Under normal circumstances, Wyndham’s SVP of Sales Carol Lynch and her team would be on the road rubbing shoulders with prospects at conferences and trade shows populated by meeting and event planners and travel association executives. However, these are not normal times, and rubbing shoulders with anyone is out of the question right now due to the need for social distancing. Lynch described for LODGING how the pandemic has forced her and her team to get creative in driving business to their hotels and how, through recently expanded health and safety protocols under Wyndham’s “Count on Us” initiative, the company is re-imagining meetings and events.
How did you and your team initially respond to the challenges posed by the onset of the pandemic?
Our number one job is to do whatever we can to help our owners fill their hotels. Once business from our usual clients stalled, starting in the end of March, we pivoted and redeployed our team members to identify and drive the business that was still available to our properties. Regardless of the type of customers they normally worked with—groups, sports, leisure, corporate—the entire team began researching and prospecting for business that was still happening in all 50 states, contacting government agencies, offices of emergency management, health and human services, etc., to understand what their lodging needs were. We also identified the biohazard, hygiene, and environmental mitigation companies that would be on the road at this time and began reaching to medical facilities to offer emergency services rates to their staff and others needing accommodations.
By taking a broad, multi-pronged approach, we were able to find success in all these areas, particularly healthcare staffing and temporary staffing agencies, starting in New York City, then expanding to other hot spots. We’re really proud of the fact that our team completely changed their focus and were able to find and recover business for our franchisees.
In what ways is Wyndham addressing operating issues, including meetings, as the economy opens while pandemic drags on?
With reopening, nearly all businesses are subject to recommended or mandated CDC guidelines pertaining to social distancing, hygiene, and wearing face coverings. To help our hotels address this need, and to help instill confidence among our guests, we launched Count on Us, a new initiative that elevates health and safety protocols at all of our hotels. It covers everything one would expect, from increased frequency of cleanings, to social distancing markers, PPE, and more. With Count on Us firmly in place, we’ve now turned our attention to how we expand the initiative to cover meetings and events.
For us, it’s about making sure that when planners call in, they know they’re not in this alone, that they have a partner in Wyndham, one ready to help them think through their event and how to successfully navigate the current environment. And those calls are starting to come in. For example, because a meeting for 50 people now requires twice as much space as before, our properties have put together layouts and schematics of meeting rooms so clients can see what they look like—with six feet of separation to accommodate social distancing. Buffets are out for the foreseeable future, but we have other F&B options in the form of grab-and-go. And because many meetings will be hybrids—that is, made for in-person and virtual attendance—our hotels have the right AV technology in place so organizers can also stream live to the people watching and participating virtually. It’s really about taking a holistic approach and tailoring to the needs of the client.
How does Count on Us align with Wyndham’s broader efforts to help franchisees?
From day one of the pandemic, our focus has been on our franchisees and helping them weather this storm—offering fee relief, providing advocacy, and helping them navigate government programs like PPP and the Cares Act. In fact, just recently, we once again extended a number of relief measures related to management fees, quality inspections, and loyalty retraining, to name just a few.
Are there any new markets to plumb for business now?
Just as businesses are opening with social distancing restrictions, so are colleges. You can’t put four kids in a room anymore. It’s a challenge and one many schools are still trying to figure out, so we’re reaching out to see how our hotels can help. Conversations vary from one school to the next, but in general, many are looking for solutions that range from room blocks to full property takeovers, along with access to key amenities like parking, fitness centers, and, in some cases, modified housekeeping. It’s a unique dilemma given the circumstances but one that we think our brands and hotels are well poised to help solve.