tourists.

While these steps are being taken hoteliers must keep in mind that standards of service excellence must never be compromised. It was the Co-Founder and Founder President of the Ritz Carlton, Horst Schulze who set the gold standard for service excellence by declaring “We are Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen”.

By the way Ritz Carlton Residencies is scheduled to be opened in Sri Lanka by December 2021. It will set a new benchmark for all five star hotels.


A high standard of excellence will mean that the service offered at all levels must be expressed in a tangible way, a sense of a proper ‘welcome’. A smile, a cheery ‘Good Morning’ or ‘Good Night,’ or a greeting in the traditional manner, a smilingly expressed ‘Certainly Sir/ Madam,’ or ‘I’ll be happy do it,’ or ‘It’s my pleasure Sir/Madam,’ are the tangibles which touches the heart of the recipient.

Then consider the delight that will be created if it becomes known that a particular tourist’s birthday falls during that person’s hotel stay and a birthday cake is sent to the room. That tourist is definitely going to talk about it to friends not only those staying in the hotel but also at home.

And remember that ‘word of mouth’ is the most powerful marketing communications tool! These signs and gestures of welcome will contribute towards a memorable experience for the tourist. The time that the tourist stays in the hotel can be short, perhaps a few days, but the memories of that stay can last a long, long, time.

In contributing to service excellence, the concept of ‘Moments of Truth,’ must be instilled to every member of the staff. It is that psychological moment when for instance the tourist meets with or calls, the front office, the stewards in the restaurant, the room service stewards or stewardesses, the swimming pool attendant for a towel, the check-out cashier or the many other employees in the hotel whose duty it is to serve, the tourist then mentally and emotionally checks the promptness of the response.

Hence timing becomes a key factor in ‘Moments of Truth.’ Senior managers must have a timing checklist and regularly check, amongst other things – How long does it take to serve the welcome drink? How long does it take for each tourist to be taken to his/her respective room? How long does it take for a drink or meal to be served AFTER the order has been given? How long does it take for Room Service to respond? How long is the waiting period for checking out?

Improving efficiency within in- house processes must be a regular drill. If not, it will appear to the tourist that all the promises made by the hotel of making his /her stay a memorable one are really an exaggeration. That is a serious negative feedback for the hotel in particular, for tourism in general and the country as a prospective destination.

Part of service excellence also means that the service offered must be free of any shortcomings. Explanations, excuses and apologies however valid will not be acceptable to the tourist. To all outward appearance he/she may just shrug it off and mutter ‘Oh that’s alright.’ But in reality it is NOT alright.

Because subconsciously there will be a feeling of being let down. Therefore it is the duty of the hotel management to identify and take remedial action on shortcomings the moment such shortcomings are identified. Round –the- clock vigilance is the name of the game. For this, senior managers must practice what the management gurus call ‘MBWA’ – Management By Walking Around. Shortcomings could be a faulty light bulb, a chipped plate a dripping tap in the washroom, or what is more dangerous an unprotected electrical plug socket. This has to be done as soon as possible and the manager concerned has to take action equally as soon as possible.

Health regulations

The strict observance of health regulations has already been mentioned but there is much more – there has to be an uncompromising level of cleanliness in every area of the hotel.

A disgusting sight in the restaurant during meal times is that of dropped food or spilled drinks. Someone must be specially assigned to promptly do the cleaning up. Table linen even with the smallest stain must be replaced. These matters may seem obvious but unfortunately when there is a rush, the obvious tends to be ignored. Particular care must be given to the uniforms of employees. Name tags must be prominently attached. The uniform must be clean and very importantly, steps must be taken to ensure that there is no ‘under the arm ‘body odour! This is specially so in the case of those serving in the restaurant.

It will be recalled that in 2019 Lonely Planet ranked Sri Lanka as the topmost tourist destination in the world. Unfortunately the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks placed a hold on tourism’s development. It is now left to the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority, the COVID-19 virus and its ramifications notwithstanding, to implement effective marketing strategies and win back lost ground. The objective of every hotel should be not only to merely satisfy the tourist but to go further and delight them. This becomes possible by really and truly EXCEEDING the expectations of every tourist in every instance.

It has been said that the best time to plant an oak tree was 30 years ago, the second best time is NOW.

(The writer served as Chairman of Ceylinco Insurance PLC and as Chairman Ceylinco Life Insurance Ltd. He was at one time Group Marketing Consultant/ Director at Aitken Spence PLC and worked closely with the travel and hotels sectors of that company. He was also President of the Sri Lanka Institute of Marketing).

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