João Pinto Coelho

Contrary to widespread industry expectations, cross-border travel has not resumed with a vengeance, due to unexpected restrictions at the start of summer 2021.  But as destinations such as the UK continue to stay the course in reopening their economy, there is still cautious optimism that other destinations will follow suit and a vast majority of consumers will use the autumn of 2021 to travel. 

In this month’s Hotelier Spotlight Interview, we caught up with  João Pinto Coelho, Director of Sales & Commercial at Onyria Hotels & Resorts Group to find out what he expects for the hotel industry in the  second half of 2021, and how his business has adapted to continuous market changes. 

While summer 2021 has certainly been an improvement from 2020, it’s still not quite at the levels we need it to be.

What is your expectation for financial recovery to pre-pandemic levels?

Since March 2020, our business forecasts (which we moved from annually, to monthly, and now weekly) have not been met. Back in summer 2020, we expected that by the same time this year, we would be much closer to full occupancy levels across our 200 rooms and 40 villas at Onyria Resorts. But due to disruptions at the beginning of the season, there is a significant gap between our forecasts and reality. 

Looking back, I think we had a strong expectation that the vaccine would save the day and enable travel to resume with a vengeance in summer 2021. But hotels are still at the mercy of other factors such as government restrictions, flight capacity, and of course, consumer confidence. While summer 2021 has certainly been an improvement from 2020, it’s still not quite at the levels we need it to be. 

I think overall the industry has adjusted expectations because there is a certain degree of fatigue and frustration with missing forecasts. As hoteliers, we are now approaching the future with cautious optimism. 

How have the new variants impacted consumer confidence and business operations across Onyria Resorts?

The continuous change of rules and restrictions significantly impact communication with our customers. One week we are reassuring certain markets that our destination is safe, but two weeks later we are declared unsafe by their governments, which results in a wave of cancellations. 

I think the disruption is not so much due to the variants themselves, but rather the communication around them by local governments. The result is that our reservations team is talking less about the rooms and products we offer, and answering more questions about safety and requirements to access our hotel and activities in destinations where we operate. 

Overall, we still have a significant level of consumer demand and interest. We respond with flexible rates and policies to convert demand into bookings, but ultimately what we have on the books is still not secure in terms of revenue.

About João Pinto Coelho
& Onyria Hotels & Resorts Group
João Pinto Coelho boasts a long history as Director of Sales & Commercial at the Onyria Hotels & Resorts Group, a chain with properties and golf courses across Portugal's top tourism hotspots, including Cascais, metropolitan Lisbon, and the Algarve. Appointed as the Group's Director of Sales in 2004, he has contributed to a wide range of key projects for the group, including the opening of Onyria Palmares Beach House Hotel in the Algarve in 2016, and a large-scale renovation project during the first lockdown of 2020 for the Hotel Quinta de Marinha Golf Resort in his native Cascais.

What are some of the strategies Onyria Golf Resorts has implemented to respond to market disruptions and cater to guest demands during these times?

We took the first 9 months of lockdown to conduct some major refurbishments across our rooms and villas. We’re also currently testing all-inclusive offers and packages to give guests a more holistic experience at our resorts. We’ve also introduced open-air concerts with more space to enjoy the vibe in a socially-distanced way. 

Throughout the implementation of these new measures, our strategy has been to continuously communicate with guests and show what we are doing. We use social media to talk about the flexible offers and policies we deliver to overcome restrictions and give guests the best possible experiences at our resorts.

How have golf resorts been impacted by changing restrictions? Given the outdoor nature, have you seen an uptick in demand?

We noticed that people are very keen to escape claustrophobic cities and book stays at resorts where there is more space and nature. We need to be creative with offering our wide open spaces in response to this trend, reaching new markets beyond golfers, and talking about other possibilities such as horse-riding. 

 For instance, one of our courses has a lake, which used to be a bit of a nightmare for the golfers during tournaments. But we have since opened it up for swimming, paddle-boarding and other water activities in order to reach new leisure travelers.

We use social media to talk about the flexible offers and policies we deliver to overcome restrictions.

The majority of business has been from leisure travelers throughout the pandemic, followed by our target customers, the golfers.

There are some strong indications from the US that business travel is starting to pick up and people are getting back on the road and face-to-face. Do you expect business travel to pick up again in 2021?

The majority of business has been from leisure travelers throughout the pandemic, followed by our target customers, the golfers. They were some of the first guests to book with us following the lockdowns, likely because they never wanted to leave in the first place. 

We have been receiving a great deal of bookings from golfers for October onwards. Provided there are no restrictions, we expect a great deal of business from this segment, followed by small groups. We may only start to see larger groups in 2022 and onward.

As life continues to steadily return to normal, what are you looking forward to the most in a post-pandemic world?

I cannot wait for social distancing to become a concept of the past, and for us all as humans to be able to hug each other again. From an operational standpoint, we would love to go back to offering normal buffets without restrictions. Listening to a standing ovation at a big event or experiencing the rush of a concert at full capacity, are some other things I am looking forward to experiencing in a post-pandemic world.

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