When Daniel Ovichegan became general manager of a Dallas NewcrestImage hotel in August 2019, it represented the achievement of a long-held goal that began even before his family emigrated to the United States from India when he was a child. He prepared for a career in hospitality first by earning a bachelor’s degree in hospitality management and an MBA in organizational leadership from Johnson and Wales University. Increasingly responsible positions in food and beverage, operations, and as an assistant general manager paved the way, but he says it was having the opportunity to complete an AHLA Foundation apprenticeship program, through which he earned the industry-recognized Certified Hospitality Supervisor certification, that honed his skills and helped him develop competencies in other crucial hotel departments, including housekeeping, human resources, and sales and marketing.
Now facing the challenges imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic while working remotely to continue handling hotel business, Ovichegan is reminded of how the program instilled in him a belief in the importance—and endurance—of the industry and all that it represents. “Despite what’s going on now, the hospitality industry is not going anywhere. The pandemic has taken a toll, but we will be strong, and I, for one, am not going to give up my focus on what I love to do.”
He says it’s the mental discipline stressed in the program in particular that is sustaining him while handling concerns of guests and employees, many of whom have been furloughed or laid off. He says remaining understanding and appreciative has served him well through interactions with both guests and employees. “When I speak to them remotely—as I am now—none have been angry or upset with me. In fact, they have appreciated that I have been talking to them individually and offering reassurance, demonstrating my faith in the industry.”
“Despite what’s going on now, the hospitality industry is not going anywhere. The pandemic has taken a toll, but we will be strong, and I, for one, am not going to give up my focus on what I love to do.”
Ovichegan says those looking to enter—or re-enter—the industry should be prepared to go back to basics. “Whether it’s a luxury, full-service, or limited service hotel brand, the basic roots of this industry lie in making sure you’re showing gratitude toward your staff and staying focused on the guest, offering reassurance that you will take care of them.”
Ovichegan says he is just starting to see hopeful signs in the calls he’s receiving. “For my hotel, which is located in the heart of downtown Dallas, we are beginning to see a good pickup—mostly among leisure travelers, our repeat guests.” However, he says, it is clear from their questions, that in a post-pandemic world, hotels must take to heart lessons learned—about the need to continue to address the health and safety concerns of both guests and employees. “That will pretty much be a pivotal point of my job—making sure I protect my staff by providing them will all the tools they need to keep them safe, and to also do the same thing for our guests.”
Looking farther ahead, he expects the industry to bounce back, but that it will be “a gradual struggle,” with painfully learned, but valuable, lessons serving to remind all about what’s really important. “I think the struggle has been a good struggle. I see it as a wakeup call, one that has made me personally stronger and humbler, and that has reminded us all just how precious our jobs, families, and lives are. It has reminded us that what hospitality is all about is caring for families and employees, treating everyone with respect, and making sure we’re giving them the best service we can give.”
Most of all, Ovichegan believes, despite the pain of the moment, the industry will not just survive but thrive, and that its leaders have an important role to play in the turnaround. “Those of us in the industry who are informed about this crisis and how to proceed need to reassure guests, travelers, and employees that everything will be fine—just not right away.”