Hotels find Innovative Ways to stay open in changing times
Before Covid-19 slammed the breaks on air travel, the revenue forecasts for the global hotel trade were looking rosy. Corporate travel expenditure alone was projected in some forecasts to grow into a $1.7 trillion industry mega-segment by 2023.
It isn’t all doom and gloom, however. Around the world, travel bubbles and corridors are forming, facilitating new flows of movement and consequently, hotel room occupancy. According to an August 2020 CBRE report on the state of the Australian travel industry, what would have otherwise been international travel has turned inward. Regional travel within Australia is on the rise, with one leading hotel industry publication declaring a ‘renaissance’ in domestic travel. Other’s report the emergence of an Australia-NZ travel bubble which will help sustain the tourism industry in both counties. This pattern is being followed around the world as governments enter into new agreements,opening borders for business and, after a proven testing period, possible tourism. Until then, tourism and business travel markets everywhere are turning inwards, as people choose domestic destinations for pleasure, and pursue commercial opportunities at home when they can’t be pursued abroad.
While the industry as a whole is known as an early adopter and embracer of digital disruption, many segments of the hotel trade have lagged, either due to having a well-established customer base or brand recognition or simply being lucky enough to be in a highly desirable location with reliable tourism activity.
As someone who’s worked in the hotel and hospitality industry, I empathize deeply with hoteliers, who are experiencing some of the worst of Covid-19's economic fallout.
These are Innovative, but simple ways hotels can maximize booking at their hotels and access newly emerging domestic markets, and with a healthy dash of good luck, outlast the corona virus.
Strategically leverage your email list
Many established hotels, who have been operating for decades, have developed considerable email lists, but haven’t used them to fuel their social media marketing. Taking the time to clean your email lists (polish-up the excel skills if you must) and uploading them to Facebook (for example) gives a hotel a chance at reconnecting with their previous customers. It’s important to make your recontact count and engagements strategic. Engaging with people about your hotel during a time where some people are in lock-down needs to be done with sensitivity. But silence isn’t a viable option. Markets exist and are waiting to be spoken to about travel options – and who better to start with than people who already know your brand?
Invest in PR
As the saying goes, a crowd attracts a crowd, and the conversation (or lack of) around a hotel’s brand in social media can make, or break it. Brands are judged by what others say about it – hotels are no exception. As competition grows around a small market suffering a bombardment of marketing messages, they will increasingly rely on social proof to validate their decision making. Strategic investments in PR, through either a digital agency or strategic internal hire, will pay dividends as audiences apply ever-higher levels of scrutiny of brands and their offers by looking at what others say about them on platforms like Facebook and Instagram.
Make your hotel shine visually
Ultimately, hotels are spaces – and being more competitive by offering customers a better pre-inspection experience is an approach dating back to when someone first uploaded (via dial-up) a grainy jpeg of a hotel room, taken on their flashy, new top-of-the-range 4-megapixel camera. Now, the variety of visual experiences hotels can now offer as part of their customer experience range from ultra-zoomable images through to immersive, interactive guest inspections conducted through everyday smartphones. But offering a great visual experience isn’t just about glitz. Travelers are more cautious than ever and having a better pre-arrival viewing option in hotel marketing can soothe a range of guest security and safety concerns far more prevalent now globally than at any time in recent history. The desire for better viewing experiences at the research and consideration stages of the customer journey is likely to fuel massive innovation in the near future. Expect marketing to make a bold re entrance in this space to address these new top-of-mind priorities for hotel guests.
Market your rooms differently Re-purpose your rooms. Here are three ideas to get you thinking about ways to earn revenue beyond your usual guests. We are not saying these are easy or possible, but change brings new markets and early adopters. We expect to see new business verticals created in the rooms segment in the short-term, some of which may stay around when the Covid 19 pandemic subsides. Consider offering a special rate for people who want to self-isolate in comfort and away from family or friends. Offering a lower rate shows compassion and helps affected people out. The catchment area for this is likely the city you are, or sub area of a city. With travel limited, and risks, people will want to walk, cycle or drive to the hotel.
People are going to get bored being at home.
Can you offer something they have not got at home in a safe way? Hotels with in-room gaming, amazing beds, super views, coffee / tea on tap - all have something that, if people feel safe and it's close to their home, or in short driving distance and the price is right they might consider for a night or two. The key here is to to the local community - people are not going to be going to the cinema. Companies may discover staff do not have suitable home working conditions.
Are your rooms work friendly?
Good desks, lighting, seating and wifi? Can you provide a safe and better work environment for their their staff, which is better than they have at home. Productivity may become an issue and companies may be looking to pay to achieve that and have happier staff. Offering day rates for workers could bring in covering revenue.
Manage cancellations If people can cancel they will, but some of those will be happy to move it to another date. Put a notice on your website upfront clearly explaining that you are happy to move rather than cancel bookings, and how to communicate with you over cancellations or changes.
Give channels what they need Check whether you have a channel multiplier in place making channels more expensive to book, and if you do, remove it. This is not the period to be worrying about how much commision you are paying on a booking. That will come again when demand picks up.
Adjust policy and rate types Check whether policies are deterring bookings. Fully flexible is needed in uncertain periods alongside more of a discount for risk, so a non refundable rate would not be considered an option at just 10% off. You may need non refundable rates to be 20% lower for example.
Check whether restrictions are stopping bookings such as booking windows, that you have set up in high demand windows. It is not just minimum stays, but also other restrictions including, rolling availability windows.
What guests see matters Get staff approved disposable gloves for hygiene, whether they are coming into contact with guests or not. For example, guests knowing cleaners are wearing approved gloves and masks may give them more confidence to book.
Over communicate your cleaning Communicate how you are cleaning the property to remove bacteria and how often it is cleaned reduce your guest’s anxiety. Over communicating in this time, could help
reduce cancellations and encourage bookings from the reduced demand pool that is there.
Be aware of social space Maintain social distancing by adjusting reception layout and not having direct physical contact with people when meeting them. Look at ways of helping people to avoid close contact in your properties. The more appropriate for our current climate, the more fit for purpose and likely you are to have guests.
Update your Welcome packs Adjust your welcome pack for guests to have in current essentials, so hand sanitizer, a basic mask, good anti-bacterial hand wash, as well as typical essentials such as tea, coffee and biscuits for comfort. Add on some items that guests will need, showing how conscious you are. We are all much more aware of germs and bacteria now. This awareness will not go away anytime soon.
Beware of third-party booking sites
It cannot be overstated how much a bad third-party booking experience can destroy a Hotel’s revenue potential. The ever-present demands for seamless, simplicity, and security whenever making a purchase or transaction means if a hotel’s websites link to a slow or less-than-transparent third-party booking site – guests will turn away. It is vital hotels select their booking partners wisely and make sure each step of their potential guest’s journey is smooth and trust-inspiring, especially when they are about to make payment!
Harness the power of data
It’s so simple, but not enough hotels do it: collect survey data. Chatbot technology provides hotels with a viable way to carry out reliable surveys and provide accurate customer feedback about their experience throughout their stay. By getting near-real-time insights about guest experiences at key moments, such as after a meal at a restaurant, or using a bookable facility, hotels can pin-point where satisfaction levels are at their highest – and where they need the most help.
Optimize your website
Unfortunately, most hotels have stuck to the brochure theme with their websites, offering a flat, one-way digital experience to prospective guests. This ‘Brochure ware’ approach has been eclipsed by developments in both eCommerce and digital technology. Here, the hotel sector can learn a lot from retail. Retail has matured to the point where even the smallest brands have highly functional eCommerce websites, offering audiences enormous scope for pre-purchase research and play during decision making. Optimizing user experience in ways they are already familiar with will make any brand stand out, and given the low base of hotels in most markets – even more so.
Travel and hotel demand will return
Heart-warming reports of industry growth and the optimistic outlook of some of the world’s largest hotel chains, like the one shared by Saville Group in this most recent quarterly wrap-up, delivered in April this year. While the 2023 target of 1.7 trillion for corporate travel expenditure may be put off for a while due to the unforeseeable speed-bump of 2020, there is broad confidence that a new form of ‘business-as-usual' will be achieved and economies will be allowed to function normally once again. For most small hotels, though, getting through the next few seasons will be touch-and-go.
Ultimately, the secret to getting through this crisis is for hotels is to adopt the same sort of customer-centric and technology-leveraged approach adopted by other small brands in other sectors. This may force a sharp learning curve, but it’s one that will, in the long-term, improve how hotels are marketed and operated long after 2020 and coronavirus is behind us.