54 – The Changing Traveler Experience: 2019 vs 2020

by | July 29, 2020

In this episode of Suite Spot, Ryan Embree reflects on some of the post-pandemic effects of our everyday lives when it comes to travel. Ryan recounts the significant changes to the traveler experience of a hotel stay in summer 2019 versus summer 2020. He talks about how hoteliers have adapted their websites, social media, and online reputation to meet the needs and expectations of travelers in the midst of a global pandemic.

Learn about various guest touchpoints like check-in and check out and how they have been impacted by COVID-19. This episode provides perspective on all that has changed in the past several months while appreciating those things that within the hotel experience have stayed the same.

If you have any questions or need assistance during this time please feel free to reach out to us by either calling or texting us at 407-984-7455 or email us at info@travelmediagroup.com.

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. Hello everyone, welcome to another episode of the Suite Spot. This is your host, Ryan Embree. Thank you all for listening today. You’ve heard us talk about over the past couple of podcast episodes about the new normal. You’ve probably read articles about it, you’ve heard industry experts talk about, what can travelers expect in this new normal? What is our world going to look like in this new normal, after the pandemic? And as we start to see recovery that new normal is going to drop that “new” part and it’s just going to become normal for us. And I think one of the best ways to reflect on this “new normal” is to really take a look at where we’ve come from. It’s been a very, very long, but also short four months into this pandemic. So what we’re going to do on today’s episode – and this might sting for a couple hoteliers out there – but I think it’s important to do, is really walk through the entire traveler’s journey and experience and compare summer 2020 to summer 2019, so just one year ago.

Ryan Embree:
I challenge you to kind of listen for all of the changes, because day to day, as we’re kind of living and going through the operations, we might not see as many changes as we notice when we reflect back on just one year ago. So let’s go ahead and get started. And we’re going to start where a lot of travelers start, in that traveler’s journey, the way that travelers and guests are looking to book and make a purchase decision, when it comes about a hotel stay. Now in summer 2019, as hoteliers we were excited, the summer, you’ve got the kids out of school, this means family vacations, this is our busiest time of year. We’re expecting all ages to be traveling, so maybe some older generations, as well as younger and families. Events that were going on, that we paid very, very close attention to summer events, whether that be concerts, sporting events, conventions, our travel was coming from all over the world, really nationwide travel and people were flying and we had our typical walk-ins people that would go ahead and just walk through our door, kind of check what our rates were for the night without maybe doing that much research, but we were still getting those travelers.

Ryan Embree:
We fast forward to 2020. You know, all of a sudden our travelers are going to be skewed a little bit younger. We’ve talked about this as we start to recover those younger travelers are going to be the first ones to feel more comfortable and safe starting to get into the travel world. We know that a lot of events have been canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic. Sporting events, we’re starting to see them kind of come back, but not something where they’re allowing spectators in. So we’re gonna kind of probably have to wait for that to impact our occupancy numbers there. And instead of that nationwide travel, we’re seeing a lot more travelers within driving distances. That gives us a really key indicator on how we can market and target these travelers. You know, when we look at our website, when travelers are looking at our website, maybe in 2019, we were putting out some really good summer specials out there.

Ryan Embree:
We were trying to market our property and fill our rooms up with these specials. Now in 2020, we’re actually notating the special changes that we’ve made at the property to ensure guest safety. So protocols that we’ve put in, these are the type of information that travelers are looking for in summer 2020, when they’re doing research for their property, they want you to address COVID-19 this isn’t something where you can kind of bury your head in the sand anymore. As we turn our attention to social media on our social media pages in summer 2019, you probably would have seen a lot of events in the area you would have seen summer amenities like our pool, maybe a lot of pictures of travelers in the pool or congregating. Where in 2020, you might not see that, instead hoteliers in 2020 are using their social media as a way to communicate to travelers that are doing their research.

Ryan Embree:
They’re setting expectations. Instead of promoting the amenities, they’re promoting the amenity changes. So for example, if you have a fitness center, maybe you’re blocking off every other piece of equipment or you’re having capacity changes. Those are the type of expectations that travelers are going to be looking for and that hoteliers are using their social media channels to communicate that. Instead of the events that we saw last year, we’re putting more local outdoor activities. So what type of parks, state parks, national parks, if you’re near a beach, a lake, things where it’s a lot easier to social distance, that’s where we’re promoting on our social media pages right now. And of course supporting local businesses. We know that’s been a big, big push right now. We know the entire hospitality world is hurting. So you might put some posts up there talking about local restaurants that are providing takeout for your guests.

Ryan Embree:
So again, that might be something different that you see in 2020 versus 2019. Now, as we get into the traveler actually arriving at our property and going through check-in, I want to take a look and again, notate the changes here. In summer 2019, check-in represented for our hoteliers your first point of face to face contact with the traveler. You can finally set expectations in person. You can tell them a little bit about the hotel, tell them about breakfast, maybe set some amenity rules, the hours that the pools are open, your fitness center, where that’s located, ice machines, you know, just any sort of special requests that that traveler might have. So that’s our first place in 2019 in order to get in front of our guests. Now in 2020, you might not have that opportunity for that face to face interaction. Travelers might not feel comfortable coming to the front desk and speaking to a front desk agent.

Ryan Embree:
So we need to set expectations in different ways. So that’s, again, while we’re using social media as a place to communicate the changes like breakfast on the go, those amenity changes and rules that we talked about earlier. Keyless entry is going to be huge. The adoption of technology, we will see quicker than ever before then we’ve seen in this industry. So I imagine a lot more travelers are going to be using that keyless entry, but if that keyless entry doesn’t work, that could cause frustration. And instead of having someone right there to solve the issue face to face, they could be getting very, very upset and not want to come to you face to face. So it could open an opportunity there for a negative experience. So keep that in mind, and again, setting those expectations are key. That is going to be a theme that we talk about through this episode.

Ryan Embree:
Okay, so now we’re at the property, we’ve gotten to our rooms. In 2019, during their stay, you could have had some opportunities to make that stay extra special. If somebody had mentioned at the front desk that they were here for a birthday party, a wedding, you know, you could do some in room deliveries, taking that five star experience up a notch. You could approach guests that all touch points. So you could tell your housekeepers to approach a guest and ask them if they need anything. As they’re passing by the front desk, having a conversation, asking if they need anything. Again, these were common practices in 2019, that maybe in 2020, we could do in different ways. In 2020, even the simplest task, like replacing batteries for a remote need to be thought through and ensure guests safety, each guest at your property is going to have a different comfort level right now and in the history of our industry, we’ve never been presented with that. You might have a guest that expects that type of service, wants that staff member to come to their room and fix the problem immediately and will view it as a negative experience if it’s not done so in that way. Or you might have a guest that doesn’t feel comfortable with any sort of interaction. So you have to put protocols in place and again, communicate with your travelers, figure out what they feel comfortable with and make sure your staff feels comfortable as well, that’s extremely important to think about as well.

Ryan Embree:
So now we move towards checkout and there’s a couple differences in checkout between last year and this year. In 2019, guests came to the front desk to voice any concerns or issues at checkout, giving the hotel an opportunity to make it right. So most of the time, if the traveler did come to the front desk to check out, this would be your opportunity to ask, “How was your stay with us? Is there anything we could improve on?” In 2020, you might not have that opportunity to speak with them before they leave to check how that stay went. So post stay emails are absolutely vital. We know brands are sending post-stay emails and if you get a one star review, it can absolutely impact the score and rating of your hotel in regards to your brand. So post-stay emails and getting that feedback immediately is key, because in 2020, you might not have the opportunity to speak to someone face to face at checkout like you did in the past. People might not want a physical invoice. So this means it’s important more than ever to get traveler’s emails, which is great for your property, cause it could lead to email marketing opportunities as well. So getting traveler emails and getting post-stay feedback is absolutely critical in 2020, because again, you might not have that opportunity to sit face to face to ask how their stay was.

Ryan Embree:
So why is it important to identify these changes? Right. I kind of talked about this at the beginning of the episode. One of the ways you can figure out where your traveler’s comfort level are, is by listening to feedback on online reviews, but also seeing the way that travelers are reacting to that communication that you’re putting out through your website, through your Facebook, and through review response. That’s also an important way to get your new policies and procedures out. Hoteliers are running their hotels in different ways today. So it’s our job as hoteliers to share that information with our guests that are coming in so we can set proper expectations.

Ryan Embree:
So we talked about the importance of reviews. Travelers trust other travelers more than they trust a business. We know this, so generating positive reviews at this time is absolutely vital and critical to your hotel success in industry recovery. We knew that in summer 2019, again, we were at all time highs for a lot of our metrics, ADR occupancy, and it was our busiest time of the year. In 2020, we are in the middle of a recovery. Yes, we’re going up, occupancy seems to be trending up, but reviews could be more difficult to come by and review flow could dramatically slow. So it’s absolutely vital to generate these positive reviews. And once these reviews are put online review response is your way of setting the record straight. If there’s any confusion about those new policies or changes implemented at the property. Our review response team, we had Kristeena Seckinger on an episode ago, talk about a lot of the negative reviews that we were seeing were really just misunderstandings and confusion about the policies. And if that traveler not coming to you at checkout, like they used to, to voice those concerns, they’re doing it publicly. So the only way that you have to really set the record straight on your end and explain why those policies are implemented is through review response.

Ryan Embree:
And now – this is a difference between summer 2019 and summer 2020 – the way that travelers are reading reviews and review response are a completely different light. Summer 2019, they really were just kind of grazing, looking at these reviews. In 2020, they’re meticulously going through each and every review and review response. Every detail is critical, even something in a five star review today that says, “The GM was very friendly and welcoming, he came in and shook everyone’s hand.” That comment alone, even though it is paired up with a five star rating, could turn a lot of travelers off today in 2020 and fear of safety and health. So keep that in mind and look through your reviews and make sure you’re responding to those reviews in correlation with where we are at as an industry today.

Ryan Embree:
So there’s obviously a lot of differences in summer 2019 and summer 2020, but it’s important to take note of these changes and see how we’re changing as an industry, because this is our new normal. And as we recover, this is what travelers are going to be looking for. We really can attribute that “new” to everything that we’ve done, right? The new traveler’s journey, the new way that travelers are looking at reviews, the new way that hotels are using social media to communicate to travelers.

Ryan Embree:
So keep that in mind at Travel Media Group, as you know, as we’ve talked about before on this podcast, we are all about bringing the new digital marketing solutions to hotels. So if you are in need of social media strategy help, generating those positive reviews, we work with post-stay emails to help you generate more positive reviews, or even review response, and website changes. Please feel free to reach out to us. You can always reach us at (407) 984 7455 or you can visit our website at travelmediagroup.com. We have a ton of COVID-19 resources, blogs, articles, everything that you need to kind of get through this recovery. I want to thank everyone for taking the time to join me on this episode today. Hope everyone out there is saying safe and healthy, and we will talk to you next time on the Suite Spot. 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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