Almost two years ago, life on earth changed, for everyone. And at this point in the pandemic’s relentless progress, we are still uncertain as to whether the ‘normality’ we used to recognize is coming back, or whether life has changed forever. We accept that now, there is no normal, or in truth, there’s a new “normal”.
Looking back over the past months, what have we learned? What can we say on our small island of Saint Lucia about ourselves and those on whom we rely for our livelihood; Tourists from North America and Europe, mainly the United Kingdom?
In common with our neighbors, St Vincent, Grenada, Barbados, Martinique, and Antigua, we rely on tourism for the more significant part of our income. Our target markets’ own COVID protocols prevented travel throughout 2020 and some of ’21 and at one point we also closed our borders.
For the island’s tourism industry, it was a massive challenge. The government of the time was however proactive in doing everything it could to “soften” the impact, including at one time introducing a furlough scheme. Forward-thinking hoteliers used the time afforded by this lifeline to assess what the industry needed to do or was likely to need to do, to operate in a post-COVID world.
Since the new norm is wearing masks, social distancing, and testing, every service in a hotel or resort has had to be overhauled. Many of the new operational protocols are set in stone by the local government, but there is also the matter of the guest expectations. In part, we have had to second guess the new wants, needs, and desires of our customers. However, many hotel customers have been loud and clear about what they want.
The first priority is that they feel safe. They need to have the confidence that the management and staff to whom they have entrusted their safety for a few days, know what they are doing, follow rules and genuinely care about the well-being of their guests. We have learned too the importance of a contactless experience. We have re-worked our arrival and checking-in processes, we have dispensed with printed menus in preference for a digital menu available on your phone. We have addressed the new standards for maintenance and housekeeping to bring new levels of excellence in hygiene.
We have taken extra care with our spa operations, pools, and beach service, to ensure that guests can enjoy the same services as before, but with heightened attention to safety.
The larger all-inclusive resorts have had to re-think their reliance on the “buffet” and need to make the full service cost-effective since buffets are now, in effect, “persona non grata”.
Then again, we have to recognize a shift in the new mindset of how people have changed their travel style. In doing so, how do we the hoteliers respond? For instance, people are traveling with less baggage than before. This might lead to a greater need for laundry services. There is a higher demand for accommodation that has self-catering options and if not an increased demand for room service.
One of the more significant trends gaining momentum is sustainable or responsible travel and hospitality. We will see guests demanding a facility to offset the carbon footprint of their trip and by extension, that means they expect the hotel to reduce their carbon footprint.
They will be attracted by hotels offering local immersion experiences and menus that are designed from local produce from land and sea.
The now established routine of Skype and Zoom business meetings, will for sure reduce the need for business travel and as a result, we are already noticing airlines switching equipment from business to leisure. Theoretically, the revised relationship between supply and demand might even make the prices fall. We wait to see. Flying from the UK Virgin ceased services to Saint Lucia pre-COVID. Now that travel is opening back up, Virgin have reinstated their Saint Lucia program with flights from both Gatwick and Heathrow.
In the United States, new hubs are focussing attention on Saint Lucia; Dallas, Newark, Chicago, and Boston coming online to supplement the existing schedules from New York, Charlotte, Miami, and Atlanta.
The upshot of all of this might be to say that the industry might have secured some long-term benefits. Perhaps we have been pushed by circumstances to improve standards and in doing so improve the reputation of Saint Lucia.
We will all get used to the new “normal” so that we don’t talk about it anymore. Whatever happens next, we are optimistic that we’ll be welcoming visitors for many years to come.