The impacts of COVID-19 on the travel and hospitality industry will be Big.
Hotels need to be proactive and respond to their guests concerns, projecting confidence in order to preserve the goodwill and reputation which they have worked hard to achieve.
We’ll investigate the response mechanism that’s guaranteed to provide the best results and look at the plans you may want to have in place when things get better.
Your Crisis Management Response can be separated into two parts:
– explores how Communication plays a vital role and how you can use it to broadcast news and information and at the same time engage guests, about their health and safety concerns. Later, we’ll consider Reputation Management (with 3rd party OTA websites) as well as your own Booking and Cancelation Policy.
– looks at the elements you’ll want to add into an action plan, that can guide your way forward.
Communication is king… so here’s where your PR efforts need to work in over drive. Imagine being on the frontline, where you want to be in a position to “broadcast the news” in order to deliver the latest information about the activities happening at your hotel and around you.
Remember you’re not engaging in conversation but acting as an information resource about all the things going on at your hotel. Use all communication channels to get the word out including your website / email / social media and chat.
Next, it’s time to consider how to reach out and communicate with guest on a personal level. The best way is to engage them keeping in mind, there are 3 levels of interaction they have with the hotel. Let’s explore each, and highlight examples of how to communicate and engage effectively at the different contact points.
Here, you’ll want to broadcast information about what’s happening and share news about the travel advisories which impact travel to your area.
Guests who are due to arrive, may be concerned about their health and safety, so you need to engage them through email or chat to offer reassurance. The most effective engagement platforms are (social media) chat and email. Both platforms are ideal for engagement and you can establish contact fairly quickly.
Whether you’re Broadcasting or Engaging (in Conversation) – choose your language carefully, project confidence and remember to live up to your hotels brand values, like transparency, trust, excellence, and responsibility.
Your best opportunity to engage guests, is going to be through personal contact and the visual prompts you have in place that help project confidence and reassurance.
For Example: During check-in – staff can highlight some of the key activities the hotel has implemented in regard to hygiene and sanitation. At the same time staff can offer information about safely and evacuation, should anything untoward happen in an emergency.
Through your own preparedness and anticipation (of guest expectations) - you can provide a lasting impression needed to re-assure guests during their stay and beyond.
If your hotel has implemented “Best Practice Health and Safety” standards - maximize the PR value of it and tell them. Ultimately, though where a hotel pays good money to obtain a recognized industry compliance audit – maximize the PR value by emphasizing the credibility and transparency it offers compared to others.
Either way, draw attention to your compliance standards, by placing “stickers” showing the insignia or logo you’ve obtained or created in public areas for maximum effect.
Hotels need to be responsive to the feedback and suggestions offered by guests on 3rd party booking sites like: Booking dot Com, Trip Advisor, Agoda etc… Let’s remember - OTA websites will always be an important source market and especially so when the business returns.
Especially now - managing the feedback and testimonials left about your hotel on 3rd party OTA sites is important to your reputation, in order to get new bookings in future.
Your crisis management response on these websites need to be consistent, and match your communications elsewhere and most of all, it needs to be timely by not ignoring or overlooking the important issues raised by guests.
Be an active communicator and remember that it’s as effective using these platforms as it would your own - which for all intents and purposes … it is.
One of the best ways to preserve the goodwill of guests, is to be flexible with Booking Amendments and Cancellations.
Hotels should be prepared to offer a full refund option, as opposed to simply amending a booking. And the same can be said for your pre-paid OTA bookings as well.
Although, it can impact your cash flow, hotels providing the option will probably get that business back over time and its great PR to boot !
Another option used extensively by Airlines is to offer credit vouchers, redeemable against future travel. Some hotels may want to use this option to preserve their cash flow or simply wanting to preserve the bookings without seeing it go elsewhere.
Similarly, with Loyalty Programs – Members who may have already redeemed their Awards and through no fault of their own have had to cancel their trip, should be allowed to reinstate the Loyalty Awards without penalty for future travel. Doing so will help enhance membership goodwill and greater participation when things return to normal.
With all types of travel restrictions in place, few people are travelling, so dumping your price won’t fix your problems
Keep a steady pricing regime (all things being equal very little is being transacted now anyway) Stay on top of market and get the help of rate intelligence software so you can find out what your competitors are doing with their prices. This can give you the edge and allows you to be reactive when the situation changes.
Meanwhile with Source Markets - look at areas or market segments you can capitalize on in the interim – such as:
During tough times, an interim fix might be to consider repositioning your hotel for Corporate Travel.
When things begin to improve corporate travel will rebound more quickly than other sectors and it offers better revenue opportunity. Hotels may be able to attract bookings from corporate travelers but because they are willing to pay more to stay “safe” – hotels will need guarantee a certain level of comfort and safety.
One of the key elements will be how transparent hotels are in living up to their selfproclaimed compliance of Health and Safety standards. (discussed further below)
Beyond health and safety, hotels will also need to divert resources to “Kit Out” Rooms and Facilities, to cater to Corporate such as: assigning top floors for corporate, offering office and secretarial services together with things Spa, F&B etc …
being the bulk of business for hotels – as a near term fix, recognizing any long stay or globe-trotting tourists, who have simply become stuck in the system and can’t travel. Then there’s also the “early returnees” – those travelers willing to venture out for a deal when things get better (beating the masses to market).
Hotel that have not closed or are near re-opening can cater to both groups by promoting long stay or early booking packages together with F&B and other convenience facilities for all-in-one “staysafe” vacations.
Meanwhile, let’s remember that Domestic Tourism has always been a good short-term filler to help bridge the gap of returning International travel. Here, hotels can devise packages appealing to locals, like the weekday special or long stay weekend or even sell cash vouchers for future accommodation.
hotels can broaden their Source Markets, by offering inventory to non-traditional OTA channels. The option can include Vacation and Holiday Rental platforms such as Airbnb or Flip Key. These ecosystems can open up new hospitality markets, especially for hotels who can devise product offers that target lifestyle as opposed to room only.
As and when we goes back to normalcy, your Social Media and Marketing Communications should go hand in hand and act as the first line of interaction with guest.
Therefore, broadcast news regularly and vary the type of messaging you offer. Be informative about what you’ve done on-site and do it in stages (not all at once). Blend in any news from local, provincial or national authority, about important travel restrictions or formalities in your location.
Reinforce positive messaging in order to establish confidence. And don’t just be the cleanest and safest hotel in the vicinity but also show some of the many other “ongoing programs” you have in place. Where you have obtained or are observing “Best Practice Standards” for Hygiene and Sanitation make sure to mention this and cover the different areas in your hotel.
Be different and experiment with videography. Try vlogging or using videos posts. Cleverly curated VLogs – could include engagement with frontline staff, such as those in reception or housekeeping – telling their stories in order to put a human face behind the message. This type of outreach can help guests empathize and appreciate the dedication your entire team is taking to ensure their health and wellness.
Where the hotels is engaged in paid promotion either through digital or legacy media – its time to re-visit the paid strategy. Pause advertising and shift the targeted audience from international to domestic. And when things begin to come back, you can look at offering a limited budget to paid promotion in selected markets, not as volatile such as corporate or high yielding leisure markets.
Along the lines, develop promotional campaigns by adding value to the other revenue generating outlets within your hotel and maximize the value of bookings. Where possible incentivize guests to use your Spa or F&B outlets by offering discounts / buy one get one / or even sell all-inclusive stay vouchers (redeemable against accommodation, F&B or SPA – at a later date)
There’s no denying that people’s health and safety will take a front seat in determining how well hotels can recapture bookings in future. That’s why hotels need to be proactive and respond to the challenges.
In the food and packaging industry, manufacturing standards like GNP and HACCP provide a guaranteed level of consumer protection for manufactured food.
Similarly, hotels will want to observe some form of Best Practice Standard to do with hygiene and sanitation. Some hotels may want to go further by signing up to compliance and certification standards similar to the “ISO” standard reserved for Industry.
For example – for Best Practice Standards in Hygiene and Sanitation (for your hotel) you could involve contracting an organization like “SGS” to conduct an audit on your hotel. Engaging a professional 3rd party organization to carry out an Audit, will offer your guests the unique value proposition they are looking for in the post Covid 19 environment.
Being Certified under a health and safety audit will most likely be one of the things you’ll need to get new and returning guests to consider making a booking at your hotel.
Yet even without an “official” certification – hotels, can still choose to observe Best Practice guidelines for Health and Safety and publish their own on-going activates through their Marketing Communication Channels or print self-compliance stickers at key access points (elevators / reception / F&B outlets) in the hotel.
It only makes sense for hotels to publish this type of information because more guests will be using this as one of their main booking criteria.
The key take aways’, are that hotels need to be proactive in communicating with guests using: email, chat, website and social media. It can help resolve the uncertainly, because the situation can change very quickly and guests are naturally worried how it impacts them. At the same time, guests need reassurance that your hotel is following some form of Health and Safety guidelines in order to safeguard them during their stay.
To that extent, hotels should include some form of Best Practice Health and Safety Compliance Standard as one of the key components in a recovery. Remember, the more transparent your hotel is the more credibility you’ll offer to guests when they consider where to book next time.