Langham CEO provides insight into pandemic

Stefan Leser Langham Hospitality Group

HONG KONG—Langham Hospitality Group, a global hotel company based here, is no stranger to keeping its hotels clean and safe during a crisis. Although not as intense as the current pandemic, the SARS outbreak of 2003 made Langham well-equipped to deal with the industry’s new reality.

“This is a city that was hit very hard by SARS, so it is innately part of our daily lives as Hong Kong residents to be mindful of the spread of contagion,” said Stefan Leser, CEO of Langham Hospitality Group. “There were standard practices in place already at The Langham and Cordis hotels in Hong Kong that simply had to be amplified to counter this particular crisis, and which could serve as a ready-made playbook for us to share with our hotels around the world.”

Leser explained that because SARS is in the coronavirus family and the symptoms are similar, the preventive measures remain the same.

“At the time, our hotels in Hong Kong reinforced strict precautionary measures, which included frequent disinfection of all areas of the hotel,” the CEO recalled. “The increased cleaning and sanitizing regimen throughout the hotels included all rooms, public spaces, back-of-house areas and especially the front desk, elevators, elevator buttons and room keys.”

Being a small company [22 hotels] allowed Langham to react quickly to the current crisis and implement brand-wide changes. At each of its properties that are still operating, daily protective measures have been strengthened including frequent disinfection of all high-touch areas; sterilization of all chinaware, glassware and cutlery; and the execution of additional cleaning protocols in all rooms and suites before and after each guest’s stay. The group is also providing staff with gloves and masks and taking the temperature of everyone who enters the hotels each day.

“Langham Hospitality Group’s colleagues, who are the most essential stakeholders in the company’s efforts to combat the spread of the virus, have also been given enhanced training sessions on personal hygiene, specifically those steps that can help to reduce possible transmission,” Leser said.

Langham is also in the process of creating standard operating procedures for the future.

“Once people are traveling again, there will be certain expectations about what hotels routinely offer their guests, and we want to get ahead of that,” Leser said. “That will likely mean providing protective face coverings and hand sanitizer in the same way we have always providing in-room coffeemakers and water at turndown. We will likely have to rethink how we do banqueting for events, how we operate our restaurants and bars and what precautions we take to make sure our guests feel comfortable in our spas and fitness centers. All of that is being decided in real time as this pandemic progresses.”

Leser explained that the group has a comprehensive hotel operations plan to train colleagues regularly to make sure they understand the protocols to keep them prepared for all circumstances.

“There really is no such thing as being over-prepared,” Leser said. “In such a high-touch, people-oriented industry, one never knows what will happen. We are firm believers in expecting and working toward the best outcomes, but to really succeed, we would always advise to plan for the worst scenarios.”

According to the CEO, to stay afloat financially, Langham has engaged in cost-savings measures across the board, reduced work hours for employees and is operating with lean staffing commensurate with the business levels.

“Right now, we are focused on maintaining our assets and keeping our staff and guests safe and well looked after. And, we are continuing to engage with our customer databases as much as possible. We know there will be a new way of guests interacting with the hotels, and we are doing our best to prepare for that,” Leser said.

As for keeping guests engaged, Leser said that Langham is providing outlets for those self-isolating to stay connected. Culinary professionals at The Langham, Chicago and The Langham, London are regularly sharing recipes and mixology videos on digital platforms.

“We are also trying to engage with everyone through our social media channels and our electronic direct mailings with as much positive messaging as we can,” the CEO added.

Langham recently launched social media hashtag #InThePink, inspired by its signature color, symbolizing staying healthy, positive and happy.

“We are sharing images of the cities in which we operate that reflect being ‘in the pink’ and asking our followers to do the same. We are all in this together and we want them to continue to feel as connected to our hotels as they always have in the past,” he said.

Leser said that Langham hotels in China have recently mobilized care packages with handwritten notes of encouragement, pastries and beverages to the medical staff at local hospitals.

“Our hotels are doing their part in their communities to support frontline workers with mask and PPE donations and food deliveries,” he said. “We are part of the cities in which we are located, and we want our neighbors who are doing the hardest work to know that we support them as much as we can.”

Langham and Cordis hotels are also designing staycation packages with F&B promotions to get guests excited for when travel finally resumes. But when it does, social distancing guidelines and strict hygiene protocols will be followed.

“The world is experiencing the crippling effects of the pandemic at different stages, which means recovery will be in staggered phases as global travel is still very much stalled. That will place domestic tourism at the forefront on the road to recovery as there is much concern about the secondary waves of infection from ‘imported’ cases,” Leser said.

Although Langham has been down this dark road before, what the industry and world are facing now is without a doubt unprecedented. However, Leser is hopeful that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, so long as the industry isn’t complacent.

“For the sake of our colleagues, guests and the communities in which we operate, we cannot and must never let our guard down,” the CEO said. “We do not compromise on safety precautions, and we never take matters regarding our colleagues’ and guests’ well-being lightly or for granted. We will positively manage through today’s challenging environment just as we have positively steered through difficult moments in the past. I am very positive that we will emerge from this turbulent period stronger, together.” HB

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