How a Hotel Climbed to the Top of Tripadvisor Rankings Despite the Pandemic and Labor Shortages

While other hotels around the world have been struggling with the pandemic and staffing shortages, Aquaria Natal Hotel in Brazil has been quietly skyrocketing up Tripadvisor rankings.

Aquaria Natal Hotel

In October 2019, just a few months before the pandemic hit, the hotel was lagging at #59 of 116 hotels in Natal. Today, it occupies the #1 position on Tripadvisor.

How did a small, four-star property with only 94 rooms outperform all the large, luxury resorts in the Natal area? During a recent webinar, the hotel’s general, Gefferson Alves, shared his property’s story.

Setting Ambitious Goals and Getting Everyone on Board

Located in Ponta Negra in northeast Brazil, Aquaria Natal Hotel is well-known among travelers seeking sunshine, beaches and quality time away with family. Back in 2019, Alves recognized that the property had potential to perform much better on Tripadvisor and might even be able to achieve the number one position.

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“We recognized from the very beginning that our greatest advantage was our team and our service,” Alves said. “But first I knew we had to have the hotel’s owner on board. After many conversations, we managed to convince him that there was no way to achieve the best results in hospitality without a highly motivated, well-paid, well-trained team,” Alves said. “We needed to invest in our team development.”

Alves also recognized the importance of transparency. Employees needed to know exactly what management and ownership expected from them. “If you want things done well, you have to work closely with the team,” he said. “You have to put yourself in their shoes. And you have to give them the support they need to keep growing and empower them to assist guests with everything they need.”

The Pandemic Blindside

With the owner now on board, the hotel began rolling out a range of new initiatives to improve performance. But then the pandemic hit. In March 2020, the property’s occupancy plummeted from 95% to 15% in one week.

Aquaria Natal Hotel

“We closed our property for four months, and that was the hardest time ever for us,” said Alves. “When we reopened in July, it was the best feeling. But occupancy was very low, and we didn’t know what was going to happen in the future. Still, we decided to keep the property open.” Occupancy picked up again when high season kicked into gear in December, but then hard times returned. The hotel was forced to lay off over 40% of its employees.

But then, a remarkable thing happened. “With only about 30% of people in Brazil vaccinated at the time, we were not expecting people to travel,” Alves said. “But from July to October 2021 we recorded the best average rate and RevPAR in the hotel’s history, increasing over 40 percent in revenue compared to the same period in 2019. It was quite amazing for us, especially while many destinations were still facing challenges due to Covid.”

Programs to Attract and Retain Staff

Alves attributes the hotel’s success to its continued investment in employees. “Although I know it’s not very common for other hotels at the moment, we were able to convince our owner to continue to invest in our team,” he said. “We knew that once business came back, we would need our team to be ready to face the challenges that the current situation poses for all of us. So we continue to invest a lot in supporting our team.”

Some of the employee programs and benefits offered by the hotel include:

  • Care baskets for staff including food items
  • Medical coverage
  • Better work conditions
  • Great meals at the staff canteen
  • Spaces for leisure activities and relaxing
  • Numerous training opportunities
  • Partnerships with universities, gyms and drugstores to offer discounts
  • Internal language courses (English and Spanish)
  • Onsite mental wellness counselling for employees and family members

“If you want to deliver great service to your guests, first you must deliver great conditions for your associates,” Alves said. “There’s no magic! When you have an internal team that is well supported with programs like these, it is automatically reflected in the quality of guest service. And that’s the main reason why we were able to move from the #59 position to #1 on Tripadvisor.”

Aquaria Natal Hotel

Staffing Shortages

Aquaria Natal Hotel’s success with revenue growth and Tripadvisor rankings is all the more remarkable when you consider that, like in other regions of the world, Natal has been experiencing a severe labor shortage in the hospitality industry.

The hotel hired back some of its employees when business picked up, but it was still running with 35% fewer employees than before the pandemic. Alves estimated that only about half of the employees who were laid off would return; the rest had left to work in other industries.

“It has become harder to attract workers in hospitality,” he said. “Natal is located in the northeast of Brazil and, like in many other destinations, a lot of people do not want to work for hotels and restaurants because salaries are lower than in other industries and the work can be very hard seven days a week. Fortunately, people in the north of our country have hospitality in their DNA,” he said. “Helping others comes naturally. But they need to be trained to be professional.”

The employee programs not only helped keep staff loyal, they also helped attract new employees and get them on-boarded and trained quickly.

How to Maintain Guest Satisfaction During the Staffing Crisis

Drawing from his experience, Alves shared the following tips and recommendations for keeping guests and employees happy during the staffing crisis.

  • Communicate clearly with guests. Don’t promise what you can’t deliver. For example, if you don’t offer room service 24 hours anymore, it’s better to tell guests in advance instead of letting them find out after they arrive on property.
  • Communicate clearly with employees. Be transparent; they need to know what’s going on. Ensure they understand their role and what your expectations are of them. Provide constructive feedback on a daily basis on how to improve.
  • Be present. As a leader, make yourself visible to guests and associates as much as possible. They need your help more than ever during these challenging times. Interact with guests and employees often.
  • Be alert. Don’t wait until after the guest’s stay to find out about problems because it will cost the hotel much more then. Always be on the lookout for signs of dissatisfaction. Solve issues while guests are still on property.
  • Take care of your team. If staff aren’t happy, guests are going to notice. The quality of the guest experience is directly reflected by how happy, thriving and empowered your team members are.

Aquaria Natal Hotel

Ready for High Season

With room rates higher than ever and a number one rating on Tripdvisor, guest expectations will high this summer, but Alves is confident he now has the team in place to deliver. “We are expecting the best summer ever,” he said. “It’s been a lot of work, but it’s also very rewarding.”

How Is Your Property Attracting & Retaining Employees?

During the webinar, we asked attendees about the programs they have in place to retain and attract employees during the staffing crisis. Here’s how they responded.

Better wages and/or benefits – 53%
New employee signing bonuses and/or referral bonuses – 21%
More training & development – 49%
More flexible work schedules and/or remote working – 42%
No changes at this time – 16%

Find out how ReviewPro can help your property offset staffing shortages with best-in-class tools to improve guest communications, automate tasks, and manage guest feedback.

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