The current situation caused by Covid-19 has thrown the hospitality industry into turmoil with the majority of hotels closing across the UK. Now more than ever, hotel marketers have an opportunity to demonstrate their value. Whilst we cannot control the situation, how we respond can minimise the loss and perhaps most importantly, contribute to how fast your hotel can recover when the crisis is over.
Focus on your brand
Your consumers may no longer be confident in booking, but they are still looking at your brand. Indeed, perhaps they are more observant than ever. This is not the time to pitch your services; instead, you should continue to engage in authentic dialogue. Luxury hotels in particular are used to keeping a ‘distant tone’ with consumers so take the time to respond and engage on a more personal level, remaining true to your brand positioning. Throughout this period, guests will remember their experience with your brand and it is therefore essential to not fracture customers’ trust in your business. Customers will certainly remember the brands that they perceive are doing the wrong thing and may not return to them.
Deliver appropriate content
Consumers will be particularly sensitive to brand content during this period and it’s important to be mindful of the current implications of what you are sharing – it’s not the time to show groups of your employees pictured closely together on social media. Content should be authentic and true to the moment.
There is now a bigger focus on true luxury – family, time and love. Speak about your employees and celebrate the family behind your brand. In hospitality, people are core to our brand so focus on the ‘human element’. Your hotel may even be supporting the fight against Covid-19 or employees may have an inspirational story to share. Positive stories and togetherness are key.
You can also ‘bring your brand into the home’ by sharing recipes from your chef or some interesting facts and knowledge about your hotel / destination. Focus on the ‘local’ components of your business and share any artisanal elements that you can talk about. A great example of bringing your brand into the home is demonstrated by Belmond who live streamed their musical entertainer on Instagram.
Digital marketing approach
It’s likely that budgets will be significantly reduced, however it’s important to consider maintaining PPC investment at a lower level to protect your brand and connect with potential future guests. Just like protecting your room rate, lower levels in the long term will slow down the return to success when business picks up again. It’s also important to keep an eye on OTAs who may take ownership of your brand searches.
Now is the time to review KPIs and consider targeting a different stage of the marketing funnel such as awareness. Retargeting can be utilised to build your database and offer an incentive to guests for when you re-open or guests are ready to book again.
Optimise your SEO by refreshing website content, titles, tags and structure to improve ranking and organic traffic. This is not a quick fix, but it can give you a competitive advantage when bookings start to recover.
It is important to localise your marketing efforts as domestic travel alongside restaurant and bars will start to recover sooner than international travel and tourism.
Understand your rate strategy
Work closely with your revenue manager on the hotel’s rate strategy. The majority of experts advise against cutting your rates which is also a view taken by the HMA. People are not travelling for safety concerns / travel restrictions and when demand does return, you want to ensure that you have not missed out because you have dropped the rate too low. Dropping rates will make it more difficult to build your rates back up, particularly with pressure from OTAs – hence your recovery will either focus on prioritising occupancy or rate.
Where you must sell, promote ‘flexibility’ and remove or reduce the prominence of non-cancellable rates. Instead, look to promote added-value offers such as a complimentary upgrade, a bottle of Champagne in the room, mini-bar credit etc. It’s also an opportunity to reiterate ‘book direct’ and offer incentives to ensure customer loyalty.
Typically hotels consider their competitors as the local hotels in a similar price range, however you need to keep an eye on hotels that will undercut to steal market share albeit at a lower rate e.g. your four star hotels might be going after three star business.
Preparing for your bounce back
A recovery is beginning to emerge in China and whilst Europe and the UK is a few months behind, returning demand is likely at some point later this year. The speed of recovery will depend on how countries ease travel restrictions and domestic tourism will likely be the first to rebound. International solo business travel will likely recover sooner than leisure, however group business will be slower to respond due to social distancing guidelines pertaining group gatherings which may stay in place for longer.
It will be important to communicate flexibility to your guests throughout the booking process. Reassure guests that your hotel is dedicated to maintaining your current high-standards of cleanliness and that your processes are in line with World Health Organisation guidelines. Keep social distancing in mind and take care when promoting ‘intimate’ public areas where guests may come into contact with other guests.
The ‘new normal’
Every economic shock leaves a lasting legacy and Covid-19 is no different. Once lockdowns ease and international travel starts to resume, new habits will likely stick. Working from home and video conferencing will perhaps become more commonplace and this will undoubtedly have an impact on the way companies think about meetings and conferences in future.
Companies are also looking forward to the ‘revenge spending’ curve seen in China and perhaps this brings an opportunity for hospitality to capitalise on consumers deprived of dining out, spa or other experiences.
In summary, hotel marketers need to take the time to craft the correct brand messaging, optimise content strategy and plan for recovery. A shift in focus from day-to-day marketing activities towards preparation and planning will ensure that you are ahead of the game when recovery starts. Connect with your industry colleagues, agencies and partners to discuss strategies and support – remember you are not alone in this battle.