Holed up in isolation like most of the rest of the world, my wife turns to me after dinner one evening and says, “After all this, we need a vacation!” No doubt these words ring true for many others currently going a bit stir crazy, but the real question is how will hotel brands capitalize upon this prediction?
As of right now, we are looking at travel restrictions being lifted sometime near the end of spring or early summer. Realistically, lockdowns cannot be kept in place for much longer than that lest society contend with much larger problems than the coronavirus pandemic such as mass bankruptcies and the inability to support families, or increases in domestic violence, drug abuse, suicides and possibly major crime.
Governments are well aware of this danger and key to their recovery plan will be supporting travel companies to help kickstart the economy and to give people hope – that is, to restore customer confidence. They will seek to do this through a gradual rollout of travel restorations, starting with domestic flights and all other modes of transportation, then opening up intercontinental routes one by one.
What this means for hotels is that the start of the post-pandemic revival will come from drive markets or regional air travel. In other words, don’t expect international travelers for awhile and focus your marketing efforts on locals for staycations as well as those territories where flight routes have been brought back to some semblance of their pre-pandemic frequency.
But even if sanctions are lifted by summer, you still have to take into account people’s unique path-to-purchase behaviors. On the one hand, there will be those customers who are chomping at the bit to get away as soon as possible, making them receptive to deals or promotions with a short booking window. This is especially true for families with young kids who may only have the month of August to rush through their vacations before the school year starts back up in September (assuming there is a school year this fall).
Yet on the other hand, many will look more conservatively to plan ahead three to six months out, particularly as money may still be quite tight for these individuals currently living off government cheese and they will need time to re-secure their employment. Finally, what about corporate guests or groups who postponed their meetings to fall or delayed them a full year?
All these repercussive travel trends may make for a very busy autumn as much of the spring and summer bookings are shifted to this period. Unique times such as these will ultimately require an adept hand from senior hoteliers to align operations accordingly, both in terms of staffing as well as giving guests a reason to choose your property during this traditionally off-peak period.
Such sweeping trends like this don’t have a silver bullet and there will be regional or property-specific considerations. However, here are some broad thoughts to mull over in order to help you prepare for this forecasted glut of reservations during our current downtime so that once autumn hits you can still deliver exceptional guest service.
- How are you handling reservation inquiries? Just because a hotel is closed right now does not mean that people aren’t searching or planning for the future. Consider shifting to an outsourced hotel call center so you can effectively manage this operation remotely and cheaply without letting any calls or emails go unanswered.
- Have you examined where your guests will be coming from if there is a partial travel reopening but not a complete one? Given this, what are you doing to generate drive market awareness? Hint: the origin location profile of your guests may change!
- Did you have any leisure-focused events planned for this fall? Even though guests will be looking to travel, they will nevertheless have a ton of options, and even more if flights to sun destinations are restored. What singular reason are you going to give them to generate appeal for your property? Are there any local events that you can piggyback on?
- What about welcome back packages as part of your loyalty program? Now is the time to deep dive on your CRM to see how you can segment customers in order to identify those guests who are local and more inclined to buy your staycation promotions.
- What new housekeeping SOPs are you putting in place to give guests ‘cleanliness peace of mind’? Sanitization and fear of diseases will linger long after COVID-19 has bit the dust, so travelers will look for hotel brands that value increased hygiene protocols. Be sure to also communicate with them the exact steps you are taking to ensure guestrooms stay virus-free.
- How can you adjust your restaurant operations for social distancing? Do you have takeout and delivery options set up? Have you figured out how to space out tables appropriately? Do you have new training procedures in place for servers to fully deep clean tables and chairs after each use? Have you explored your options regarding ‘ghost kitchens’? Are you prepared for a significant increase in room service?
- What new technologies have you put in place to better enable a remote workforce? Yes, we will inevitably go back to our respective properties, but you can nevertheless take this time to investigate software and platforms that can help to automate various tasks, particularly those that can help to limit unnecessary staff-guest contacts.
- In a general sense, how are you going to manage staffing for an autumn period that is unseasonably higher occupancy than previous years? Where are you going to source temporary labor and how are you going to train them to ensure quality service delivery?