Defining and Understanding the Hotel Industry Reset
As hotel occupancy continues to sit at record lows, hoteliers and industry professionals are beginning to discuss what happens next. While we are not yet out of the “survival” stage of the financial crisis that followed the coronavirus’ tracks, experts say that we are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Polled users from a webinar delivered by Cornell responded that, of those seeking to travel, 87% of travelers are looking for an announcement about enhanced cleaning strategies from hotels. This tells us that not only are people starting to think about traveling again, but they’re looking to hotels for an answer about whether it’s safe to proceed.
A Hotel Reputation Reset
The hotel industry reset refers primarily to your hotel’s reputation. Guests are not interested in seeing how your hotel was performing a few weeks or months ago; instead, they are looking at only the most recent reviews in an attempt to gauge your response to COVID-19. Review flow, as we describe it at Travel Media Group, is slower than ever. The amount of time it takes for new review to be posted about your hotel is longer, and as a result, each review holds a much greater impact to your hotel’s reputation.
Product Director Patrick O’Brien spoke with Ryan Embree on our latest Suite Spot episode about the overall effect this has for your property, and how to better manage your reputation online and at the property level. Your review response should be timely and comprehensive, to best address both positive and negative comments and reassure your guests that you’re listening to their concerns and taking them to heart. At the property level, it’s important to ensure your guests have as exceptional of an experience as possible with you. With that in mind, what guests can you expect to be serving as we enter a slow rebound phase?
Universally, hotel industry experts agree that the first travelers to return to hotels will be locals who have grown tired from being in quarantine, and are seeking a safe vacation. These are referred to as “drive-to” markets, and the benefit for the guest comes from the ability to eliminate additional travel safety concerns right away. Data from Longwoods International supports this, their most recent polling showing that 52% of travelers plan for their first visit to be to friends and family locally – 76% of this group reporting they plan to travel by car. As the number of guests overall may still be less than normal, ensure you can provide a safe, fun, and clean experience for them. These guests will become advocates for your hotel in the future, writing long-standing reviews that will become the benchmark for how other travelers perceive your property.
How Do Hotels Prepare for a New Normal?
Preparing for the initial small wave of returning guests will be important, and there are a variety of strategies you can take to develop the experience cautious travelers are hoping to find. First and foremost, experts from the Cornell roundtable suggest that you appoint someone to be your leader in cleanliness – someone that can be a point of reference or discussion for concerned guests that also relays information to other staff members. This further limits contact between staff and guests, which enhances safety for your guests.
Cleanliness should be your first priority when you address all areas of your hotel, and this includes deciding how to refocus your amenities. After all, many guests are going to be spending more time at your hotel than in the surrounding area. Most hotels will be unable to offer high-touch services like spas or breakfast buffets, but there are ways to re-imagine your hotel experience so it can still be fun for your guests. Hoteliers must get creative. Guests reported that they feel safer when they’re able to sit outside, so hotels with outdoor lounging areas may be the first to see a greater uptick in leisure travelers. Setting up your outside spaces with appropriate space to keep guests socially distant will help them feel comfortable and at ease when they visit.
No matter how you choose to refocus your offered amenities at the property, know that transparency and honesty is crucial. Misinformation can be spread on social media sites, and the more you’re able to redirect misguided posts toward the truth, the better off your reputation will be in the long run. The panelists of the Cornell webinar reinforced strongly that the whole industry needs to be on the same page and express similar messaging to their guests. If hotels across all brands and property types reinforce that they are abiding by the CDC’s guidelines, the message will be stronger and clearer when advocates from the first wave of cautious travelers begin to visit hotels.
Every element of the consumer experience is going to change in the wake of this pandemic; it is not a matter of hoping things will return to the way they were. Innovating your guest experience with the technology around you and the creativity of your staff will help shape what the new hotel experience will look like. It is understandable, of course, that these changes are financially stressful, which is why the advocate for AHLA suggested all hoteliers join HotelsACT. This program is free to join, allowing AHLA to send communication to your local senators and active representatives on your behalf. It strengthens and unifies the voice of the hospitality industry, speaking clearly to Congressmen and women about the industry’s needs and allowing them to act on them effectively.
Focusing on cleanliness, innovating the availability of amenities, and utilizing the resources available to you as a hotelier are key strategies you’ll be able to take in understanding the state of the hospitality industry. Having a strong support behind you is imperative to your hotel’s future success, and our marketing experts at Travel Media Group are available to help you. Check out our designated coronavirus resource page for additional information we’ve put out during this crisis, or take a look at our solutions to see how we can provide you with the support you need.