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Biggest lessons from 2020 – the hospitality perspective

Biggest lessons from 2020 – the hospitality perspective

The hospitality industry will have to rethink its strategy with revised priorities in mind

Murtaza Hashwani

As an incurable optimist, I remain hopeful about the future. The fact of the matter is that the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted every industry, every sector and almost every human being on the planet in some shape or form. Not that it makes things better, but to know that everyone is fighting their own battles in some way makes the short-term struggles a lot easier to bear and understand.

The hospitality industry at large had to reassess its functions and ‘soft skills’ such as internal and external communication, guest empathy, team management and training.

If there has ever been a time to show true leadership, it has been in 2020. Adjusting to new plans and balancing between the CFO’s spreadsheets and human capital while looking at pushing launch plans – all of that has to be done on a daily basis. The urgency of adapting and implementing all plans and not having an end in sight (scenario: April 2020) has meant that the decisions you take (hopefully) will be the right ones. Yet leaders also have to ensure that the plans have the buoyancy to adapt to sudden shifts.

CEOs are required to make immediate decisions and respond to crises urgently. But Covid-19 was not a normal crisis. In an environment where everything is new, the only option is to think differently about the ecosystem of our businesses.

As the year comes to an end and the vaccine rollout begins, I remain hopeful that my optimistic outlook will prevail. There was no playbook for the pandemic and no amount of business theories could prepare management to deal with the situation. A number of cost-cutting measures needed to be implemented as there was no end in sight – from waste management and reducing dependency on third party suppliers to re-evaluating efficiencies across multiple businesses. Covid-19 stopped the world in its tracks to review and re-calibrate.

Therefore, I would put myself somewhere closer to the optimistic end of the spectrum. The business of hospitality is all about people and retaining the top performers and raising efficiencies was the only way to sustain the businesses.

My priority as the CEO was to get the decision-making model right from the start. Strong, clear decision-making and communications, both within the organisation and externally with the clients and stakeholders was a fundamental next step. Clear communication and transparent decision-making across the board also improved our efficiencies and also gave everyone focus on the most important tasks rather than being consumed with unnecessary and uncontrollable external news about the pandemic.

Keeping the company aligned, engaged, connected and performing at every level is the ultimate goal for any CEO and these operational factors were more closely scrutinised in 2020. The ebb and flow of communication within a corporate structure of any organisation is essential groundwork. Everything else falls into place when transparency is maintained from top down.

With the news of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and 2021 around the corner, even the most pessimistic among us are looking more hopeful. I believe, and hope, that the lessons learnt from 2020 will remain with us through 2021. I am sure five years from now we will retrospectively review 2020 as the year that changed the way we plan our future.

While 2020 may have forced us to shift our personal and business priorities and adapt to new methods, on a wider scale we see this as a positive thing. From the hospitality industry point of view, wastefulness, sustainability, climate change, digitally enhanced customer experience – for example – will remain as a matter of priority going forward. The hospitality industry will have to rethink its strategy with these priorities in mind.

I am personally looking forward to implementing new and positive changes within our business.

But above all, 2020 has taught us to be empathetic and add value to the communities at large. Hopefully, we’ll see less self-serving and more humanitarian and impactful initiatives in the years to come.

Murtaza Hashwani is an entrepreneur, philanthropist and chairman of Hashoo Foundation

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