Though many hotels are undertaking cost rationalization to get ready for the after-effects of the Covid-19 lockdown, this is not the time for hoteliers to pause marketing which would end up severely impacting their recovery. Instead, they need to use marketing strategically and in a targeted fashion. Each hotel chain or independent hotel should devise their marketing strategy for two phases – during lock-down and post lock-down opening. We have accordingly elaborated on the key things to be kept in mind during both these phases.
Your customers are spending way more time digitally during lockdown and it is critical not to go dark during this period but to keep proactive communication ongoing with your retail and corporate customers and channel partners. Hoteliers should take into account the following marketing considerations during lockdown:
- Leverage your social media/email/WhatsApp channels to engage with your customers & partners empathetically. Share with your customers not only what the hotels are doing, in terms of providing a safe environment and contributing to society’s most vulnerable sections during this crisis, but also nurture your emotional connect with your customers through engaging videos.
- Even though there are limited stay related searches right now on Google, intensify SEO efforts to improve and maintain your rankings on the relevant keywords. Do not abandon your SEO work, as your rankings will take a hit and it will be too late to tap the search surge if you have to restart SEO.
- Pause media spend on search ads and social media ads and preserve the budget for utilization post lockdown. Strategic boosting can be done on select social media posts to meet certain objectives.
- If your restaurants are operational & delivering, promote the same hyper-locally through social media campaigns.
- Undertake strategic initiatives for which you don’t find time normally:
- Website review & enhancements
- Creation of visual content & blogs for leveraging over a period of time
- Loyalty program evaluation & implementation
- Corporate brochures & presentations
- On-property branding
The current pandemic would affect not only customer behavior but also, in the short-term, the customer segments themselves. Hence, marketing strategies must adapt dynamically for several months post opening to ensure marketing efforts are appropriately targeted and give the desired results. The following key marketing considerations should be kept in mind for post lockdown opening:
- Re-gaining consumer confidence on the hotel’s safety/ hygiene standards is the first and most important step to attracting back and retaining your customers. Hotels should proactively communicate on all their digital channels the steps they are taking in this regard.
- Leisure travel will be mostly domestic and will initially be to nearby locations within driving distances. Hence for the leisure travel segment, hotels should focus their energies on targeting locally as well nearby feeder markets with value-added and extended stay packages. Further, from a customer demographic perspective, Millennials and Gen Z are expected to lead the initial travel wave. These elements should be built into targeting across social media and search ads.
- Essential business travel is expected to pick-up, as flights become operational due to pent-up requirements, but on an overall basis the business travel segment will be slow to come back. Non-essential business travel is expected to reduce for some time as organizations get used to virtual meetings, trainings and even events. However, human nature does not change, and over a period of time, organizations will look again towards driving a common culture and vision through in-person meetings. Hotels should monitor this evolving trend proactively, and plan accordingly for both offline as well as digital marketing.
- For the MICE segment, especially due to the resultant economic downturn, most organizations for FY 20-21 will likely do their meetings, events and incentive tours only locally and avoid outbounds. Hotels will need to communicate ways they ensure hygiene and social distancing to assure their corporate customers and should prepare a plan for tapping their local businesses.
- The social events segment, including pre-wedding and wedding functions and anniversaries and other celebrations are a big business opportunity. Hotels should aggressively tap this segment to address the backlog. Customers will likely go with those hotels that are able to reassure the customers with strict adherence to hygiene.
- To make their marketing compelling to the travellers, hotels should look at creating value-added packages, provide cancellation flexibility and even look at offering “Book Now Stay Later” vouchers valid for say 6 months to encourage impulse purchases.
- A hotel’s website and social media handles play an even greater role than before, by enabling customers to get all details on the hygiene processes in place, as those become critical criteria for booking. This offers hotels an opportunity to convert this traffic into bookings. Hotels would do well to also enable all other channel partners viz. OTAs as well as offline with the hygiene information to drive bookings from all channels.
With the first quarter of FY 20-21 already impacted, hotels need to use this time to plan out and implement aggressive revenue recovery strategies leveraging strategic and targeted marketing initiatives.
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