Illuminating answers to pandemic’s questions
Illuminating answers to pandemic’s questions
27 AUGUST 2020 7:24 AM

Sometimes the softball questions yield the most interesting responses about how hotel industry leaders really are faring—and what they’re worried about—during this period.

I’ve spent a lot of time in the last few months moderating online panels and roundtables. I’ve had brand C-suite executives on panels, multi-unit owners and developers with global portfolios, owner-operators with impressive regional reach, you name it. A lot of online events are happening.

As a little personal experiment, I’ve asked all of these groups a couple of the same questions—just to gauge some of the real sentiment industry leaders are feeling beyond their brand messages and big-picture optimism.

I’ve found that how people answer these common questions really illustrates some of the bigger worries and even hopes swirling around this bizarre period of pandemic, lockdown and virus.

Here are a couple broad-stroke themes I’ve noticed:

Nobody thinks we’re even close to the end of this: I fully acknowledge that asking the “what inning are we in?” question is entirely unfair and pointless. Recently I heard a new analogy, comparing this to a marathon. So, I’ve asked panelists what mile marker we’re at in this marathon and that yields interesting answers. Most people think we’re not even near the halfway point. One executive the other day said it feels like we’ve already run two full marathons and need to keep going because the hills still are ahead of us. That’s sobering (and a good reminder to keep hydrating).

Medical bravado faded pretty quickly: I often ask panelists what they think it will take to get to the other side of this. Maybe you, like me, noticed in the beginning how so many CEOs morphed into medical experts, proclaiming loudly how close we are to a vaccine. Those Dr. Faucis have changed tack and now I hear a lot more corporate leadership invoking real science, supporting physical distancing and mask-wearing and explaining how they’re protecting their guests and employees.

Lately, I’ve heard more comments about learning to live with the virus—live with it, travel with it, build business around it and minimize risk. I don’t typically bring up politics on panels I moderate, but I will say that this is often when U.S. hoteliers bring up politics. I’ll leave it at that.

Aid and loan concerns are mounting: My colleague Sean McCracken wrote an opinion last week on hotelier concerns over fading government aid, increases in defaults and what that means for the next few months and beyond. This absolutely is a consuming worry for executives. Throughout the summer they had more optimism and talked more about how good communication was staving off issues with banks, but that can only work for so long. Executives are geared up for an extremely painful last four months of 2020.

Executives have faith in their teams: My panels aren’t all pessimism! The power of people and communication is so evident now. I don’t even prompt executives to talk about their teams and they always do it. They talk about how this period has made them realize how important their colleagues are as people first and employees second. That’s a big statement for a CEO, really. They speak sincerely about the health and well-being of their people, concern over those furloughed and let go. My takeaway here is that I can spot sincerity (and insincerity) a mile away when this topic comes up. The good leaders will rise to the top here. Align yourself with a good leader.

Everyone can point to at least one positive: I close every panel discussion by asking the speakers to tell me one positive behavior change or learning they’re going to take with them out of this, and the answers are illuminating. They talk about their families. They talk about having more patience with people. Many talk about renewed appreciation for the simple joys of travel and of personal interactions. This is the question I most enjoy asking.

How would you answer these questions? Comment below, email me at or find me on Twitter @HNN_Steph.

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