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The Chinese Government, on the 8th of December, 2019 announced that it was, through its healthcare services, treating dozens of individuals of a new infection which it identified as the corona virus disease 2019 (Covid-19) (Bakar and Rosbi, 2020). The disease has since then spread worldwide and grown into a global pandemic. Covid-19 is a highly transmissible respiratory disease that is spread through being in contact with individuals who have been infected and exhibit symptoms such as cough, fever, sore throat and breathing difficulties, and can also be transmitted from infected individuals who are asymptomatic (do not show any symptoms), with close to 40% of those infected being asymptomatic (World Health Organization (WHO), 2020). The global spread of the infection and it resulting into a pandemic, given the health, economic and social implications it brings about, was facilitated by a number of factors, including: the speed and efficiency with which the virus spread or was transmitted; its airborne transmission (Yang, Zhang and Chen, 2020); high frequency of close physical contact between (infected and non-infected) individuals; the vulnerability of various types of people, such as those aged 65 years and above, those with low immunity levels and those certain underlying health conditions like diabetes, respiratory problems, cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, etc.; technological developments including in transportation that enable travelling from one part of the world to the other, leading to its transfer by infected individuals from one location to other individuals in the areas they travel to (Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2020). In order to manage the increasing spread and the devastating health effects occasioned by the virus, governments across the world responded by, among other measures, restricting domestic/internal movement by instituting lockdowns, restricting gatherings through social distancing orders, imposing travel bans and partial or total border closures to restrict international travels. The imposition of travel restrictions and travel bans is a measure that impacted on the majority of the global population (Connor, 2020), thereby severely affecting the hospitality and tourism industry which is highly dependent on high frequency (domestic and international) movement/travel. Statistics by the United Nations World Trade Organization (UNWTO) (2020) indicate that, following the measures taken to prevent the spread and effects of the virus, over 90% of countries introduced travel restrictions, while close to 90 global destinations remained partially or completely closed to tourists due to border closures, and over 44 destinations were closed to tourists from certain countries. Given its nature, the hotel sector was among the first to be affected and is likely to be among the last to recover (Tappe and Lubby, 2020).
With the travel restrictions and advisories put in place, the pandemic has revealed the vulnerability of the hospitality industry (Zhang et al., 2020), and placed the hotel sector in the UK and globally in an unprecedented situation which has continued to thwart it, raising serious questions regarding its present and future survival and prospects. According to Gossling et al. (2020), the social distancing guidelines, travel bans, restrictions and border closures have resulted in event cancellations which have extremely affected the hotel sector, since people have reduced their need for leisure travels and search for exotic and leisure getaways thereby no longer visit tourist destinations and hotels following their increased need for personal safety and survival (Nicola et al., 2020). This has resulted in hotels and other businesses in the hospitality industry remaining empty or operating with very few visitor numbers, leading to losses, which have in turn led to laying off of employees and closures. However, a number of hotel sector businesses undertaking various steps and implementing changes aimed at enabling them to remain afloat. This has resulted in the need for the hotels to develop change management strategies that will enable them to effectively manage the changes resulting from the covid-19 pandemic.
As such, this research will address the specific impacts that the Covid-19 pandemic has had on the hotel sector in the UK and the manner in which the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted on the change management strategies used by the UK hotel sector. Additionally, the research will propose suitable change management strategies that the hotels in the UK could use to effectively manage the impacts that the pandemic has had on them.
The hotel sector significantly depends on and its performance thrives on the basis of the visitation patterns and frequencies as well as the efforts that the sector’s managers and decision makers put in to attract visitors. However, the travel bans and restrictions and border closures that have been imposed at both local and international levels as a result of the spread of the Covid-19 have led to a significant reduction in the number of hotel visitors and tourists, thereby extremely impacting on the hotel sector (Gossling et al., 2020). The covid-19 pandemic has significantly reduced people’s need for leisure travel, search for and visit of hedonic getaway destinations and thus, led to a reduction in the demand for accommodation and other services such as food and beverage offered by the hotel sector. The implication of this has been that the hotel sector has been forced to draw on their learning from this pandemic to institute organizational changes aimed at reviving and sustaining their organizations and the sector at large. Change management therefore becomes a crucial way of approaching and dealing with the impacts brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. However, given the nature of this pandemic, the hotel sector will have to employ change management strategies that differ remarkably from those used in the management of other types of crises and changes, in order to transform and facilitate its adoption of and adaptation to the new normal.
The UK hotel sector managers and decision makers should therefore, adopt suitable change management strategies that will effectively enable them to mitigate the adverse effects the pandemic has on their operations and profitability, and to adapt to the new way of operating as influenced by the pandemic.
The main aim of this research is to investigate the degree to which the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted on the change management strategies that hotels in the UK use in their management of the effects arising from the pandemic as well as facilitating the transformation and adoption of the new normal.
In order to achieve its key aim, the study will also seek to achieve the following objectives:
To effectively achieve its aim and objectives, the study will seek to address the following questions:
To complete the study, the researcher will employ a mixed method research design, whereby a combination of primary and secondary data collection methods will be used. The researcher will begin by collecting secondary data, which he will do through a thorough review of existing literature on the topic, in order to lay a foundation on which the examination of the impacts of Covid-19 on the hotel sector in the UK as well as the sector’s change management strategies will be undertaken. To undertake secondary literature, the researcher will review literature from the recent articles, journals, magazines and research works on the topic. A review of literature from recent empirical and theoretical studies will enable the researcher to summarize and synthesize the information obtained, and therefore enhance his understanding of the study phenomenon (Okoli and Schabram, 2010).
The researcher will then carry out primary research which will enable him to confirm, refute or enhance the findings obtained from his secondary research. For the primary collection of data, the study will employ in-depth interviews of 150 hotel managers in the UK who will be selected through purposive sampling. According to Atkins and Wallace (2012) interviews provide a means through which the researcher can obtain first-hand information that will contribute to enhancing his understanding of the topic. The researcher will also talk to employees of various hotel establishments to gather their insights with regard to the impact that the Covid-19 pandemic has had on the hotel sector’s operations.
The UNWTO (2020) asserts that the Covid-19 pandemic shut down the global economy almost overnight. Among the sectors that have more significantly been affected is the hotel sector. The Covid-19 pandemic has adversely affected the hospitality and hotel industry in the UK as well as throughout the world, presenting it with an unprecedented situation. The various strategies and measures aimed at the prevention of the spread, thereby flattening the Covid-19 curve, and mitigation of the impacts arising from the pandemic, for example partial or total lockdowns, stay-at-home and social distancing orders, mobility and travel bans and restrictions, as well as border closures have brought a number of effects on the hotel sector in the UK. For instance, the afore-mentioned measures have resulted in the decrease in the demand for hotel sector services as only a restricted number was allowed to operate, leading to a temporary shutdown of many hotel sector businesses and services (Bartik et al., 2020). Hotel sector businesses such as restaurants were limited to providing take-outs or take-away services only. The travel restrictions and stay-at-home directives also resulted in a steep decline in the level of hotel occupancies, and therefore the hotel sector’s revenues. (Nicola et al., 2020) identifies the reduced market demand, revenue losses, job losses and closures as among the key effects that the Covid-19 pandemic had on the hotel sector in the UK.
Due to the reduced business volumes that have seen hotels operate at a loss, most employees have been declared redundant as hotels trim their workforce in an effort to remain operational and profitable, and many more are faced with the risk of losing their jobs should the situation persist (Williams and Kayaoglu, 2020). Furthermore, those who remain in employment are exposed to the virus and face the increased risk of contracting it. Employees are also faced with increased pressure arising from higher workloads due to the lean number of operational staff that the hotels are forced to retain, and having to work extra hours due to the need to ensure that the various Covid-19 prevention measures such as complete disinfection are adequately undertaken (Rosemburg, 2020).
Change, being unavoidable (thus, unstoppable) when it occurs, has since become an inevitable part of life as well as business, leading most organizations to take it into account as part of their business experiences. According to Armstrong (2016), change refers to any alterations that occur in relation to the management, structure, processes, employees and other associated activities of an organization. Lucey (2018) therefore suggests change to be any observable variations in the quality, shape and state of the organization over a period of time, and goes on to stress that any change initiative undertaken by an organization should align with its overall goals and objectives. This assertion by Lucey (2018) implies that the management of change becomes critical to the effective handling of and response to change as well as the countering of resistance to and encouragement of the acceptance of change. Change management has become a key source of urgent concern for organizations and their managers given that it can bring positive and/or negative outcomes. Change-on the basis of how it manifests and is taken into account- will also determine the organization’s management decisions given the influences of internal and external factors such as culture, leadership as well as organizational changes contributed by business trends, and social, economic and political environment. According to Shivappa (2015), organizations today continue to be faced with pressures for change, that are both internal and external in nature. Change occurs in multiple dimensions: continuous and incremention, discontinuous and radical, positive or negative, strong or weak, internally or externally stimulated, catastrophic or evolutionary (Shivappa, 2015). Organizations can also undergo various types of changes, including organization-wide or subsystem change (McNamara, 2010); transformational or incremental change (Beer and Nohria, 2010); remedial or developmental change; planned or unplanned change. The Covid-19 pandemic which has tremendously impacted on the hotel and other sectors can be described as an external or externally stimulated, catastrophic, strong and/or unplanned change.
Given that change affects all aspects of life and business, change management has become an integral part of organizations since they need it to ensure that the change process and implementation occurs successfully (Wiggins, 2018). Jalagat (2016) asserts that successfully managing change will give organizations a competitive advantage, and suggests the adoption of the various change management frameworks that have been developed over time. Examples of the most common change management models and frameworks commonly employed by organizations include: Lewin’s Change Model (Lewin, 1951), Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model (Kotter, 1996) and McKinsey’s 7s Model.
The Covid-19 pandemic exerted and continues to exert significant impacts which have resulted in changes in how the hotel sector businesses operate. In light of the impacts brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic as highlighted above, managers and decision makers in the hotel sector were faced with the critical need to devise strategies and implement changes that would enable it to stay afloat and operational. According to Gossling et al. (2020), the hotel sector in the UK and world over had to substantially alter the manner in which it operates in the prevailing Covid-19 business environment so as to ensure and promote the health and safety of their employees and customers and to encourage and improve the willingness of clients to patronize their establishments. It is through this, and similar changes and strategies, that the sector will be able to ensure their continued operations and survival. However, the nature of the unprecedented challenges facing the hotel sector as a result of the pandemic has also significantly altered the manner in which the sector’s managers manage their change management strategies aimed at developing solutions for the sector.
For example, their effort to increase demand for their products and services and thus, their revenues will require a change management strategy that sharply differs from the common ones used to attract customers. The preliminary findings of a study carried out by the Journal of Hospitality Marketing and Management reveal that simply re-opening and resuming their dine-in or sit-down services or even the easing of travel restrictions will not immediately bring back customers (Gursoy et al., 2020). This is because over 50% of individuals were not yet ready to resume dining-in at restaurants immediately, with another over 50% not willing to travel to various destinations and stay at hotels in the near future. The study’s findings also show that just about 25% of customers had already dined-in at restaurants since the easing of restrictions, while just about 30% demonstrated a willingness to travel and stay at a hotel sometime soon (Gursoy et al., 2020). Individuals’ increasing fears as well as the rising need for personal safety and survival can be cited as the main reasons for their discomfort and/or unwillingness to dine-in at restaurants, travel to destinations and stay at hotels. Therefore, the traditional strategies such as discounted pricing, new item introductions, among others may not be as effective as they would be in the pre-Covid-19 business environment. To ensure their survival and profitability, which highly depend on an increased demand for their products and services, hotels must figure out what will attract and make customers to return by carrying out extensive research in order to develop effective change management strategies that will aid their survival. One way the pandemic has altered the hotel sector’s change management is the need for it to conduct behavioral and operational research that will guide its marketing and management in a manner that enhances its operations and performance in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Hotel sector managers, decision makers and other stakeholders need to undertake a quick and timely coordination of their response to the changes brought about by the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. They should extensively learn from the present circumstances in order to be better prepared and able to manage and minimize the observed risks and damages of the pandemic should a similar catastrophe reappear in future.
The hotel sector should demonstrate care for its employees, the customers and the community at large and develop clear communication lines in their change management strategies (Jamal and Budke, 2020). A change management strategy they could also employ is to develop their preparedness as well as that of their employees for unforeseen contingencies and provide reserve funds. This would enable them to be able to continue operating and paying their employees even in the event of reduced demand for their products and services, for example as occasioned by Covid-19 whose impacts have been severely damaging (Gossling et al., 2020).
The use of technology, such as Zoom and other online interaction modes in a bid to minimize physical contact, also presents the hotel sector with the opportunity to adopt and incorporate the use of digitization, robotics and artificial intelligence in certain aspects of their activities as part of their change management strategies.
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