Fred Gonzalez, Managing Editor
Nov 2020

Hyatt Hotels CEO Mark Hoplamazian believes having a sense of purpose drives decisions and builds partnerships. "People are looking to connect, and I’m encouraged because I believe we can allow people to travel safely and fulfill that human need."

As the world moved into lockdown mode, what was Hyatt’s COVID-19 response?

We created a global care and cleanliness commitment program, which was centered around expert advice from partners like the Cleveland Clinic. We also had an architectural firm tell us how they would conceive of the space utilization at our hotels, both with respect to social distancing considerations as well as repurposing spaces to create more outdoor venues. At each hotel we appointed a well-being and hygiene manager, and the teams went through a training and accreditation process. I also took the training to immerse myself and see how our colleagues would handle it. We felt it was an extra measure of assurance that we were taking all necessary precautions.

Hyatt Hotels CEO Mark Hoplamazian

Were there any inspiring moments during the beginning of the pandemic?

During the swell of caseloads in New York, there was a hospital at the center of the outbreak. They had more COVID-19 patients than any other hospital in the country at that time. American Airlines and Hyatt got together and gave free vacations to 4,000 people working at the hospital, to give them something to look forward to. People really appreciated what they did, and I remain completely humbled by their sense of humanity and putting themselves at risk. It was an amazing opportunity to acknowledge and give something back to those folks.

How did you stay connected with your audience during the lockdowns?

We try and find ways to stay engaged with our local audience. Grand Hyatt Singapore, for example, converted their Food and Beverage operation to be a very large takeout. You’d drive through the porte-cochère, they’d place the order in your car, and you’d drive off. You got yourself a fantastic meal that you can take home and share with your family. We have seen a tremendous level of demand for those sorts of things because it’s a special treat and it’s a way to stay connected.

Did you already have an existing partnership that allowed you to connect quickly?

We have a long-standing relationship with the Cleveland Clinic, as some years ago they identified the practice of empathy by their health care professionals as a competitive advantage. And it’s something we have been leaning into heavily as part of our commitment to our purpose which is to care for people so they can be their best. Care we have defined as an equation as the application of empathy plus action. So, we spent a lot of time over the last 5 years working with the Cleveland Clinic, and they were already working with businesses to help them with the learning curve on COVID-19. Then we started our own task force within the company that drove the initiatives and identified any resources, such as keeping track of therapeutic and vaccine developments and travel restrictions around the world. The task force is focused on what we need to be doing to bring guests back to our resorts, like in Hawaii which recently re-opened.

The pandemic has been stressful in many different ways, so how was your company’s commitment to holistic well-being affected?

Our approach and focus on holistic well-being has been with us for several years. And as we broadened our offerings it was always based on mindfulness and how we approach nutrition and physical activity and mental well-being. That last one is critical as COVID-19 has brought with it persistent stress and strains on a lot of people because of life’s circumstances and risks. Our focus is increasingly on mental well-being and we have an exclusive relationship with Headspace for our colleagues and guests. We feel it’s important to identify stresses and strains and help people get through it. So, it’s become that much more important to maintain that, and it’s been a call to action for us that we stay committed to. The recent launch of our new platform has a unifying theme about well-being and how it can come through in many different ways. We have colleagues from all around the world sharing practicum on meditation or hydro-therapy treatment to help find some calm in the space of your day. I personally practice meditation during this period of time, and it has helped me stay calm and focused on all of the things I need to do.

What does the future hold for the hospitality industry?

We have 100 percent confidence that we will get past this and we will have a period of time when people will rush to reunite with family and friends and there will be a massive surge in travel. Between now and then, the one thing that is very clear is that we have to maintain the practice of listening to our guests with a focus on the individual needs of our customers. People increasingly need a change of venue, so we launched Work From Hyatt, which was the result of careful listening. We went from conception to launch rather quickly, which is another thing that will last as a result of all this—rapid response.

Mark thanking a Hyatt family member at Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress

How will we know when it’s time to start traveling again for business?

Between now and the time a full-blown vaccine is in widespread distribution, testing is probably the most important factor to seeing more business travel get underway. Travelers are looking at the entirety of their journey, and they’re looking for a seamless experience of safety and security. Partnerships, like the one Hyatt has with American Airlines, are really important to restoring confidence in the travel journey from beginning to end. We have seen some examples already, such as when American opened routes to the Bahamas and Jamaica through a testing framework. And conversations are taking place between airlines and the federal government to see what can be put in place to open up bilateral routes to other countries. These targeted ways of creating a safety bubble around travel using testing are going to be a central piece to this puzzle. And I’m very excited about these rapid-result, low-cost tests that are being advanced through approval processes.

In the same way that some universities have undertaken frequent testing of students, teachers and staff to create a safe environment, we need to do the same in hotels and extend that to the travel journey to make sure people who are boarding planes also have a set of recent tests. Once that becomes practice, a company may decide it’s been a long time since connecting in person with a key customer, especially if they see one of their competitors extending themselves to make a trip. That can happen quickly.

Will guest experiences be changed permanently at the expense of personal touch points with staff?

There’s definitely some extension of digital resources to allow people to have more control over their travel journey and their stay at a hotel. The simplest example is mobile entry into your room, which allows you to bypass the front desk and open the door to your room with your phone, which we rolled out in a large proportion of our hotels around the world. We will see higher utilization of that service in the future because people will have become accustomed to it. We are also extending some of those digital resources to how you order and pay for services, amenities and deals on the property. The convenience factor is really compelling. But ultimately, the difference for us is the culture and sense of humanity that we are able to bring into the equation based on our commitment to caring for people and not just serving them.

Ultimately, human beings are wired for community, for connection and engagement. It’s stimulating. It allows you to be more successful, and all of that energy is something that people will be drawn to. No matter what we can make easier digitally, those points of human contact are going to be what people will remember.

Have you been surprised that leisure travel is bouncing back so quickly?

Leisure travel has been the core of demand and it will remain that way for six months or so. That includes Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year’s. We are already seeing significant bookings in those time periods. People are looking to connect, and I’m encouraged because I believe we can allow people to travel safely and fulfill that human need.

What kinds of trends are you seeing when it comes to the use of your hotels for business?

The use case that I am excited about and hearing more and more from my counterparts and other corporations is targeting a place to meet for business and leisure purposes. It’s starting to take hold. One of our largest customers selected a Hyatt in a location that was equidistant from Boston, where the client lives, and New York, where the company is based. They drove there, met there and ended up staying overnight because of the timing of the meeting.

How important will loyalty programs or company partnerships be in the near future as we see a rise in travel?

There’s a big opportunity for partnerships. Of course, I’m biased because we have a very good partnership with American Airlines. We have alignment as two organizations. We have a purpose to care for people so they can be their best. The fact that we’re both centered around the sense of care as opposed to merely service is meaningful to our teams that are working together. That alignment creates all sorts of opportunities to design things that will be compelling to travelers.

People want to know that their holistic well-being is being considered. These partnerships are going to be central to the management and navigation of this period between when we have an approved vaccine and a fully distributed vaccine, which is going to take months. During that period, there will be a lot of different ways to make sure you’re serving the needs of your passengers and guests. Let’s remember that people are pivoting towards something that is a departure after being limited  in terms of travel. They are taking their first trip, staying in a hotel, or getting on a plane for the first time in a while. It’s going to be especially important for corporate partners to coordinate so we can reinforce confidence and put people back into a sense of well-being for their travel.

For you