NHC: Razvan, you are a performance consultant at TSA Solutions. From our research, we have acknowledged that you help companies and hotels discover and reach their true potential through performance management. Based on this information, we would like to ask you to further explain what you do.
Razvan: So, basically, I am supporting both hotels and teams to reach their true potential in terms of human potential or business performance, wherever they feel there is a gap. That is where TSA, my company, jumps in and helps in a variety of areas. Predominantly, we have solutions for room schemes to increase guest satisfaction or incremental revenue capture. Moreover, we also have solutions for reservation schemes, for instance, for food and beverage as well. Once we are on-site, we can engage with all the stakeholders in the hotel and really understand what their struggles and needs are, and how we can support them in this journey. Talking broadly, it is a kind of management consulting for hospitality, in this case international hotels to help them reach whichever their goals are.
"Talking broadly, what we do is management consulting for hospitality."
NHC: How and why did you follow this career path, and which are the competencies you deem necessary to perform it well?
Razvan: When I started working for TSA, I was head of Department in Bucharest. Then, I saw it as an opportunity to further enhance my career and took it as a challenge to grow beyond myself as well.
Regarding the competencies, I would say you need skills in stakeholder management since you deal with stakeholders at all levels. Also, you should be proficient in data analysis and modelling which helps you extract the insights that the company might need to perform and to close whatever gap they see in front of them. Another key part is facilitation techniques and ways of motivating and managing teams to embrace change and take full ownership of the strategies that are implemented.
NHC: Before moving on to the next question, I would like to know what, for you, is hospitality. I mean, what does it mean to work in hospitality?
Razvan: For me hospitality is, basically, getting in touch with new people from different cultures, learning more about them and at the same time about their cultures. It has a lot to do with welcoming new people and being interested in dealing with people. I think this is how I define it.
NHC: Bearing in mind your personal experience, which other top skills do you think are expected when working in hospitality?
Razvan: You must enjoy interacting with people. Not only because your job forces you to do it, but rather because you are genuinely interested in helping people and supporting them. Do not forget, in the end, you should treat your hotel guests exactly how you would treat family members, or close friends, that visit you. If you bear that in mind, you will realize it is probably the same thing. Basically, it is just that, the hotel is your home and the guest that comes into that hotel is a guest that comes into your home. Then, if you stop for a second and just think about how you usually react and how your behavior is when someone from your family, comes over, that is when, I believe, you realize what exactly a guest needs, regardless of procedures or things that you should follow. In other words, you should never lose that human touch.
NHC: What do you believe is the impact of your inputs on performance management, for the companies you work on?
Razvan: The predominant impacts are the business performance – the financial results – and progress within the teams. These are the major areas of impact. Remember... it has a lot to do with the employee’s morale – how engaged they are in pursuing the strategy they chose to follow.
NHC: Jumping into the current worldwide pandemic situation, which affects the hospitality industry, we would like to ask you how your work has been affected, how did you adapt to the situation, and if your approach has changed (concerning the companies).
Razvan: As you might imagine, the entire industry was hit and if a hotel is not operating, if it has extremely low occupancy, or if it is just running short on staff, there is nothing much that myself or a company could do to help. However, there are some hotels, regardless of their – let's say – low performance in terms of business, that improved and reached success in taking with whatever they could. Taking performance to another different level contributed not necessarily to growth or to profitability, but more to reducing losses.
On the other hand, during this period something happened throughout the industry. I think we all learned a lesson in terms of engaging, much more, on social media and online in general. For us, in hospitality, this was something new, a new reality. Nonetheless, we learned that we could try to do the same remotely and online. What matters the most is the intent of showing people you care, that you are really interested in them, and that you are keen on knowing how they are doing. Therefore, this is something that proved to be successful for me. Let me try and give you a little bit of context: once the pandemic started and all my hotels began to close, reaching out to people became hard as most of the workers were out of office and I would usually contact them through the phone line or the e-mail. So, then, I tried to find new ways of engaging with my stakeholders and started reaching out to them on social media, on LinkedIn, just by asking “Hey, how is it going? I have been thinking about you and hope all is well with your team. If you have time to chat...” Or sometimes I would just use a very informal way like WhatsApp. Again, just to connect in a human-to-human way and not as “me as a consultant” or a “general manager” or another stakeholder. Just to connect with the human behind the title.
"What matters the most is the intent of showing customers that you care."
NHC: So, create a touchpoint and never lose the bond that you created.
Razvan: That is especially important. To maintain the engagement, even if it is business-related or business to a guest or a client. It is important not to lose that touchpoint and to have a genuine and personalized interaction, as much as possible. Even if the business is not going well or you might have low prospects or a lot of uncertainty – just like it is happening right now. Hence, in the end, we are all humans and what matters is to be next to each other, support each other and be ready once everything goes back to normal.
NHC: In your point of view, how is it to work in hospitality in this new reality?
For myself, it was not that hard, I must admit. This because a huge portion of my job was, anyway, to interact and engage remotely as well. So, I was kind of use to this type of interaction on a regular basis.
What I felt changed a lot was my inability of interacting face-to-face with people and this is something I miss, even today. However, I had to cope with the rules, embrace change, and move on.
NHC: We believe that hospitality is about how companies treat their workers and how guests are welcomed and treated in an event, for instance. As you know, meetings and events have moved online, and we believe that this new reality has changed the way companies engage with their workers and with guests in an event.
How do you think this has been managed? Do you think it has been a focus of some players? Do you think it is possible to create a good relationship even though the new reality pushed everything online?
Razvan: That is a very interesting question and, what immediately was brought to my mind was the fact that in most instances you do not have a choice, so you must make it work. You must do business as a company, somehow. The company will have to get those services engaged in a remote environment.
I think that many companies, not only in hospitality, realized that their employees and their teams could be, at least, equally productive, even in a remote environment. Therefore, as we are going into a recovery stage, I think there will be a change in how companies see their need of having a physical office, for example, they might diminish the volume of workers being inside or roll them out only a few days a week. On the other hand, indeed, it is not easy for everyone to work from home and most people imagined “how cool it is to work from home – not having to spend time commuting, you can press a button and have your coffee” and things like that – however, it is not as easy as it looks and it comes with a lot of distractions, even if you might not stay with family in the same apartment or house. Even if you are alone, there are a lot of things that distract you easily and then we all know that once you are distracted you need, on average, about 15 minutes to get back in and be productive again.
"As we go into recovery, I think there will be a change in how companies see their need of having a physical office."
NHC: Do you think that hospitality will continue with the new digitalization reality, developed due to the pandemic, across their business model or was it just a one-off solution?
Razvan: I think your question has multiple focuses. Hospitality and hotels are physical locations and people visit them to gain an experience, to look for a relaxing place, or to overnight on a business trip. So, I see a lot of digitalization, not in the area of human interaction, instead in how technology can help us while interacting, whereas the goal is to spend less time as dealing with logistics or other routine tasks. For example, settling an invoice, updating a profile, or just offering some information regarding safety procedures. The idea is to spend less time there and more time just collecting and understanding what the guest is looking for. This is a very important component: How do you, as an individual, regardless of your role in the hotel or establishment, show to your guest that you are human and genuinely interested in making the guest leave your hotel happy and leave for the digital, for example, the payment. Nowadays, it already happens when you go to restaurants and you do not even have to worry about taking out cards or even cash because everything can run very smoothly by using technology.
"I strongly believe that the future is focused on micro-trends and modelling data to find the most efficient strategy."
So, going back to your question there is a huge opportunity for hotels to adopt a lot of changes in terms of moving the legacy systems to more competitive technology and then to implement them for the simple reason of facilitating the connection with the guest but, as well, to be able to gather important data about guests and their behavior to both facilitate this change and attract new businesses. So, I strongly believe the future will be focused on micro-trends and modelling the data so that you can drop the most efficient strategy that will eventually maximize the profits.
NHC: In our research, we found that the hospitality industry will only recover in 2023. What are the biggest challenges that the hospitality industry will face after this pandemic?
Razvan: I share the same opinion. I think it will be a cycle like it used to be in the past when the world was barely disrupted by an event. It will take a while to recover, and I think 2023 is, so far, an accurate estimation. Until then, I think that city hotels and business destinations are the ones who will recover slowly compared to natural resorts or destination hotels in leisure areas which, by the way, even last summer had a pretty good performance. Moreover, even with the travel restrictions imposed with the pandemic, somehow, the internal domestic demand proved to be successful. Also, the countries that opened their borders for tourists proved to be lucrative for many properties. Actually, a few properties that I know managed to perform even better than in the summer season of 2019.
NHC: Our last question is about vaccination, which is not going to take place equally around the world, with some countries vaccinating most of their population earlier than others. However, some countries with bad pandemic situations, like Brazil, Zanzibar, Mexico, or Mozambique, do not have very strict anti-COVID-19 rules. How do you expect vaccination to affect hospitality restart throughout the world?
Razvan: I think vaccination will not necessarily affect a particular area of business or hospitality, but, instead, it is an internal process of every country and their internal decisions. However, even before COVID-19 spread, whenever you travelled to certain areas of Asia or Africa you had to probably take at least a couple of vaccines. Nobody was surprised about that. People understood the potential threats and they were vaccinating themselves and had a nice yellow vaccination passport that they took with them wherever they go.
What I suspect is that some countries will have some regulations in terms of receiving people from other countries based on the vaccine or perhaps as an alternative to a COVID-19 test. I think it will be a measure of precaution. As we have seen so far, there will be countries that will, probably, be stricter and countries that will see the vaccine a little bit differently. For instance, I have read many articles about the correlation between the average temperature in a country and the respective restrictions. However, many things are still uncertain and clear.
"I believe that, in order to travel, we must comply with the regulations of each country we visit."
NHC: Indeed, many people believe that, in the future, the vaccine will end up being mandatory in the sense that, to travel it will be required. It is, basically, a way of having people vaccinated.
Razvan: The probability is high, and I am embracing this kind of path as well. I believe that, in order to be free to travel wherever, we might not be forced but, instead, must comply with the regulations of every country we want to visit. It is understandable.
NHC: To end this interview, we would like you to share some last thoughts aimed at students that are interested in hospitality.
Razvan: My message would be to continue doing what you love the most and what you believe in, even if you have to do it in a remote environment. Try to get in touch with, and maintain yourself connected to, people even if it is remotely. Now, we can very easily connect and see each other talk about things that we are interested in.
In the hospitality industry, overcoming the pandemic will take time but, eventually, it will happen. Although we are restricted by the new rules, there are still options to travel, especially domestically. But do not discard travelling internationally. I am sure you follow a lot of social media travel bloggers that are travelling around the world. The other day, I was seeing a couple of them and I said to myself “Oh my God, what is happening? It feels like there is no pandemic, it feels like everything is open.” The truth is they are complying with the new reality regulations and trying to be aware of the challenges and danger while taking their precautions. Nonetheless, they still manage to travel because that is what they love and it is what fulfils them.
At the same time, maybe it is a great chance to explore your domestic country, as I am sure there will be a trend where most people will feel it is more appropriate to travel no longer than 2 or 3 hours, by plane, from the country of origin. This allows people to easily get back home, if something gets out of the ordinary. Notice, this new reality led to the ability to develop many opportunities for countries and people in general.
NHC: Razvan, many thanks for your collaboration!
Razvan: It was my pleasure.
Anissah Estanislau. Bernardo Salvador.