Ben Thomas

Pent-up travel demand is here, and hotel bookings have exceeded 2019 values for the first time since April 2020. But as the appetite for revenge travel rapidly increases on a global scale and consumers grow more demanding for the experiences they have been denied since the start of the pandemic, it’s vital that hotels have the necessary skills and digital strategies in place to capture the demand. As Hoteliers shift focus toward upskilling the workforce to leverage the demand in the upturn, we catch up with Ben Thomas, Chief Commercial Officer at Penta Hotels to get his take on what hotels should do to support their teams and optimize the guest’s online journey and experiences.

June 2021 will be our strongest month since February 2020 in terms of revenue.

For the first time since the pandemic became a global crisis in March 2020, hotel bookings worldwide exceeded 2019 levels in May 2021. Are you seeing this in your hotel?

In May 2021, we saw our hotel bookings steadily increase towards pre-pandemic levels. June 2021 will be our strongest month since February 2020 in terms of revenue, and we continue to see growth in bookings for July and August, exceeding the booking pace of previous months.

Although May yielded a significant uptick in leisure bookings and stays over the weekends and bank holidays, weekdays were slower due to low levels of business travel. While leisure travel will continue over the summer, we hope that vaccination continues to ramp up and that we will see business travel pick up in September 2021.

Reopening the transatlantic corridor will be critical to underpin business travel and sustain it going forward. Leisure travel will see us through the summer months, but we really need business travel to resume so that the economy as a whole can recover.

As international travel demand grows and hotel bookings exceed pre-pandemic levels, what should hotels be thinking about in terms of upskilling their workforce?

Upskilling the workforce is absolutely essential during this time. Historically our industry has faced skill shortages worldwide, and even more so now as hotels recover from the economic fallout of 2020.

Although occupancy levels are steadily recovering, they remain lower than pre-pandemic levels. Pricing has also changed significantly, which means consumers are spoilt for choice when it comes to booking a hotel. Furthermore, the events of 2020 have also made consumers more demanding, which means every step of the customer experience needs to be optimized, from pre-booking to check-out and beyond.

All of this adds additional pressure to the workforce. Therefore, it is vital for our hotels to ensure we have the right skills in place to meet the demands.

About Ben Thomas
& Penta Hotels
Ben Thomas is a commercial and operational strategist who partners with sales, marketing, e-commerce, and revenue leaders to bring financial success to hotel operations. After spending over a decade in senior general management roles in the hotel industry, Ben recently moved into a newly created role in the Pentahotels central office in Frankfurt, leading the commercial team through the ongoing global pandemic, focusing on creating efficiencies and driving profitability. When not commuting to the office in Frankfurt, Ben can be found at home in the UK, spending time with his wife, young son, and a growing army of pets. Sports remain a massive passion in his life, mainly following football and his beloved Manchester United. Born in the 1970s, Penta represents a new generation of sensibly priced, lively neighborhood hotels offering modern-minded individuals and business travelers comfort and style in a laidback atmosphere. Known for their unique interior design and attitude, they feel obligated to disrupt a boring mid-market hotel segment that is all about hardware. Penta is all about social interaction and genuine service. Their teams are the creators and gatekeepers of that unique culture. With 27 operating hotels under the brand across Europe and Asia, the beating heart of every hotel is its Pentalounge: merging bar, restaurant, lobby, and reception into one space.

What have been your priorities to ensure your hotels are fit to capture the pent-up demand?

We took the opportunity of the downturn to really think about who we are as a brand and whether we would be fit for purpose in a post-pandemic world. Over the past eight months, we closely analyzed new customers to target and how we could reach them, identifying short-term digital buying behaviours and the rise of younger travelers.

Given the ongoing market uncertainty, we saw booking pace decrease drastically from 28 days to just 5 days or less. With mobile bookings on the rise, one of our first steps was to deploy a new mobile first website. From there, we identified where prospective guests were searching for us online, and implemented steps to increase visibility in these channels. All of our efforts have holistically focused on funneling the customer journey from search to transaction.

From a commercial perspective, the bottom line is that until travel and hotels fully reopen, we need to think about how to continue attracting guests and meeting their demands so that they return in the future.

In what ways has your hotel revamped your digital marketing strategy to reach and engage the influx of younger and more demanding travelers?

Rather than go to market with a cheap deal, our focus has really been to tell stories about our destinations. The local market is still critical for us in the short-term, so we communicate in a way that inspires guests to dream about exploring homesoil.

We changed our communication with the younger audience in mind, speaking in a more aspirational language through blogs that promote the destination and experiences on offer. We also deliver more experience-lead packages that cater to a younger crowd, with live music involved. We’ve live-streamed numerous concerts and created a playlist which has really engaged this audience.

Managing operational costs without compromising service is also a strong priority for us. With dining, for example, we’ve partnered with food delivery services such as Uber Eats to continue delivering dining experiences while maintaining the payroll cost. For us, it’s crucial to continue reinventing ways to deliver the best experiences to guests during these times.

The local market is still critical for us in the short-term, so we communicate in a way that inspires guests to dream about exploring homesoil.

Ultimately, we continuously look for ways to protect the customer while still delivering a great experience.

Although travel demand is here, prevailing uncertainty and changing restrictions continue to disrupt consumer confidence and travel. How do you create a viable marketing strategy to increase consumer confidence and also keep your teams motivated during these times?

Ultimately, we continuously look for ways to protect the customer while still delivering a great experience.

From a commercial perspective, total flexibility is still critical in terms of cancellations and moving bookings to future dates. Therefore, we maintain a policy that allows flexible movement of bookings which extends to small meetings, groups, and events. Given the stringent Covid-19 testing requirements in various destinations, we have also partnered with labs to provide onsite service to guests in selected properties.

Focusing on the mental health and wellbeing of our employees is essential during these times. For Sales teams in particular, watching all the business you have worked so hard to build disintegrate over the course of 18 months is extremely challenging.

To manage this, we currently set smaller goals and celebrate the achievements along the way. At our worst, when our business reached the lowest revenue levels imaginable, we celebrated 15% occupancy. Despite the ongoing barriers and disruptions, we really strive to promote resilience by staying upbeat and strengthening the morale of our teams.

In the short term, we must continue to look for ways to also overcome these restrictions until vaccination reaches the necessary levels for destinations to fully reopen. I also believe it’s important to remember that travel will resume with a vengeance when that day comes.

For me, this reminder presented itself when I recently visited London for a leisure weekend. For the first time in 18 months, I saw packed restaurants and bars again. As is the case in the US, it was almost as though life had returned to normal, and everyone was buzzing from this feeling. Because it was my first leisure break in a long time, price was less of an issue. I returned poorer and heavier, but happier.

Join the Hotelier Pulse
Take this Month's Survey Here.

We use first-party and third-party cookies for analytical purposes and to show you advertising related to your preferences, based on your browsing habits and profile. You can configure or block cookies by clicking on “Cookies settings”. You can also accept all cookies by clicking on “Accept all cookies”. For more information, please consult our Cookie Policy.

Cookies Settings:

Cookies and other similar technologies are an essential part of how our Platform works. The main goal of cookies is to make your browsing experience easier and more efficient and to improve our services and the Platform itself. Likewise, we use cookies to show you targeted advertising when you visit third-party websites and apps. Here, you will find all the information on the cookies we use. Furthermore, you will be able to activate and/or deactivate them according to your preferences, except for any cookies that are strictly necessary for the functioning of the Platform. Keep in mind that blocking certain cookies may affect your experience on the Platform, as well as its functioning. By clicking “Confirm preferences”, the cookies selection you have made will be saved. If you have not selected any options, clicking this button will be the same as blocking all cookies. For more information, please consult our Cookie Policy.

Cookies Settings
Accept all Cookies