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Updated: Dec 7, 2020



Silver Lyan, Riggs DC

In the last few months I have been tempted to watch the news a bit less than I usually do, for the simple fact that no matter how strong the need to know, the need to preserve hope and confidence is prevailing.

Staying informed is so necessary, especially in a moment of unnatural distancing like the one we are currently living. However - having to face the news of our delicate and challenging reality on a daily basis - I personally feel a cloud of negativity hanging over our heads.

As if the pandemic was not enough, we have been having to put up with hate crimes, racism, considerable political division, wildfires burning our most beloved regions, plane crashes, no summer olympics or european soccer cup, hurricanes, the deadly blast that destroyed a country's capital, police brutality, climate crisis, and worse of all a major conflict of opinions.

It’s kind of terrifying to think we are still a few months away from the end of the year, could it get even worse than this?

Even if unintentional, the negativity of our actions and reactions that is being spread around the world at this moment, is making our lives even harder than they already are and that they have to be. We are scared, mourning, struggling, unemployed, distanced, lost. It’s easy and tempting to surrender.

When looking at what we can do to cope as individuals and organizations, we have to realize that this approach is only more destructive, and we need to try to change it for a reasonable one. If we accept the situation and try to adapt ourselves we can really make the best of it, and turn our year into productive versus detrimental.

As hard as 2020 has been, and with the awareness that it’s not over yet, we really have to find in our hearts some way to be positive and confident.

Despite being in the most difficult position of all industries, travel and hospitality is still walking around with its head up and it's really showing us that it's possible to do so. The industry is simply amazing, and really deserves a recognition for what it has done over the past months.

So instead of focusing on the toxic events of our days, I want us to take a break, be lighthearted for a few minutes and look at the wonderful things that have happened and that are still happening, hopefully providing some comfort for us.

There are a lot of fascinating things hospitality has done and is doing to cope with the pandemic, in many ways: to help the employees, to support the community, to offer alternative options for guests who can’t travel. This is the result of the work of the most compassionate and adaptable people, and I am very thankful and proud to be part of a business that is committed to give back and to do whatever it can to stay relevant and creative, despite everything.

First off, what did we do for the community? We did a lot.

Looking at a few months back, Four Seasons New York was the first in the city to offer free lodging for health care workers and turn their rooms into shelter for the front line employees who have done so much for us. Other hotels all over have followed the same steps and have created accommodation for hospital employees and offered discounted rates for those who want to isolate from their families or who have to go through mandatory isolation.

In cooperation with American Express and JP Morgan Chase, Marriott has donated $ 10 million worth of hotel stays to healthcare professionals who have been fighting Covid-19.

Hotels and Restaurants have also partnered with organizations to provide food to those who cannot not afford it. Amongst the fun initiatives, the Berkeley Hotel in London started a drive-thru food service for London Emergency Services.

As part of the opening team, I am particularly proud of Riggs Washington DC, where Silver Lyan Bar Managers partnered with others in the area to start the Friends and Family meals non profit organization. Also, while my team was planning how to properly close and face the weeks to come, our bar team was busy cooking and putting together meals for the World Central Kitchen, a very well known organization that provides smart solutions to hunger following disasters.

In times when hotel occupancy collapses, revenue drops and rooms are empty, there is nothing more inspiring than seeing that hoteliers are still stepping up and have figured out a way to be helpful.

Here are also some fun and caring initiatives the industry has developed for employees affected by the pandemic.

Montage International started a program called “Hearts of Montage Relief Fund” for guests to donate money or purchase gift certificates; the company has also sponsored the distribution of care packages and meals for employees’ families.

During the lockdown, I had read and heard more and more often about management teams sending stay-at-home or work-from-home care packages, with nice handwritten notes, hand sanitizer, masks and gloves, and fun goodies, with the intent of making the lockdown a bit more fun and of feeling a bit closer.

Speaking of working from home, to make conference calls more original, Alaska Airlines worked with Zoom to provide backgrounds from destinations the airlines takes you to.

Restaurants are also getting creative: when businesses first started to reopen in DC, I had dinner at a cafe in my area, and at the bottom of the Menu there was a line reading “Kitchen staff does not get tips, to help them during this time, add $10.00 to your bill and buy them a round of beer!” I thought “Fun! I will do so”.

A branch of Tzell Travel Group, called Largay Travel, has hosted virtual dance parties for their employees (but also welcomed clients, partners, family and friends) every Friday night since March 20th, giving them the opportunity to “gather and mingle” safely distanced and get some relief from the lockdown.

And while our employees were still at home, what did we do to keep them informed and aware of what they needed to know when coming back? A lot of material, training, guidelines, conversations about personal comfort, all meant to ensure a safe and serene return to work. Something my former team and I started during the lockdown, was a fun way of doing training that would work well under the new circumstances. One of our assistant managers put together training videos to distribute to our staff, with the goal of ensuring the training would be safe and distanced, but also that the topics would be easier to learn, since the videos were goofy and interactive. In each video she played different roles, different personalities and even different accents.

Hospitality people really have plenty of imagination to keep the staff involved and excited!

Last (but obviously not least), what did we do for our guests? This is where you see the most original thinking process ever managed.

Since rooms have been sitting empty, the biggest accomplishment for the hotel business has been repurposing them: not only to accommodate healthcare workers as previously mentioned, but also to accommodate the needs of locals during the lockdown and afterwards, and create some hotel stays opportunities.

How many of us are or were done with working from home? How many miss leaving our house (and our partners) for the day and go somewhere else? Hotels have made that possible by selling their rooms by the hour and offering them as offices.

How many of us are tired of spending our time in the same place, and desperately need a change of scenario? Hotels offered the change, by creating staycation packages, and allowing you to experience something you don’t have at home. Is it the view? Is it room service in bed? Is it a great quality bed and an amazing sleep? They made it all available to you just outside of your home.

The Nautilus resort in Maldives, has crafted a package for wealthy workers who want to splurge while doing their job remotely. What better office than the beach, and what better office view than the ocean? Nautilus Maldives work from home.

A great idea I stumbled upon in the summer months came from Airbnb: home owners started renting out their pools and backyards, which became quite popular amongst people who don't have an outdoor space and wanted to make their summer lockdown less miserable.

What about airlines? They definitely got creative too: Eva Air offered a “flight to nowhere” for Taiwanese father’s day. The flight took off from Taipei Airport, circled in the air for 3 hours during which you could see great views and experience some fun activities aboard the aircraft, and landed back in Taipei. Qantas followed the initiative: they planned a 7 hour scenic flight that cruises over Queensland, the Gold Coast, New South Wales and the remote heartlands, including a low flyover popular landmarks.

Although it doesn't offer any service for guests, I love seeing the original ideas that some businesses are coming up with to stay on top of mind during closure: watch this hilarious video posted by Walibi Holland Theme Park, that shows alternative guests having a blast on one of their rides!

Hotels and tourism bureaus are thinking together of ways to keep guests who were supposed to travel interested and excited about the location. Not only through personal notes that remind them about their re-booked trip, but also with fun challenges related to their destination! One challenge I read about consists of trivia questions about the location; another one includes posting on social media what you would do in that location and share, pushing more people to participate and share as well. At the end of the challenge one winner receives a prize. The challenge builds the enthusiasm in people and benefits the business in another great way!

In the late spring some properties even came up with graduation and spring break packages for students who did not get the chance to celebrate this year.

Another trend I consider brilliant, is the idea of bringing the hotel experience to your home. In other words, if you can’t come to us, we come to you.

Hotels are selling supply from their rooms (such as luxury linen and terry, upscale pillows, bathroom amenities, minibar items, etc) that will recreate a hotel bedroom in your own home.

And that’s not the only thing of this kind happening: Hotels and Restaurants Chefs have been filming cooking classes videos to show you how to reproduce their signature dishes in your own kitchen, in case you missed their food; bartenders have been doing the same to teach you how to make your favorite cocktails at home; Spa and treatment therapists have been giving tutorials on products and massages or other therapy techniques, so you can have your own private spa session.

Restaurants not only opted to teach you how to cook their food, they have also prepared the basic components of their dishes for you to purchase for delivery: there is a restaurant in my hometown (Agriturismo Ai Quarti) that during the lockdown made pasta sauce, risotto base, and similar, to sell instead of the final product: that way you can finish the dish at home.

Sea Crew Camp division of Celebrity Cruises made available fun activities to keep children occupied while at home (same as the kids would do if they were on a cruise).

Hyatt hotels partnered with Headspace to provide complimentary meditation and sleep sessions, so that guests can feel as if they were resting on one of their luxury beds.

The last amusing story I want to tell goes back to May, and it’s about my birthday dinner. Like many others, this year I celebrated a quarantine birthday. Since we couldn’t go out and nobody could visit us, my husband and I decided to simply have a nice dinner at home. Little did I know, him, my brother and his girlfriend from the Netherlands and my parents from Portugal had arranged a night full of surprises for me.

They had planned this with a really good steakhouse in downtown DC and with an amazing bakery in Georgetown, and ordered my favorite dinner to be delivered to us: appetizer, main course, fantastic wine, and my favorite birthday cake. All of this came with a letter: not only birthday wishes and hilarious inside jokes written by all of them, but also instructions on how the evening would unfold. A QR code for the soundtrack, a QR code and video for each dish, with detailed description from the Restaurant Manager of what we were going to eat, followed by the most exhilarating remarks from my family. Each course had its own music, food and wine commentary, each moment was phenomenal and felt just like being at the restaurant! I obviously owe it all to my family for being so creative and for helping me celebrate in such a fun way; but it was certainly surprising to see how the restaurant was happy to cooperate and find a way - one more time - to bring the experience to your home.

I leave you with this lovely personal tale, but I know it’s not the end. I know there are many more stories to share, more fun experiences about the first time we flew after the travel ban, or the first time we went out for dinner after the lockdown, about the wonderful initiatives the travel industry is taking, in an effort to keep us all as close as possible until better times are here again.

Silver Lyan Riggs DC pre-opening team, thank you for helping others!

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