45 – Managing Through COVID-19

by | March 25, 2020

In this episode of the Suite Spot, we discuss the COVID-19 crisis facing hoteliers around the globe today. Host Ryan Embree helps navigate these unprecedented times in the hospitality industry and shares words of encouragement on behalf of Travel Media Group.

Ryan discusses the vital role that communication channels like social media and online review response will play in connecting to both current guests and future travelers during this time. This episode provides content ideas during the COVID-19 crisis and recommendations on how to repurpose your energy and staff if your hotel is experiencing a dip in occupancy. He also shares some quick tips on how hoteliers can begin to prepare for the eventual market recovery that will take place post-virus.

If you would like to share your story through this difficult time or see if Travel Media Group can be of any type of assistance, reach out to us by phone or text at 407-984-7455.

Episode Transcript
Our podcast is produced as an audio resource. Transcripts are generated using speech recognition software and human editing and may contain errors. Before republishing quotes, we ask that you reference the audio.

Ryan Embree:
Welcome to Suite Spot where hoteliers check in and we check out what’s trending in hotel marketing. I’m your host Ryan Embree. So before we get started today, I want to share that all of us here at Travel Media Group understand what a difficult time this is for hoteliers. This is an unprecedented situation that we’ve never seen before. At Travel Media Group, we’ve been in the travel/hotel industry for 40 years. I’m sure a lot of our listeners and hoteliers have that much experience, sometimes even more experience than that, and we know how difficult this is. We’ve had many of our hotel partners, both that have worked with us and aren’t currently working with us, reach out because this is a time where all of us need to come together as a community to help one another out. So I just wanted to, before we get started, kind of share that message with you from Travel Media Group.

Ryan Embree:
Hello everyone, welcome to another episode of the Suite Spot. This is your host Ryan Embree recording live from my new at home work office. I’m sure a lot of our listeners might be in different places, this past week has really been challenging and kind of turned a lot of our world’s upside down with Coronavirus, COVID-19. So today’s episode is really gonna center all around that. There are a lot of hoteliers out there, a lot of our hotel partners at Travel Media Group asking the questions of where do I start, when is this going to end, how is this going to impact the industry as a whole? Most importantly for you – how will this impact my business? And we are really at a point and a stage where every single room counts, every single percentage of occupancy – and that’s not a place that we’ve been in this industry for a very long time.

Ryan Embree:
We were riding record highs on ADR, REVPAR, demand. And then all of a sudden we came to this complete stop. So we put this episode together just as a way to try to start to make sense, kind of, give some tips, some best practices on how to best handle this. As you know, this is the first time that we’re going through this as a community, as an industry, as a whole. So with Travel Media Group’s expertise in the digital marketing side, you know, we thought we’d get some great information and tips out there on how you can start connecting and communicating with your guests. And that’s really where this all stems from is communication. Communication is key. You want to go ahead and create an action plan. If you could speak directly to your traveler, if you could convey a message to them or have a conversation which each one of your reservations for the next couple nights, what would you say to them?

Ryan Embree:
How would you assure them that your hotel is going to be safe? How are you going to assure them that if they did have a change in plans, that you’re being flexible. It’s during these times that hoteliers really need to be as honest and transparent as possible because that is going to go a long way because unlike other crisis, this is really happening to all of us all over the nation, not only the nation, globally. You know, we’ve talked about how – and we’re going to talk about this a little bit later in the episode – how resilient the hotel world and hospitality industry is. We have over the past two decades have seen some very challenging times with September 11th with the Great Recession in 2008, but we need to look at this crisis very differently. And one of the main differences that we’ve seen today in 2020, as we’ve seen of those in the past, is Social Media and reputation online.

Ryan Embree:
So leverage these places to communicate with your guests because your guests might not be comfortable coming to the front desk anymore and having that conversation. Use other tools like social media to connect with them, answer questions that they might have, give them the peace of mind when they’re searching on your hotel online and still may be making that decision of whether they’re going to cancel or change their plans of the procedures that you are putting in place. You know, we’ve talked about it all the time about how the hotel industry really has a really firm advantage over vacation rental sites and the reason is because we have that consistency of cleaning procedures. So make sure you’re sharing that. And when we talk about communication, this communication might not just be verbal or through text channels like Facebook or messaging systems. You can communicate to your guests in the visible actions that you and your staff perform, like cleaning in plain view of the guest, implementing precautionary measures like using to-go boxes for your breakfast, or even putting together an in-room delivery of breakfast or coffee. Get creative, you know, do an Instagram LIVE or a Facebook LIVE showing travelers what your cleaning procedures are. This is all going to just ease the mind of that traveler. You want to be communicating constantly, but you want to be communicating effectively. Hotels are just going to be one of the places that they’re going to be looking during this crisis. They’re going to be getting a lot of emails and a lot of communications about this virus, so make sure your communication includes very crucial information. And another thing is we’re surrounded by it, right? We’re talking about it constantly on the news, it’s probably just piling up our social media feed. If you need to, don’t make everything about the virus, you know, post some good content about maybe the top 10 movies that are on Netflix right now. Think about if you were in the shoes of that guest, you know, you wouldn’t want to be completely surrounded by that. So make sure when you’re posting content on your social media, make sure you sprinkle that in a little bit.

Ryan Embree:
Also don’t want to stay stagnant. This goes back to really surrounding yourself in this news about this virus, we know the implications that this is going to have on our industry. We don’t know to the extent, but we know that it’s going to have an impact. Travelers are potentially at their house right now working from home, but that’s not all they’re doing. They’re cleaning their house, they could be completing some house projects. You should be doing the same at your hotel. If you’re at the hotel and you’re not as busy, start doing some deep cleans, maybe some PM maintenance, repurpose your energy. You definitely want to take care of yourself and of the property. Maybe even repurpose some of your staff. There might be some cross training opportunities for you to do in case there needs to be times where there’s going to be fewer staff. Look for resources out there. There are so many people that are extending a hand. Listening to podcasts, joining webinars, networking with industry experts. There is so much information to go around out there. Do not stay stagnant. That is a huge, huge tip and we’re all in this together. All of our hospitality brother and sisters are hurting our restaurants, our other local small businesses. Reach out to those other local businesses and see if there’s opportunity there to partner. You know, if you can partner with the local restaurant across the street to say, “Hey, when I have some guests come in here, you know, give me some menus so that they can order and you can deliver to them.”

Ryan Embree:
It’s going to help your local economy, but it’s also going to take that experience for your guests to the next level. But we also want to prepare ourselves for the future, right? Those cross training opportunities, we’re doing that so that when things start to ramp up again, our team is ready for that ramp up. One thing I will say is make sure this is a great time to make sure that you have all of your credentials in order, for your social media, responding to reviews, all of your review sites. Make sure that all of those credentials are something that you have, because if you do have some staff members leave, the last thing you want is for them to take the credentials with them. You want to start delegating tasks when that time is upon us. “Okay, who’s going to start responding to these reviews, what’s going to be our busy time?”

Ryan Embree:
And then we want to also take a second, you know, if we’re slow, again not being stagnant, but we’re looking, we’re analyzing data, right? Maybe this is a great opportunity. We’ve talked about this in podcast past or episodes past to take a look at our social media analytics and we take a look at our demographics. We start to see, okay, what type of travelers are following me and maybe where is there some opportunity that I can reach out and get some potential business after this passes? Or where are there some opportunities that I might not be targeting right now? That’s an opportunity for me in the future. And this is a great time to stay connected with your customers. Obviously we don’t want to overflow our customers with sales pitches or anything like that, but just connecting with your customers, making sure that they’re getting everything that they need if they are coming to your property, maybe setting some sort of expectations, because what people are doing is they’re looking for the peace of mind. So again, honesty, transparency and flexibility.

Ryan Embree:
If you have the opportunity to make someone’s stay by upgrading them because you’re not as occupied as you usually would, this is where those stories start to come out and they start to go viral. So extend a reaching hand. Do not save a dollar today, which costs you a traveler for a lifetime that that would be my advice. So really take your service standards to the next level. Those travelers that are coming in are coming in for a reason. Ask them why they’re coming and maybe you can identify some patterns and trends that will lead to more business moving forward. But you want to make sure that those travelers that are coming to your hotel, they’re obviously coming there for a necessity for a reason. You want to make their stay extra special. I mean, this is the hospitality – this is when you need to get back to basics and to the root of this industry.

Ryan Embree:
When they do stay, ask them honestly for their feedback. What travelers are doing now is they’re scared, they’re anxious, they don’t know whether going to a hotel is the right decision. So I would tell you the travelers that do stay at your hotel, if they can tell their story via review, it is going to give those travelers still in that decision making process, the peace of mind to know that they’re making the right decision. Make sure you’re communicating with your travelers via review response. You know, responding to those reviews saying, “We’re glad you enjoyed your stay, we’re so happy that we had the opportunity to serve you during these challenging times.”

Ryan Embree:
So we were at a point in the industry -again, a very high at the industry – a month ago our biggest problem in the industry is that we were looking for potential people to fill our open positions. We were looking for front desk agents, retention was a huge problem. I would say be confident in your leadership as a GM or owner during these difficult times, because when we do get out of this you’re going to want those loyal employees and it’s during this time that they’re going to look to you as a leader and remember this after this passes.

Ryan Embree:
But that brings me to my next point is that this will pass. Again, we are a resilient industry and persevered through tough times, like those events we’ve mentioned before. We will survive this. We have plenty of information out there on travelmediagroup.com, we have a blog – already have a couple of blog articles about how to clean properly and some of the key takeaways from an initial STR report. So there’s so much room for education out there. To all of my listeners out there, everyone stay safe, stay healthy, and again, this will pass.

Ryan Embree:
So I know we’ve talked a lot today about maybe some tips or best practices on, again, how to make it through this unprecedented time that we’re having right now in the industry. But I think one of the things that is going to keep us all moving forward is communication, not just to our guests and connections with our guests, but communication and connection to our communities. You know, one of the things that I think is going to keep us moving forward and towards that time after this virus and this terrible time, is sharing. Sharing stories, sharing positive things, because through all this bad, the good things that are going to come out and the good stories that we hear, especially in hospitality, which is rooted with serving people is gonna resonate far longer than this virus will ever last. So we’d love to hear from you or if you just need again an ear to talk to about these times, we are a resource here for you. You can always reach us (407) 984-7455. Thank you so much for listening to the Suite Spot and we will continue to give you content, as necessary. We will be with you every step of the way, just like at Travel Media Group, we are facilitating and are working as a resource for all of our partners out there. So thank you for listening to the Suite Spot and we’ll talk to you next time. To join our loyalty program, be sure to subscribe and give us a five star rating on iTunes. Suite Spot is produced by Travel Media Group, our editor is Anne Sandoval with cover art by Bary Gordon. I’m your host, Ryan Embree and we hope you enjoyed your stay.

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