Warmth, hospitality, and charm will keep bringing people back to Oman

As the chief operating officer of Marriott International in the Middle East, Guido de Wilde has seen first hand the massive impact Covid19 has in the tourism and hospitality industries.

“Covid-19 is an unexpected mega-disruptor and has had a significant impact on the travel and hospitality sector around the globe. It has not only had a significant effect on our business but also on how we operate our hotels.  It has required us to raise our exacting standards to an even higher level with new protocols for the current circumstances,” he revealed in an exclusive email interview with Oman Daily Observer.

Next to oil, the hospitality and tourism industries perform major roles in uplifting the Sultanate’s GDP. In fact, major efforts had been made to improve these industries and around a dozen more hotels are expected to rise in the country in the next five years — a clear testament as to how serious not only the government but the private sector in growing the industries.

Operating four of the country’s luxury hotels that include Al Bustan Palace, JW Marriott, Sheraton Hotel, and W Muscat, the hospitality sector has to contend with the impact of Covid19 to society and how it has significantly altered consumer behaviour as well as how businesses are run in general.

Oman Observer asked De Wilde five questions regarding Oman’s condition as a travel destination amongst other high-level insight into the ongoing efforts to revitalize the industry.

What are your thoughts about Oman as a destination during the pandemic? Once the borders are open, what do you think will drive the travellers back to the Sultanate?
Oman has done an incredible job in safeguarding its citizens and residents during this global pandemic and government has put into place detailed guidelines for businesses such as ours to operate ensuring the safety of our guests and associates. We know and find comfort in the fact that Oman will always be prepared for such crisis situations and challenging times.

Oman has for centuries delighted visitors with its dazzling souks, stunning nature and culture. Above all, it’s warm and welcoming hospitality and mesmerizing charm has and will continue to attract travelers from across the globe.

Should people in Oman expect major changes in the way hotels (particularly Marriott hotels) are run in the country?
Covid has shifted travelers’ expectations and has fundamentally changed human attitudes and behaviours.  For an industry that thrives on empathy and human connection the impact of social distancing measures on the hospitality sector is significant – for both the hoteliers and the guests.

Interaction and involvement are key elements of the travel experience and of the hotel stay in particular. While we observe social distancing and are using technology for some elements of the hotel experience such as for check-in, we must also be able to continue to guarantee a personalised experience for our guests.

We hope that social distancing measures will be able to reduce in time as the impact of the virus decreases or a vaccine is found. However, cleaning and hygiene will continue to be a priority for us.
Our new cleanliness practices and protocols will be immediately evident to the guest. They will see increased cleanings in our hotel public spaces, with particular attention paid to high-touch items, and each hotel will have information available on the specific cleaning practices used in guest rooms between each guest.

We encourage guests to use touchless options across our properties such as the Marriott Bonvoy mobile app which has several functions guests can use to reduce personal interactions at check-in and throughout their stay. With the app, guests can check-in/check-out, unlock their door (in certain locations), proactively chat with hotel associates, request common items via a pick list, and place food and beverage orders (in certain locations).

Guests can expect the same excellent standard of service from our hotels delivered by our highly trained and engaged associates in Oman.

The travel, hospitality, and tourism sector had to shift focus on local travelers. What is an ideal staycation scenario for you?
We are beginning to see an inherent desire in local residents to get out and explore which has led to an increased demand for dining and staycations across our hotel portfolio in Oman. Many want that short escape for some relaxation and downtime.

We have been and will continue to be focused on inspiring people to travel again, when the time is right for them, through creative sales, marketing and loyalty campaigns. Our team has been working hard to drive ‘Staycations’, offering special rates, food, and beverage offer, and promoting our hotels to domestic travellers – and it’s worked well.

We know health and safety are on their minds which is why we have elevated our measures across our properties. We are grateful for the trust our guests have shown us through the years and we want them to know that whenever they walk through the doors of one of our hotels, their health and safety are our priority.

In addition, in order to continue giving our guests flexibility as they plan and book travel, we have introduced flexible cancellation policies and have been updating these as the travel restrictions and the impact of COVID has spread.

What has been the greatest takeaway or lesson for you as a COO? How did this impact your outlook and are there best practices used during the pandemic that will be carried over to a post-Covid19 era?
What we as an industry have experienced this pandemic is like nothing we’ve ever seen before.  We have taken on-board learnings from the current pandemic and will use them as we adapt whatever the future holds.

This ‘new normal’ will evolve and change to reflect government guidance and new societal expectations. What will never change is our commitment to keeping a clean and hygienic environment for associates, guests and customers. We are living in a new age, and we want our associates and guests to clearly understand and embrace the changes we are making.

What’s the future of the hospitality industry?
We remain confident in the long-term prospects of the industry. For now, we are taking a careful approach to recovery, with a laser-sharp focus on cleanliness; while rebuilding our business so we can continue to provide employment, service our communities, and welcome our guests back.