Postado em sexta-feira, 31 de maio de 2024 08:33

Insights from a recent EHL panel event on 'Managing Hotels in Times of War', where the spotlight shone on hospitality from a different perspective. What changes for a hotel General Manager when a crisis situation hits? What emerges in terms of new leadership roles and operational requirements? Dr. Inès Blal recounts the highlights from this moving and illuminating panel discussion with seasoned professionals in war zones.

Introducing 'Hospitality for Society'

Since Covid-19, the debate on the working conditions and role of hospitality in society has gained traction. The cyclical nature of the business, its long and constraining working hours and conditions have dominated the discussion. Amid this heated debate, we have tended to forget the passion, engagement, and dedication often encountered in the sector.

Generally, we also tend to overlook the 'school of life' and the humanity-centric skills that the industry can develop in an individual. For that purpose, we decided to launch the 'Hospitality for Society' initiative. Its purpose is to give voice to hospitality workers who positively impact society. We aim to go beyond the superficial luxury haze and connect to the environment and community by welcoming others differently.

Hoping to inspire new narratives on how hospitality can support positive social contexts, we organized a special panel event called 'Managing Hotels in Times of War'.

What really emerges in a crisis environment?

This spring, we held a panel discussion on managing hotels in times of war at EHL Campus Lausanne. In the company of Mr. Guy Lindt, GM of the American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem [in French], Mr.Artem Prykhodko, GM of the InterContinental hotel in Kyiv [in French], and Mr. Nicolas Vout, Head of Digital Transformation & Data at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), we delved into the technicalities and implications of managing hotels in war zones.

Mr. Lindt, EHL alumnus, shared the story and mission of the American Colony Hotel in East Jerusalem and its unique ties with neutral Switzerland. Mr. Prykhodko described how he has managed the hotel in Kyiv since the first attacks in February 2020. Mr. Vout, also an alumnus of EHL, detailed the methods of the ICRC in zones of tension and conflict, and the logistical support offered to hotels in these situations.

Wars and crises are, unfortunately, part of the environment in which we are evolving. While we hope never to experience them, these situations can teach us about adaptation, resilience and management. Given the subject, the best way to be informed is firsthand from those who have experienced it.

We were surprised that the subject triggered the interest of a large audience of students, professionals and the press. As we prepared for the panel and discussed during the Q&A, it became apparent that the conversation was about far more than just managing hotel operations.

The subject highlighted how hoteliers can display unique traits of leadership and crisis communication and, above all, make incredible human contributions to their staff, guests and society.

What changes for a hotel General Manager in times of war?

1. A change in client profiles and client needs

Mr. Lindt and Mr. Prykhodko reported a “before and after” business approach. The American Colony Hotel had been fully booked with leisure customers, but the situation changed overnight after October 7th. The tourists interrupted their stays for emergency repatriation. Similarly, the InterContinental Kyiv was busy catering to its usual business clientele until the unrest of February 2020.

Both narrate how, within 24 hours, the clientele shifted to a majority of media journalists, diplomats and NGO representatives. This sudden change in the client base not only had an effect on the general atmosphere but also on the hotel's operations. These new customers came with different needs. Journalists, for instance, have to leave early to cover the field and, when arriving late in the evening, must work on their reports.

Mr. Prykhodko and Mr. Lindt explained how they adapted their F&B offerings and operations accordingly. Mr. Vout detailed how the ICRC react to the tensions in war zones by collaborating with the hoteliers in the region to reinforce their field operations.

2. A constant state of anticipation of needs and solutions

Both hoteliers explained how they focused on maintaining upscale and luxury standards during difficult times. This entailed stocking food, finding new supplies, innovating to sustain drinkable water, putting in place generators for electricity, and maintaining internet services. At the InterContinental Kyiv, managing a 3-week long back and forward to the underground shelter, where clients, staff and their families gathered.

What stemmed from the exchanges with the three panelists is the different stand these situations call for when managing their staff and clientele. All three panelists alluded to the security and calming feeling they needed to convey. Both hoteliers focused on offering a haven for the people around them. They apply strict security procedures (from booking, to check-in to daily operations and the management of a security team) but also deliver their upper-scale hotel offerings to convey this sense of normality despite the challenges happening outside the hotel.

3. Preparation and flexibility

All three panelists referred to risk and security procedures that they enforce. We discussed the need for training for these procedures and a balance in the number of methods to address the risk needs and reactiveness. What stood out from the discussion is the apparent leadership attribute of focusing on operations, concentrating on the essentials to keep the operations going, and avoiding getting distracted from essential information and activities.

Mr. Vout explained the need for the preparation and how the ICRC liaises with hoteliers to get ready for crisis situations. He gave examples of the “passive security” that their protocol requires, such as taping windows with anti-blast film to avoid further injuries in case of explosion, or anti-intrusion measures to delay building penetration in case of attack.

As for the management of staff, it required a different, more flexible approach. The people management aspect included the psychological distress of the employees, the shifting working hours, staff availability on-site, and scheduling and strategies to deploy to ensure stable operations amid the turmoil. All three panelists stressed the staff's critical need for professional psychological support. The communication during the crisis needs to be regular and transparent to avoid unnecessary additional mental distress.

For financials, again, flexibility is critical. When hotels might be privileged with a new business mix, expenses are fluctuant and unexpected, and cash prevails, with a strong demand for hard currencies. Therefore, regarding the budgeting question, all three panelists responded that it was replaced by weekly and monthly cash-flow monitoring.

4. Focus on the fundamentals of well-being

Mr. Prykhodko shared his unique experience during the first three weeks of attacks. They turned the underground parking lot into a bunker which became, over these weeks, the hotel's focal point. They made provisions for staff to sleep on-site with family members, closed the hotel to look empty from the outside, and created playrooms for kids. To maintain their morale and appearance, they brought in a psychologist, hairdresser and barber. While these may seem frivolous gestures, they proved essential for the positivity and humanity of the people. Well-being takes on a different meaning in those circumstances.

Main insights from these experiences

These unique circumstances challenge our management capabilities and call for leadership. They require remaining flexible, managing changing priorities like security, food procurement, closer ties to staff and teams, communication, and community management. These tough situations provide excellent insights into leadership so that we can be extremely valuable in more stable situations. All hoteliers who have managed peak seasons relate to the operational aspects above.

Unfortunately, in times of war or pandemic, it is an accelerated and exacerbated development context in these cases from which we gathered the following main insights:

  • Leveraging the network and client base to collect factual information. Maintaining access to the facts from the ground and distinguishing misinformation from actual events.
  • As a consequence, a key point is to resist the social media hysteria, limiting the info flow of non-verified information. This point was also stressed by Mr. Vout, who reports the increasing role of digital communication in zones of tension and war.
  • The importance as a hotelier of staying neutral and focusing on the service to be delivered (as opposed to encouraging heated political debates and opinions).

What the event meant to me

It was touching how, at the end of the 2-hour session, the shared comments from participants were all about a sense of communion and a feeling of togetherness. I suspect it is because we reverted to the fundamentals of catering and working with people. It resonated with the managerial challenges we faced during the Covid-19 crisis. In these instances, where life is threatened, we can better see hospitality's outreach to people and society. It can provide security, shelter, dignity, community and sharing. We can witness hospitality's profound link to our human needs and how it rises to the need to cater to them.

Much of the event's feedback mentioned “inspirational” and “leadership”. We heard stories of survival, calmness, resilience and care, and often, humor. We learned firsthand about the difference between management and leadership. We also learned about authenticity, acting in alignment with one's values. It also allowed us to see managers of luxury hotels through a different lens. Hearing them deploying their capabilities and those of their teams in this usually luxury setting was enlightening about the skills of the hospitality industry.


by Dr. Inès Blal - Associate Professor at EHL Hospitality Business School | EHL Hospitality Business School | HNR Hotel News