How To Offset Group Travel Loss by Targeting Transient Travelers [Webinar]

by | May 29, 2020

In Part 3 of our COVID-19 educational series, we concentrate on the subject of group travel loss in the hotel industry. According to STR, there have been over 200 global events canceled in wake of the coronavirus spread. Groups that are rescheduling are pushing their bookings into late 2020 or 2021, leaving potential occupancy gaps at your hotel. We will demonstrate how to offset and replace this group travel loss by strategically targeting transient travelers that are now starting to emerge from nationwide stay at home orders. With these transient travelers excited and motivated to travel, this is the perfect opportunity to learn how to target them through effective digital marketing campaigns and promotions.

Group Travel vs. Transient Travel

Let’s begin by taking a look at the difference between Group and Transient Travel and the booking decision process for each. We will be defining transient travel as any traveler not associated with a group, such as leisure travelers, walk-ins, and individual business travelers.

Let’s start with Group Travel:

  • Longer Booking Process: With group travel, hoteliers are communicating between multiple contacts, sorting out various group logistics, and planning far out in advance. 
  • More Information, Less Focus: Because of the amount of information involved in booking group travel, contacts might not be as focused on small details like an individual’s negative review, but rather look more high level, like the hotel’s overall reputation or star rating.
  • Negotiations play a critical role in the group travel booking process. Hoteliers are willing to negotiate discounted group rates to entice group travel to the property.  
  • Relationship Building plays a key part in successfully bringing in group travel to a hotel. Familiarity with property and trust in a contact can lead to a much smoother and expedited group travel booking process.

However, group travel is what we need to replace as we start on the road to recovery. So let’s now look at the booking process of transient travel during these times:

  • Faster Booking Process: Some booking decisions happen day-of for walk-ins; with fewer logistics involved, transient travelers booking windows are a lot closer to their stay than groups. 
  • Less Information, Extra Focus: During these times specifically, travelers are booking with extra focus and caution, but using less information since any online reviews, data, or details pre-COVID-19 would not be relevant today. 
  • Post COVID-19, Safety is Non-Negotiable: During this time price is no longer the most important booking factor to transient travelers. Safety is the new currency, so dropping rates will not necessarily translate to more occupancy.
  • Little to No Relationship: This means first impression is key. If a traveler in today’s climate finds something publicly that makes them unsure or less confident in their booking decision, they’ll dismiss your hotel as an option and instead book with a competitor.

Now that we have identified the decision making process and booking charistics of transient travelers. Let’s find out where they are at in that process.

Prior to COVID-19, the hotel industry was riding all-time highs in metrics like occupancy, ADR, and RevPAR. Group and transient travelers alike had a healthy flow between all 4 of the traveler stages that you see here. Starting with the dreaming stage, moving to planning, eventually booking, and finally staying at the property. However, as stay at home restrictions started to tighten, most travelers are now trapped in the dreaming and planning phases of this process.  We know this is true, because of the record low occupancy numbers we have seen over the past few months.

So with transient travelers stuck at home, they are concentrating more than ever on the sites within these dreaming and planning phases. Travelers, with little to do, are scrolling on social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest figuring out what trips and places they want to explore first. They are using information and reviews on Google and TripAdvisor to find the best and safest places to stay in their favorite destinations. So it will be today’s social posts and today’s guest reviews that transient travelers will use to influence their decisions as they move into the booking phase. The information they find now, will ultimately be the one of best ways to figure out the recovery speed of your hotel.

Young (er) Transient Travelers

The first is the young or younger transient traveler. Younger transient travelers are going to be the first ones to start venturing back into the travel world. Feeling less at risk, younger travelers are eager to emerge from stay at home orders and will be the first ones most comfortable doing so. 

According to PEW research center, 82% of US adults between the age of 30-49 use at least one social media site. The percentage climbs to over 90 percent for ages 18-29. If you want to communicate with younger travelers, social media is the outlet to do it. If you are not properly utilizing social media as a way to influence young transient travelers to your property, you are missing out on a huge opportunity. You can also use social media data and analytics to see what type of following and audience your hotel has on social media. This type of information can be extremely valuable when determining what type of content to post and what demographic is viewing and engaging with your property’s page.

Local Transient Travelers

The next type of traveler you can expect to see is local transient travelers. Although travel is on its way back, it’s going to stay close to home. The first travelers will be more hesitant about traveling to far distanced destinations, fearing the risks involved in air travel. Instead, they will look for little escapes and staycations within driving distance. As time passes we will start to see those transient travelers explore farther, but for now, expect more local travel.

In order to attract and capture local transient travelers, you have post content that is appealing to a local audience. Our social media team at Travel Media Group posted an article on local restaurants that are offering delivery and take out during COVID-19. This type of information is very popular right now on social media sites and is more likely to be shared by users. You can also use social media analytics to identify what locations your hotel’s posts are reaching. For example, if you recognize that a large number of travelers are viewing your posts from a market only a few hours away. You can specifically target that location, by creating a post offering a special rate or package to transient travelers from that city. It’s this type of strategic social marketing that will start to improve your occupancy levels. You can also increase the number of local followers and improve brand awareness by using targeted ad spend on social media. Every social media solution that Travel Media Group offers includes both Facebook and Instagram ad spend, which our team is using during this time to target these transient travelers.

Experience-Seeking Transient Travelers

Expect your travelers to be looking for an experience. People do not want to trade their living room for your hotel room. They want to do something that they haven’t been able to in the last few months. The first transient travelers will not only be looking to travel, but looking for an experience and things to do.

We want to start to identify and post about what is available to do in your area. At first, we might want to start with activities where it is easy to social distance, like outdoor activities, parks, hiking, etc. Although travelers want an experience, they might not be willing to risk their health. It is extremely important to be accurate with the information that you are posting and to abide by all local or state rules and restrictions. It’s also important to identify if your hotel’s location is “the destination” or is “on the way” to the destination. Your location might be the perfect in between two major markets or the ideal stopping point on the way to the beach. That type of traveler could be looking for a completely different type of social media post, so keep that in mind when you are fine tuning your hotel’s strategy.

 “Book Now, Stay Later” Transient Travelers

Finally, transient travelers are ready to book now. They are ready to move into that booking stage. They may not be booking for today or tomorrow, but they are ready to book and they are using the information today to make that decision.

As we entered this pandemic in early March, hotels and businesses across the country were staying away from advertising and marketing their products to the public – and rightly so. Instead, we saw empathetic communications and messages of gratitude across marketing mediums. Now, almost 3 months later, we see some individuals ready to return to this “new normal.” Some transient travelers are ready to make booking decisions, but we will see later in this presentation it all hinges on comfort level. One of the things that we can do to ease guests’ comfort level is by being flexible in any changes that they may need to make, like by giving them the option to book now, even if they don’t plan on staying until some time later. Make sure you are giving them an opportunity to do so by posting “call to action” messages directing them to your website to book now.

In fact, according to a recent article published on CNBC.com, “[r]eservations for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s stays are up 38%, 40% and 23%, respectively, compared to the same time in 2019.”

So if that’s not the case for your property you could already be falling behind your competition in the race to recovery.

To wrap up our COVID-19 series, I will just say we, as an industry, finally have so much to look forward to. Instead of combing through industry articles and data points looking for a glimmer of hope, we are finally starting to see small, positive signs of recovery. And as more restrictions start to ease and with summer quickly approaching, we have a lot to be excited about. Our team at Travel Media Group will be here, continuing to be a resource and partner for every hotel that needs us as we continue to navigate through these times.

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