Within every adversity lies opportunity – and this is especially true for the hospitality industry as it prepares to emerge from COVID-19. While the pandemic continues to shape local and international travel trends, the emergence of newly proven vaccines means that hospitality businesses need to start looking for opportunities to shape a strategy for moving forward. Here are some insights into what your hospitality business should be considering right now to support and position yourself for a post-COVID recovery.
Work Your Online Reputation
While things are still quiet, you have a chance to work on how your customer experiences your brand – now is the time to make it more appealing or to reinvent it in order to capture a new market. Analyse reviews on travel platforms and OTAs, read through past customer feedback, and see what people are saying about you on social media. Online reputation management is time-consuming – but time is a resource you may have now that you won’t have later. And the rewards of investing in your online reputation vastly outweigh the resources and time it takes to analyse and build your reputation up!
Start by responding to online reviews, especially on Google and powerful meta-search platforms like Trivago and TripAdvisor, which saw 859 million reviews in 2019 alone. Update your information especially if you have rebranded, upgraded facilities, have new photography or are offering new amenities and experiences. Analyse what your competitors are doing and see if you can make the same online strategies work for you, whether it means investing further into your Facebook or Instagram account, starting a more powerful or automated email marketing strategy, or even working with an influencer. In 2019, digital travel sales hit US$755 billion worldwide, with 72% of mobile bookings happening after a last-minute Google search, so make sure your brand is positioned to get a piece of the pie.
With talk of a strong economic rebound after COVID-19, peak pricing might sound like an attractive way to rebuild, especially if travel opens up around your stronger travel seasons. People DO want to travel – they have been stuck at home and limited in travel options since February – but hospitality businesses are all hurting and there is sure to be intense competition as travel re-emerges. Rather than focusing specifically on pricing, consider hedging your bets by focusing on value offered.
By adding upgrades, welcome drinks, meal and spa vouchers or complimentary entertainment options, you’ll give your sales and marketing team the ammunition they need to consolidate bookings. Importantly, you’ll also be sending a very important message to your guests: that you care for them, you understand the difficulties they’ve been through and you feel they deserve extra special attention. This is a tone and message that has never been more timely.
Make Your OTAs a Priority
Before COVID, online booking and travel platforms had become the medium of choice for business and leisure travellers, with 148.3 million bookings occurring online each year and 14% market growth from 2016-2017. And through COVID-19, the internet has become our lifeline to the world with consumers more reliant on it than ever. After all of the other recent previous crises, such as SARS, H1N1, and the recession, OTAs emerged stronger. Whether you love them or hate them, they need to play a role in your post-COVID plan.
Analyse your OTAs, their commission structure and loyalty/rewards programs to see how they align with your budget and how they attract guests to your hotel. Speak with your OTA rep to assess targeted opportunities for promotion and partnership. By working with the OTAs best suited to your business and improving your rankings, you’ll actively increase your online visibility, boosting awareness and helping to ensure you can compete when travel is more accessible.
Saying that, though, there must be a balance. So, don’t neglect your direct booking strategy. Make sure customers are rewarded by booking with you through a seamless user experience, and potentially even an added extra, such as a free drink. After all, customers who book directly with you are saving you money.
The pandemic has introduced so much uncertainty into our world – and the hospitality industry in particular – that planning ahead is a headache for businesses and guests alike. People who want to travel are concerned about booking holidays months in advance because there may or may not still be restrictions in place. Hence hospitality businesses struggle to get customers to commit, to plan events or specials because of the same uncertainty.
But where you can prepare, you should – and communicate with your guests about your awareness and preparations clearly, frequently and on multiple channels. This doesn’t just mean the social distancing and sanitising that we’re all familiar with at this point, it might mean adapting booking and cancellation policies to counter COVID-19 uncertainty. It might mean thinking creatively about addressing customer pain points around planning holidays or events. Whether you offer some kind of booking insurance, booking flexibility or voucher options, there are ways to keep your head above water by alleviating uncertainty and supporting your customers at the same time.
2020 will go down as a year hoteliers will never want to revisit, but it’s not too late to extract some value from it. By preparing now, you can safeguard your future revenue and position yourself for a better year in 2021.
About The Author
Colin Hannan is a Principal at Proven Partners, a hospitality consultancy that specialises in helping hotels adapt and reposition for more effective growth. Colin combines a wealth of hands-on development and operational experience with deep marketing knowledge to support Proven’s hospitality partners on their growth journeys.