Aura Accommodation implores hoteliers to take these three key learnings from lockdown

Aura Accommodation implores hoteliers to take these three key learnings from lockdown

—– A hotel set free

As coronavirus cases in New Zealand went from one to zero in early June and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern “did a little dance” to mark the special occasion, the team at Aura Accommodation, set a stone’s throw from Lake Rotorua, breathed a collective sigh of relief.

Like all hoteliers in Rotorua, located three hours southeast of Auckland, the team at Aura has been forced to react and adapt in recent months, which was made initially all the more difficult by owner Nick Fitzgerald being forced into a 14-day quarantine period when the lockdown began.

Now that restrictions have been lifted, and local New Zealanders are beginning to return to the region in droves, Nick shares some of the strategies that he put into place to overcome the travel slowdown and the top three learnings that he takes with him post-COVID.

Over-communicating can be the only way to provide certainty

With things changing quickly in mid-March, Nick knew that mitigating concerns had to start by rapidly articulating what was happening, as it happened. 

“The first thing we did was over-communicate to both our internal staff and external customers about what we knew at that moment. We didn’t know whether it would still be relevant in two weeks’ time, but we just did the best we could with the information that we were given,” says Nick, who started Aura in 2016 with old schoolmate Josh Ireland, having spotted an opportunity in the NZ motel market.

As the team focused on providing accommodation to essential service workers, they also updated their welcome messages, website and social media accounts, which helped to provide guests with clarity.

The level and tone of the communication through this period was a positive evolutionary step for Aura, and Nick and his team now take with them a greater appreciation for the importance of having an open, ongoing dialogue with both staff and customers.

Engaging with local industry associations has true value

With ever-changing updates and information, Nick often turned to associations like Tourism Industry Aotearoa and Hospitality New Zealand for clarification and guidance. They added great value in the midst of the crisis by helping to decipher what was required of accommodation owners, supporting the government on budget allocation, and making their industry representatives available to operators for information. 

For some hoteliers, the value not only included an understanding of how to operate through the period, but support for difficult yet inevitable processes such as staff redundancies.

“These industry associations helped me to make the right decisions at a time when I needed guidance. I believe many operators would wonder if paying the membership fees is worth it, but I can honestly say that I got real value at a time when I required it most,” Nick says.

The support offered to learn through forums, networks and shared experiences has helped Nick to operate safely, meet different suppliers, ask questions directly to industry leaders and get solutions to a number of immediate challenges.

Throughout the process, Nick believes that a greater openness and willingness to discuss and share information was born, and that local operators and industry associations will both be coming out of this experience stronger long-term.

“The industry leaders are now more approachable, and several mentors in particular emerged who are a great source of information for me.”

Reflecting and resetting are essential practices for any business

For Nick, the lockdown period has provided the chance to identify weak business areas and to operate lean again. Although he, like many others, has had to make fundamental changes to his business during this unprecedented time, he has embraced the opportunity to think about delivering a better guest experience by leveraging technology in a smart way through automated tasks and refined processes beyond COVID-19. 

“There will be different ways to operate in the future, so it was a good time to think about our business,” says Nick. “It may be a long road to recovery and the journey will be quite different from anything we’ve ever known. So being resilient, adaptable and proactive will be key.” 

Overall, Nick remains upbeat, and is looking forward to seeing Kiwis embrace the chance to explore their own backyard and get behind the industry throughout the remainder of winter.

Already, Aura Accommodation is enjoying a strong increase in bookings, however Nick points out that customers are showing their support in other ways as well. 

“We are seeing a far greater uptake to the number of donations being made to charities, with many donating to the likes of Rotorua Trails Trust and Big brother, Big sister from our Aura website, which has been incredible to see,” he says.

Despite the difficulties, Nick hopes his story serves as a reminder to other hoteliers about the need to remain optimistic, take valuable learnings from every situation, and remember that the spirit of hospitality will always triumph.