As hotels nationwide shuttered their doors in March and April amid the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent restrictions on travel and business, all of the 600-plus properties in Extended Stay America’s portfolio remained opened. LODGING touched base with Kelly Poling, ESA’s chief commercial officer, to discuss how ESA adapted throughout the pandemic to continue to welcome guests, the safety initiatives that the brand established as a result, and her thoughts on recovery.
How did ESA adapt to ensure that guests could continue to stay and that all hotels could remain open?
We implemented our STAY Confident program, which has three focus areas: Stay Safe, Stay Healthy, and Stay Comfortable. It includes the measures we’re taking to ensure the safety of both employees and guests. For Stay Safe, we implemented personal protective equipment for the staff, and we have been promoting social distancing. With Stay Healthy, we make sure we are hyper-clean through a partnership with Procter & Gamble where we expanded our already rigorous cleaning process. It includes two major things: one, extra disinfection and increased cleaning frequency in high-touch common areas; and two, a ten-point room cleaning process. The cleaning process includes a member of the management team inspecting and approving the room prior to releasing it for check-in. For Stay Comfortable, we are focused on serving the needs of our guests. One hundred percent of our hotel rooms and suites have full kitchens, which is an important competitive advantage. We are also allowing guests to choose when and how they want their rooms cleaned—like every week or less—and contactless linen exchange. Those three pillars make sure our guests can confidently stay at our hotels knowing that their wellbeing is protected.
What have ESA’s occupancy levels been like?
Not only are all of our hotels open, but they’re pretty full. We have been housing guests throughout the whole pandemic. We saw occupancy [in mid-May] around 70 percent. There’s something that feels good about that—there’s some good out there that makes us feel optimistic that recovery will happen sooner rather than later.
When do you anticipate industry levels returning to “normal”? What do you think recovery will look like for the industry?
I don’t know if we’ll ever be normal again. I do, however, have a strong point of view on what’s going to be important for guests in order to facilitate their travel. It’s almost like an order of needs. First, the industry needs to make sure that guests are confident and that their health and safety is preserved. On the next level of that continuum of needs is we have to be fully aware that as much as this is a global health pandemic, it is an unprecedented financial crisis. People need to know their stays are financially viable. Hotels have the opportunity to focus on their core differentiators. As a brand, our core advantage is we’re focused on serving the needs of our guests with every room and suite having a kitchen, allowing them to spread out in our spacious apartments and affording them the comforts of home.
What advice do you have for hotel owners whose properties had closed and are now reopening?
There are multiple dimensions of guests’ psychology. The industry at large is doing a pretty good job of articulating how to make guests feel comfortable, safe, and healthy, but there are additional layers that are weighing on guests’ minds. We need to help guests overcome their concerns and put appropriate measures in place. We need to understand that most people have been financially impacted in some way by this environment. In the next couple of months, we are going to be experiencing a bunch of people traveling for the first time. We have to be thoughtful about that. We have to be the most hospitable version of ourselves as an industry because people right now need to be cared for.