This article was originally published on HotelTechReport by Kelly Robb on April 27th, 2020, and can be read here.
Revinate has been regularly surveying our customers to understand how they’re feeling, how they’re thinking about their businesses and what they need to be successful. Our most recent survey, which received 297 responses from global hoteliers asked, “If you experienced an extreme down cycle in bookings in the past, what was most helpful to you during that time?” While the situation today is quite unlike any others the industry has weathered, the responses provide some great insight into how hoteliers are thinking about recovery.
As you begin the arduous task of opening up your doors to travelers, which we anticipate happening soon, albeit more staggered than we once thought, we hope this advice from your peers helps.
Keep service levels high
When you reopen your doors, you might be operating with a skeleton crew. It might be awhile before you can bring back your furloughed workers or rehire so you’re going to have to do more with less. In some areas, such as housekeeping, you might be okay since guests may now request that housekeepers not enter the room during the stay.
Avoid cutting costs that negatively impact service levels if you can avoid it. For example, keep the front desk well-staffed so guests don’t have long waits. Also, if you run a luxury property, don’t cut amenities, such as flowers or welcome cocktails. These are the things that make your property feel luxurious and they will be missed.
Continue to invest in marketing and sales
Many survey respondents expressed in their comments that now is not the time to “go dark.” Research conducted by the Hotel School at Cornell University shows that “firms that ‘invest’ in marketing, especially in tough times, can achieve a payoff via various revenue drivers and will realize gains beyond just the short term.”
In a recent video post, researcher, professor and consultant, Sherri Kimes, suggested that it’s very important to continue to engage your audience, including guests, meeting planners and groups, to stay top of mind and to build relationships. While some feel that engaging with guests during a pandemic is inappropriate, customers want to hear from brands. In fact, over 85% of U.S. consumers said it is completely acceptable for companies and brands to be communicating at this time.
But it’s important to engage intelligently and segment your audience. Now is not a time to spray and pray emails. Rather, the message must fit the customer. One survey respondent advises, “Email to current guests only. Don’t want to inundate them with “covid” info. We are all getting too much!” Another says, “Leisure should come back first so create relevant options for that segment.”
When it comes to smart sales techniques, many hotels are now leveraging sales resources to manage things like rebooking groups for later dates. Proactively reaching out to travelers to rebook with no cancellation penalty is a great way to save a booking that has a high likelihood of canceling.
Use downtime wisely
Use the time to master unique niche customer segments. One survey respondent suggested using the time to “reevaluate where your business is from.” For example, since most experts predict that the local market will rebound first, spend some time learning about your local guests by examining the data in your CRM. Do they typically travel alone or with their families? What is the segment’s average nights booked and LTV? These answers can help you plan great packages for when travel restrictions are lifted.
Experts, like Sherri Kimes, also suggest that hotels use this period to do community service. Many brands are offering rooms to healthcare workers, donating food and offering their hotels to sick patients for quarantining. With little to no demand, it’s a win-win for everyone.
Hold onto your pricing
One thing we learned from past recessions, especially immediately after 9/11, is that you can’t create demand through price when people don’t feel safe traveling.
Hoteliers advise keeping your rates competitive. Even if you have the lowest rate of your comp-set, you’re not going to get the booking if no one is looking to travel. When the market is ready to venture out and travel, you will be happy that you and your comp set haven’t raced to the bottom.
In a Triptease blog post Chetan Patel of ONYX Hospitality advises, “To be in line with your competition, monitor what’s happening in the market. If you drop your rate too low, you’ll be leaving money on the table – and it can be hard to recover post-crisis! Focus on getting the price right and offer flexible cancellation conditions. If your customers have confidence that they can cancel, they’ll be more open to booking at your property.”
Be flexible with cancelations
As Chetan mentions above, be flexible with cancellations, even when travel restrictions are lifted. In order to capture new bookings, you will need to appeal to customers that might still be apprehensive about traveling, especially since the virus might reappear somewhere and cause new shelter-in-place measures.
Hoteliers agree that in this day and age, it’s a good business practice to prioritize your relationship with the guest over short-term revenue losses. A cancelation has a temporary impact on your business but upsetting a customer has a life-long impact.
Finally, focus on providing great experiences
When bookings come back, they will likely come back slowly. Some hotels I’ve spoken with recently are planning to open with just a fraction of their rooms available initially until demand picks up. Use low occupancy as a chance to engage your guests in a personal way. As one survey respondent says, “Increase the one on one with customers to make them feel more wanted and show we care about everyone.” Be liberal with upgrades. If you have the resources, encourage your front desk staff to walk your guests to their rooms and share their favorite local spots. Or, use the data you have in your CRM to surprise and delight them with a nice in-room amenity.
In conclusion, any extra effort you go to with your early guests post-Covid will inspire them to share their experiences with others and will help you build loyalty, which will be key to driving more bookings. As governments begin to talk about relaxing shelter-in-place restrictions, we can feel people’s excitement building to escape the house and experience something new. We hope they find their way into your hotels.