As travel slowly begins to recover, a renewed hospitality market is emerging. Most notably, travellers’ behaviour has been drastically affected by the pandemic, which is bound to impact the way hotels envision their acquisition strategy for years to come. Properly handling this radical shift in the market is no small task and will require hotels to demonstrate both long-term foresight and impeccable execution to thrive.
Moreover, we can expect the post-COVID hospitality industry to grow increasingly competitive. Indeed, the lengthy period of lockdown, during which hotels saw very little to no commercial activity, gave hospitality professionals the time to pause and reflect on their future strategy. As soon as borders start to reopen, most hotels’ marketing efforts will be in full swing and missing that recovery train will likely spell doom on unprepared establishments.
The purpose of this article is to leave no hotel behind in the post-pandemic rebuilding process. By considering and applying the subsequent five pieces of advice, hotels ought to be able to enter the recovery market with confidence and start working towards sustainable success.
1. Understand guests’ behaviour
For a few years now, the hotel industry has been building towards a more guest-focused approach to hospitality. Concretely, this meant that hotels would aim to listen and stay close to their customers’ needs and constantly adapt their offer accordingly.
In a post-COVID-19 world, these needs have significantly evolved. Studies show that guests are now much more sensitive to a new kind of travel, with emphasis placed on sustainability and contribution to the local economy. On the other hand, many business travellers, who were the bread and butter of some hotels, are likely to travel much less if at all.
All these changes in travellers’ behaviour will have a massive and lasting impact on hotels. In order to meet these new expectations, hotels need to achieve a deep understanding of their guests: from who they are to what they want.
Above all, remember that all your grand plans and brilliant long-term vision mean nothing if they are not rooted in reality; and reality is your guests. By simply asking them what they want (and what price they are willing to pay), you can go a long way towards building an efficient recovery strategy.
2. Make digitalization a priority
If there is one sector that truly benefited from the pandemic, it is the online-shopping industry. While stuck at home, people have gotten more and more used to buying goods and services on the internet; and hotel rooms are certainly no exception. Within a post-COVID travel market, hotels cannot afford to rely solely on external platforms to ensure their digital presence.
In case you had previously been slacking in the digitalization department, there is still time to review your online strategy before travel picks up again. Below is a list of priorities to work on:
- Diversify your online offer through multiple channels (website, OTAs, Airbnb, …)
- Optimize your website design (UX, UI, booking experience, photo/video quality, …)
- Invest in good social media and content production management
- Work on your SEO and set up your hotel on the Google Suite, including My Business, Travel and Analytics
By working on improving your hotel’s digital presence, you significantly reduce the amount of commissions paid to intermediaries while accessing a much larger potential customer base.
3. Get the right tools for your ambitions
Just as a craftsman needs a large enough toolbox to showcase all of his talents, a hotelier should be well-equipped to succeed in a highly competitive market. This principle applies to your hotel physically (up-to-date amenities, touchless technology, …) as well as digitally.
Focusing on the latter, there are many useful solutions in the industry that can help differentiate your offer from similar establishments. From personalized pricing solutions to upselling tools and direct booking widgets, you can easily find multiple ways to incentivize potential guests to book in your hotel. Any solution that either hastens (speeds up/ accelerates) your guests’ decision-making process, improve their online experience, or optimize your overall online revenue should be a welcome addition to your tech stack.
During the recovery period, you should also make sure to stay on the lookout for innovative technology born out of the pandemic. For instance, solutions that allow you to capitalize on new habits, such as day-use bookings, are a great way to make your hotel stand out from the crowd.
4. Don’t sleep on Online Marketing
For too long, digital marketing has been the prerogative of the OTA monopoly lead by Booking.com and Expedia. Indeed, it used to be that almost every single hotel query on search engines displayed a top link redirecting to one of the major booking platforms. This status-quo left very little room for hotels to compete on the digital marketing space.
However, the COVID-19 outbreak triggered a global paradigm shift. While travel came to a halt around the world, OTAs decided to shut down all of their digital marketing campaigns. Booking Holdings, Booking.com’s parent company, slashed its marketing expenses by a staggering 56%, from 4.97B in 2019 to 2.18B in 2020. This behaviour will most likely not be limited to the pandemic. Coming out of it, major players such as Expedia have stated that they would progressively move away from spending billions on digital advertisers towards a more loyalty-based customer acquisition strategy.
This is in addition to the fact that Google is now looking to empower hotels to get more traffic through a few changes to their platform and search algorithm. If you are yet to dip your toes into digital marketing, now is the perfect time to start. Below is a list of some of the actions you might consider taking to improve your online traffic:
- Advertise on both Google Ads and Google Travel to capture qualified leads
- Promote your offers on social media, especially Instagram and Facebook, which are the most qualitative platforms for hotels
- Set up tags to track your campaigns’ performance and adjust them accordingly.
- Encourage your users to subscribe to your newsletter and send them regular emails to build customer loyalty and generate direct bookings.
- Collect new digital leads through innovative solutions
A full guide on how to get started with digital marketing is available here.
5. Accept being proven wrong
The hospitality market is probably in one its most volatile phases ever. With the constant evolution of new lockdowns, quarantine regulations and border opening policies, it is extremely difficult to know exactly when people will go back to their old ways of travelling.
In this context, hotels will need to make bold decisions based on where they feel the market is headed or how they predict guest behaviour will evolve. Obviously, while navigating this unpredictable market, hoteliers are bound to make mistakes along the way, whether it is a premature reopening or an inaccurate prediction of new trends. These mistakes are part of any successful recovery strategy and are critical to achieving a deeper understanding of the renewed industry.
Although hoteliers cannot guarantee perfect navigation of such a volatile environment, they have the power to learn from their mistakes. In order to do so, hotel businesses must learn to become much more malleable than they used to be. This means adopting agile management methods, close to that of a start-up, where changes can happen as soon as required by the market. In the end, the only true mistake hotels cannot afford to make is clinging to their predictions no matter what.