Tourism industries across the globe have been devastated. With major travel restrictions and the corresponding risks, entire travel-related industries have been wiped out.
In Vietnam, which has managed the Covid-19 crisis exceptionally well (~1,400 confirmed cases and only 35 deaths for a population of 100M), the tourism industry has had to switch to an entirely domestic market, which pre-Covid accounted for 80% of activity, but for only 20% of revenue. The foreign tourists were accounting for virtually the entire use of the mid-to-luxury segments of tourism, bringing in the elephants’ share of the revenues.
With the foreigners gone, hotels, resorts and venues catering to high end clients have had to either re-focus on the domestic market (which is very price sensitive and has much lower purchasing power) or virtually shut down.
There are a few players that have persevered and are finding ways to stay active while playing within the new market (earning ability) constraints.
One such player is the TMG Boutique Hotel Group in Vietnam, which is my favorite place to stay when away from home. I have been able to experience their services throughout the entire cycle of Wave 1 and 2 lockdowns, reopening and the switch to domestic consumers. Throughout the entire journey there were 3 qualities that made this organization display staying power: (1) uncompromising focus on service (RELIABILITY) (2) ability to actively adjust the service mix to match the capability with demand (RESPONSIVENESS) and (3) see beyond short term problems by planning ahead through fostering relationships with its patrons (RELATIONSHIPS). The 3 Rs I use for this article are from the research by Mark Colgate in his book The Science of Service which is a great read and a superb practical guide for organizational performance as it relates to service culture. Furthermore, I would add that the 3 Rs, when in place, enhance organizations’ staying power despite the market or environmental challenges.
- Service (RELIABILITY). Right after the initial lockdowns of Wave 1 were over I had the opportunity to be one of the first guests back at Victoria property in Can Tho, Mekong Delta, Vietnam. Despite significantly reduced staff and services, the quality of the experience was virtually unchanged. From the warm welcome at the reception, smooth check-in process, to the quality of accommodation and surrounding amenities, all were just as always…superb. This speaks to the culture and the values of this organization. Despite the fact that the hotel was working in a very reduced capacity, the focus remained on customer service. To go further, the staff were very efficient in notifying us about the changes to the available services and alternatives in place. What was interesting (and rather smart) was the fact that there were no discounts on accommodations: this place is unique in Can Tho with virtually no similar substitutes and with this lack of alternatives the pricing absolutely made sense. The stay was great even though some services were not available. It felt again like home away from home.
Just before Wave 2 we also visited Victoria Hoi An and again we saw that the RELIABLITY of the service persisted throughout the chain. Reception, explanations, reservations were all superb despite the fact that the resort was virtually empty. Once again the uncompromising quality of service is what you would expect from the TMG.
- Ability to react (RESPONSIVENESS). During the start of the pandemic no one could have predicted or imagined how widespread and devastating this pandemic would be. Just as governments had to find ways to protect people and economies, so too did businesses have to react to survive. Yet we saw many businesses that were too optimistic and short sighted that quickly had to close the doors for good. A number of businesses realized that outcomes were uncertain and they made changes quickly and definitively.
Across its properties TMG decided to keep limited numbers of accommodations available on its properties but made significant reductions to the on-premise services such as restaurants, tours and other adjacent services (spa, bars, boating, etc.). This allowed the resorts to keep the core business running but with a significant reduction of operating costs. While the fixed costs were unlikely to be covered, the chain was able to keep critical staff employed and active, which plays a crucial role in being able to recover and reopen fast; and in the case of TMG we were the witnesses to this: after Wave 2 was over virtually all services were restored, and more notably, many of the staff that worked there prior to Covid-19 were back. This is not a small feat because in Vietnam staff loyalty is a hard topic given that people will only stay with companies that have a good relationship with them and treat them well. Seems TMG is doing the right things in this department based on our observations and some conversations we had with staff there.
- RELATIONSHIPS. Throughout the crisis TMG was available to work with its clients and to continually provide advice on best services. During the pandemic they took the chance to polish up the new Mekong Delta cruise itineraries, introduce Christmas and New Years packages and continually promote services to new and existing clients. On Sundays they host art workshops for local kids, opening their lovely grounds to be used as a perfect environment for drawing and painting. Their ability to follow-up is excellent and the feeling I get is that once you become a client, you become a part of their small family. They know your name, they know your preferences and they know that if they take good care of you, you will be back and will be part of their recovery.
TMG group offers us “Journeys of Distinction”. And after knowing them for over 5 years and now through the COVID-19 crisis, I can surely say that this is exactly what we get: journeys of distinction full of extraordinary reliability, responsiveness and relationships.
I am a transformation and continuous improvement executive and relentless believer in potential. That potential in many cases just needs to be rediscovered. I work to reinvent old methods into new opportunities and re-enable potential to shine.
It’s in there. Let’s go get it.